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What is the maturity of your sales force

Preliminary: not released for publication
Psychology defines maturity as the ability to react, cope and reason in an appropriate way for the situation. Age does not define maturity. Learned behaviours do. Similarly as in psychology, maturity is a suitable term to describe how well a business, discipline or a process is able to manage its affairs. Evaluating the maturity of the sales force helps in taking the next step of performance improvements. 

The most well-known model to measure the maturity of a discipline or process is the Capability Maturity Model CMM®/CMMI, which since the early nineties has been used to assess and improve software engineering departments and companies. 

Since then other models have been developed to support HR, project management, IT management, e-learning and much more. There is sufficient evidence proving that maturity models are effective in gaging a state and help to define and execute improvement initiatives. 
There is little reason therefore to belief that such an approach would not work for sales. Unlike other disciplines though, a maturity model for sales cannot be fixed or dictate how things are executed. 

Maturity changes over time 

The definition of maturity clearly states "in an appropriate way for the situation". What behaviour is considered "mature" changes over time and with the situation. A top sales performer in the 1930's is unlikely a top performer in today's environment. 

Therefore, a sales maturity model not only changes over time, but also is different for different industries and even individual companies. It is a framework, or as we mentioned in a previous article: a vehicle, not a destination. 

Instead of an academic discussion, let's give a pragmatic example of the Front Line Maturity Model™ to show how a maturity framework helps with improving both the productivity and performance of your sales force. 

The Frontline Maturity Model™

FLMM™ makes use of levels and items. A level is an indication of maturity and an item is a process, behaviour, a competency, a system or anything that depending how well it is executed, is an indication for maturity. 

A matrix combines the levels and items and each node holds a statement, which describes “the situation” at that level. Best this is done objectively without looking at the status of that item in the company. 

The matrix is the reference and the key tool to assess the current maturity, to define and prioritize initiatives to improve and to show a road map to a desired future state. The matrix can be as small as five items to well over thirty depending on the size of the business and the level of details covered. 

A simplified example

If you click on the upper picture, you will get a full view of a partial example using five levels, seven items and thirty-five statements. To illustrate each maturity level: 
  • Initial: Many of the sales operation processes are in a state of constant change and driven ad hoc.
  • Manageable: 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.
  • 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. 
  • Predictable: Management is able to make changes in plans, strategy, organization and processes, implement and execute with outcomes within expectations.
  • Progression: Best in class: the organization follows a natural progression: a continuous process of productivity and performance improvements embedded in the organization. 

Assessing the maturity and prioritize improvements

Moving from left to right and from top to bottom through the matrix, each statement is evaluated against the actual situation. If the situation confidently meets or exceeds the statement, the statement is cleared.

If the situation does not or only partly meets the statement, then the assessment for that item is finished. The maturity level for that specific item is the level for which the statement met or exceeded reality. Note that once the evaluation of a particular statement fails that higher-level statements for that item are not relevant anymore, even if those are met or exceeded. 

Once the complete matrix is finished, a picture will emerge that indicates the overall maturity, defined as the lowest level of any of the assessed items. Furthermore, it is now visible what items need to be addressed first to get to the next level. 

In our example and using seven items, this organization is still at the initial maturity level and priority should be given to start a structured lost-sales analysis process as well as to automate the information sharing between project execution and quote/contract management system. 

Final words 

Whilst FLMM™ is a relatively simple tool; yet the list of items could easily exceed 30 or more when, for example, sales competencies are included. It can be used to drive an improvement roadmap over time, which is preferable, or a one-time exercise to decide on and prioritize short-term initiatives. 

Key is that the framework objectively reflects and is designed around your specific situation. The project leader could be the director or VP of sales operations, whilst the sponsor could be the (global) head of sales or the CEO. It is a commitment to improve and a vehicle to get there, not a destination. 

Jack van Mook

 ® CMM and CMMI and Carnegie Mellon are registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office by Carnegie Mellon University 
© 2012 EnFeat Pte. Ltd.

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