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Sales Operations for the Small Business
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How to Reduce Sales Turnover - Follow the Five C's of the Sales Organization

December 1, 2016

The back-end or support elements of the sales organization in Corporate America has been labeled as Sales Operations. In most organizations, a sales ops department will include initiatives like reporting, compensation, client onboarding, planning, enablement, and CRM support. It’s the link between other departments and sales. KnowledgeTree has some similar thoughts.
 
When I have the opportunity to talk to sales leadership, I will typically ask them, “What don’t you like about Sales Ops?”


Sometimes I hear, “we’re figuring it out”…or “most exciting department because we can do so much with it”.
 
The comments vary because Corporate America is still being educated as to how they can and should utilize Sales Ops. Even though it’s been around for 25–30 years, there is a large percentage of companies that haven’t decided to formally create the department.
 
This begs the question, when do you create a sales ops team? Is there a certain revenue figure that determines the tipping point? Or maybe the number of employees?
 
Well, before you stress about that, create a process and an environment around “planning”.

 

The Challenge
If I asked the following questions to a group of sales leaders or organizational leaders, what do you think I might hear?
 
What don’t you like about your sales experience, process, and organization? What do you wish you could do better?
 
Planning is probably a common answer, right? I think we all want to plan better. Even when things are going well.
 
Whether an organization has a formal sales operations department or not, there’s always the challenge of planning for the next month, quarter, or year. Combine these tips with what I’ll cover and you’ll have plenty to talk about within your organization.
 
Let’s look at this from two different perspectives, both from the sales team and leadership. We’ll start with how leadership might go through the planning process.
 
*Full disclaimer here….I’m not here to solve a bunch of problems or issues that might be present within your organization. If there’s one thing you can put into practice, then great.

 

The Process Today
Keeping a high-level perspective, let’s say the leadership team goes through these steps:
 

  • Plan — forecast or set quotas

  • Deliver — present sales team with goals/quotas.

  • Agree on next steps — when the sales team isn’t hitting the goals, plan how to recover, and hit goals for the year.

  • Chase — scramble to close deals, bug sales about the deals that were supposed to close.

 
And we if mapped the above steps from leadership to the sales team, it might look like this…
 
While they plan, the sales team misleads —They say , “No problem” or “That’s going to be a challenge,” when it’s just not true.
While they deliver, the sales team wastes — Time, money, resources asking for help in the wrong areas, not following a plan or process….fill in the blank within your company
While leadership and the sales team seem to agree on next steps, the sales team misleads again — Stating “things are in place to hit goal” or “don’t worry I’ve got it” or “if these two deals go through, we’re fine”…..and then they miss the goal.
While leadership chases down sales, the sales team goes offline — how can they work together like this.
 
So in order to get the most from your team in 2017 and going forward, let's discuss “The Five C’s” of the sales org.

Contact Us Today - Apply The Five C's Within Your Org

Collaboration
Who’s involved in your planning process? Do you include all departments?
 
If that’s the case, how does that work? What’s that actually look like at the beginning of the quarter/month/year?
 
If it’s formal planning meetings, what does the group plan about? Probably things like revenue, EBITDA, gross profit, widgets sold, etc. right?
 
Now think back to the planning that occurred in a prior period. Think who or what departments were involved. What happened throughout the year/quarter? Was there finger pointing? Were certain departments wondering why sales wasn’t hitting their goals? If not, either your organization is collaborating already or the people and departments don’t care as much as you and they aren’t bringing it up. Just a guess.
 
You get the point.
 
Whatever the case might be, bring your departments together to plan. Let sales have a voice. Don’t leave your planning meetings without all agreeing on “The Plan”. It won’t be fun to all agree. Good discussions and arguments should take place.
 
Avoid the finger pointing.
 
Communication
Communication is a simple one, but important.
 
As it relates to the sales team, does your team know what they’re paid to do? Do they know how they get paid? How is the topic breached from day one or throughout the year?
 
Providing clarity as to what their core responsibilities are or how they get paid is just an example of your level of communication. What I would suggest is evaluating how much you actually share with the sales team. Do they get clued in on new products being developed? What about planning or strategic topics? Big impactful topics. For those that don’t share, do you have a good reason? And the reason should be that it’s “I’d have to kill you” type of information that you’re not sharing with your team.
 
I’m mean, what’s really wrong with informing the sales org of changes? They just want to be included.
Some of you are thinking, how is it that communicating more with the sales org can be a benefit? Now obviously, I don’t have a clue about your business, but each company will benefit differently. Generally speaking, the sales team will have more buy-in as you involve them more. There’s a good chance, you see a reciprocal effort from them. It will be better all around, they’ll be able to plan better, set better expectations with clients, and when you ask for information or “to do’s”, you’ll get the help you’re looking for.
 
It works better when you talk to them.
 

Connect the Dots
The dots are the drivers of your business or the key metrics that you base your decisions on. It’s what lands on that weekly scorecard or dashboard.
 
