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Sales productivity and performance improvement (2)

Previous article, about “Sales productivity improvement – an integral approach”, resulted in quite a number of reactions of readers. The general feedback was that the article was too broad and though most agreed with the content of the article, the major question was how to apply this in practice. No single treatment or medicine can cure all problems. Hence in this article, we use EnFeat’s Front Line Maturity Model as an example of a starting point for sustainable performance improvement.

Before commencing any initiative for improvement, it is good to know where one is in relation to where one wants to go. Sales results of today and the targets for next year are a beginning, but insufficient to propel initiatives that help to get true improvements. In addition, there has to be a belief in the organization, that ‘sales’ is a process that can be shaped. A challenge, as especially in B2B, sales people tend to work in informal ways and individual ways-of-work, often not documented or measured. Let us be honest, who wants it to be evident, why a sale was lost?

Choice of an improvement approach

There are many methods and approaches to improve the productivity and performance of the sales force. Those that:
  1. Address a specific aspect of the sales process, typically a competency or skill
  2. Are based on a (different) selling process
  3. Are linked with a specific software solution
  4. Are inspired by process improvement methodologies of other disciplines
Subject to the situation, they can be very useful and even proof to be the best tool. In many cases, though the situation is not that clear and it should be noted therefore that:
  1. Achieving sustainable productivity and performance improvement is more than building a competency or skill.
  2. Changing the existing sales process, which has evolved over time to its current state to fit the business, might not give the expected results.
  3. The success of (new) IT systems relies heavily on organizational support and the match with processes and existing systems.
  4. Frameworks of other disciplines can create additional overhead or focus too much on process itself or the analytics.

Using a Maturity Model to drive improvements

Watts Humprey introduced Maturity Models in 1989, leading to CMM (Capability Maturity Model, a registered service mark of Carnegie Mellon University), a tool for objectively assessing the capabilities of software contractors for the US department of defence. Since then it has evolved into CMMI and has inspired other models, including other disciplines, with a positive record of good improvement results, especially for larger scale and more complex organizations.

Using a maturity framework, we have a vehicle allowing us to assess the current state, define the desired state and to describe a path to get there. It consists of a number of structured levels, each describing a state of the organization in terms of behaviours, processes and practices and the corresponding results. The top level describes the ideal situation of a continuously learning organization that can produce repeatable, reliable and sustainable results.

Front Line Maturity Model™ 

The requests from clients to help with short and longer-term performance and productivity improvement projects of their front line without igniting a revolution and with the possibility to execute in time without the involvement of EnFeat, triggered us to develop a maturity model. The Front Line Maturity Model™ (FLMM™) is a structural approach for sales productivity and performance improvement with the flexibility to adapt to individual situations. It re-uses as much as possible what is available and does not dictate foreign processes, nor prescribes how to execute. It is a vehicle to provide insight and ensures the choice and execution of the best tool for the job. It is:
  • A commitment to sustainable improvements
  • A way to define the status of today
  • A path and guide towards ‘the’ or ‘a’ desired state in the future
  • A way to make productivity and performance improvement visible
  • A way to communicate a future picture of a desired state
Whilst FLMM™ allows a lot of flexibility; the maturity levels are pre-defined:
  1. Initial: Typical level for start-ups or smaller organizations: many of the sales operation processes are in a state of constant change and driven ad hoc. 
  2. Manageable: Most B2B companies are on this level. Effort and competencies of individuals make things “manageable”. There is some consistency, but discipline is not very strong and people divert from the way of work during times of stress.
  3. Coordinated: Processes are in place and practiced across the various disciplines involved, with a smooth coordination of activities, priorities and resources and few escalations to management. 
  4. Predictable: Management is able to make changes in plans, strategy, organization and processes, implement and execute with outcomes within expectations. 
  5. Progression: Best in class: the organization follows a natural progression: a continuous process of productivity and performance improvements embedded in the organization.
We also made sure that FLMM™ is:
  • Not a beauty contest nor about control or certification
  • Not a goal or target by itself
  • Not an administrative overhead, merely say what you do and do what you say
  • It is not an alternative for good salesmanship

The critics

Whatever productivity or performance improvement approach, there are critics. They range from an almost religious disagreement of what methodology to use, e.g CMM versus Agile development, to the internal resistance when trying to implement it in for a specific sales team: “this doesn’t work for sales”.  Initially FLMM™ got similar feedback, especially as it is not a prescribed medicine: it is an integral approach helping clients to find the real issues (the current state), how the ideal situation looks like and what steps (or medicine) need to be taken to get there. Properly communicated, it helps to decrease the internal criticism and resistance and increase the support for the execution and successful implementation.

Final words

As per the introduction, no single treatment or medicine can cure all problems. The symptoms might be similar; the actual problem will be different from organization to organization. Implementing measurements to improve sales productivity and performance without integrally looking at a broader scope or clear targets are likely to fail. Using a framework can help to find the actual problem, take the right actions, but also to put each of them in a wider and longer term context resulting in truly sustainable improvements.

© 2011 EnFeat