When the Bain Group studied the profit-and-loss statements of 200 U.S.-based companies from 2003 to 2011, it found that more than half of those companies had their sales and marketing expenses increase as a percentage of revenue. In other words, more than 50 percent had sales and marketing organizations that weren’t scalable.
True, from 2003 to 2011 we saw dramatic changes in the business environment. We saw phenomenal growth up to 2007, followed by the recession. By 2010, the companies that survived were back to roughly where they stood in 2008. During this period, we should have seen much more scalable results for sales and marketing, with companies investing to scale and grow the business after the recession. But the Bain study suggests that scalability never arrived.
In order to scale any business process, including your sales process, it has to be consistent and repeatable. Here are five ways to achieve that:
1) Repeatedly hire the right people: To consistently hire the right types of salespeople, it helps to have a data-driven methodology that defines the characteristics of people who are successful in certain roles. Once you find a profile that works, focus your talent search on finding those types of people. Taking the time to define these characteristics also benefits sales management. It helps managers better understand their current team and gives them a data-driven foundation for guiding and coaching each rep toward precise actions and behaviors.
2) Maintain your customer and transactional data in a usable condition: Here’s where your CRM system and data entry policies contribute to scalability. When using your transactional data in analytics to make business decisions, the information must be accurate, and that requires using policies and enforcement to standardize the way data is entered into these systems. Seemingly small differences, such as using “St.,” “Street” or “st” in address fields, could produce duplicate records, making it difficult to get an accurate picture from the data.
Unless you have automated rules to guide accurate data entry, your sales reps must spend lots of time scouring the CRM data for inaccuracies and duplicate records. Instead of focusing on selling, they spend time just to ensure that they get paid for all of the accounts that are legitimately in their territory. Having mechanisms in place to maintain accurate customer data is an important underpinning component of scalability.
3) Align your products and services with channel needs: If you have multiple sales channels, such as direct sales, e-commerce and partner sales, it’s important to align your offers along specific channels, based on each channel’s needs.
For example, your direct sales force usually focuses on your largest customers, which tend to be international and global companies. To offer the best solutions for these customers, your direct sales force needs to provide products and services that are available across the countries where these customers operate. This alignment also helps your company define the right products, services and supporting operational processes to efficiently support business with those customers.
Your e-commerce channel has different channel needs. Your e-commerce customers are looking to configure products to their specific requirements in a self-service experience that is supported by easy payment methods and quick shipping. Aligning the products, services and operational capabilities for these needs ensures your ability to efficiently serve that e-commerce channel.
4) Improve sales pipeline management: Sales forecasting tends to focus on expected results for the quarter or the half; as a result, the forecast is based on late-stage opportunities, instead of the entire pipeline. Managing the entire pipeline helps ensure the right activities take place at each stage of the sales cycle, enabling your marketing and sales teams to drive the pipeline size, shape and velocity metrics to meet your business goals. Improving management and visibility across the entire pipeline allows your company to be more proactive, making your sales process efficient and scalable.
5) Provide data-driven decisions through your sales operations team: In any sales organization, there are plenty of opinions, ideas and suggestions, but what matters at the end of the day is making a decision based on facts, or at least some data.
Making these decisions in a repeatable, consistent manner requires a neutral arbitrator. Your sales operations team is ideal for this role, providing the ruthless, data-driven insights that help drive scalability. Without a strong arbitrator, data is too often overridden by the HIPPO (highest paid person’s opinion) method of decision making.
In order to scale your sales process, it needs to be consistent and repeatable. In the Bain Group’s study, more than 50 percent of the companies surveyed lacked scalability in their sales and marketing. Scalability isn’t necessarily easy; but these five tactics — along with persistence — make it an achievable goal for your sales organization.