To plan for the quarter or year ahead, what are the dots for the sales team? What do the last 12–24 months look like? Do you collect actionable data today?

 

 
Think about the short list of metrics that drive your sales team. What do you wish you could track better, or understand with clarity to make better decisions for your business? Or maybe you’re thinking…If I could see this or know this at the beginning of every week, this would change my business or at least the way I work with my sales team. Your list may include:
 

  • Activities

  • Presentations

  • Revenue

  • Profitability

  • Operational metrics

 
These are the dots we need to track and connect to create the plan and determine if we need to make any adjustments.

 
These dots could be a mix of activities, sales objectives, and results…leading and lagging indicators. It’s assumed that if they hit those sales objectives the results will follow. Read Jason Jordan on this. Here’s one of his articles covering this topic. And read his book, Cracking the Sales Management Code.
 
The history of your data and results is your starting point in helping you determine what the activities and sales objectives need to be for that planning period. Using the history, I would create different what-if scenarios using the historical variables and run scenarios with additional or new data points that are considered to be drivers for the sales team.
 
While we’re talking about making decisions from analytics….has your organization taken the leap in working with an analytics group to pull all your data into one spot? And not just sales information. All departments. It’s about getting your teams involved, giving them visibility, getting them to collaborate, and understanding the business as a whole. Don’t let them work in silos. Put this on your list for 2017.
 
Creating the Plan
That leads us to creating the quota or the plan.
 
Before we reference our data analysis, what are some ways of setting quotas? And how often? Yearly, quarterly, monthly? More than likely, your method will depend on the maturity and culture of your company.
 
Here are a few approaches to consider:
 

  • Company forecasts — goals are set based on projected or required results in addition to the existing pipeline.

  • Executive opinion — the executive team feels certain goals can be reached based on their knowledge or experiences they’ve had.

  • Sales rep information — quotas are based on information that has come in from the field or maybe derived from the company’s CRM data.

  • Historical trends — sales goals are based on historical data.

  • Market opportunity — quotas are based on intel around the market in which the company is based on (i.e. 500 profiled companies within market).

  • Sales rep experience/tenure — sales rep’s goals are based on past success or tenure.

 
To create your plan, you’ll want to lean on your data analysis to support your approach. Here's a few thoughts from InsightSquared on how to apply sales metrics to help with creating quotas.
 
The key though is including sales within this process. Make sure their intel is applied. Get their thoughts on the structure. Is the approach in line with what is really happening in the field?
 
If they’re part of the equation, it might be a little tougher for them to argue why they’re not hitting quota. You used their data and opinions too.
 
Compensation
Now we have to pay the sales team.
 
Each of the C’s is important to the team and leadership. The importance of compensation, is the idea that the sales team fully understands and supports the concept. It cannot be questioned each month. The key is finding the happy medium between simplicity and what’s good for the business. At the end of the day, the team…every layer…has to be involved to some degree in its creation.
 
This goes back to collaboration and communication. Isn’t it easier to ask sales why they aren’t reaching their goals when they were part of the process? And isn’t it easier to handle commissions questions when they were part of the comp design?
 

 
Go back to communicating with your sales force. Where can your reps go today to learn how they get paid? How is it part of your onboarding process for new reps? If you haven’t embedded that within your onboarding process, I would review that with your team.
 
With that, how often does everyone review their comp plan? Yearly, quarterly?
Let’s say after a review of the comp plan, the executive team feels as though they may need to change the structure. What are the steps?
 

  • Ask the team their thoughts on the existing comp plan. What they would change, if anything?

  • Review the last 24 months of performance.

  • Consider the cost of acquiring a client? What should it be? Or need to be? And how does the comp plan impact this number?

  • Create some versions. Put real numbers towards those versions.

  • Pitch to executives and the sales leadership, and make sure it addresses the concerns of the existing comp plan.

  • Determine if it creates buy-in from the sales team?

  • Consider if it is thoughtful and equitable for everyone.

 
Culture
I’ll leave you with this….and really it’s the 6th C. Culture.
 
The key to the 5 C’s is the culture that you create and strive for. By collaborating, communicating with transparency, connecting the dots, and creating thoughtful quotas and compensation, the culture will follow.
 
And try this…
When we think about our businesses, we typically put the following items in this order.
 
1. Results
2. Objectives
3. Behaviors
 
Flip them. Keep the urgency present, but focus on behaviors. The results will come.
 
One last thought…
I asked earlier, “What’s the tipping point to create a sales ops team?”
 
I still think it’s different for every company, but creating the culture that a sales ops team would push, can start now.
 
And if you’re ready or you have sales ops team, try putting a sales ops team member in each department.
 
Break up your sales ops team to build the relationships within other departments. Let your sales ops representative foster those relationships every day within each department and see if a “sales first” culture comes about.
 

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Mike Brown - graefieldconsulting.com
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