OUTPACING CHANGE

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Keith Francis
Keith Francis: solutions.
When the business environment hardens, the natural tendency of the sales expert is to call for better sales effectiveness programmes and skills development. This seems logical. Yet this is not the solution to this recession the majority of the heads of business seek, writes .

An annual survey of chief executive officers (CEOs) across the world*, conducted at the end of 2008, showed they considered their top challenges to be excellence in execution, consistent execution of strategy, and the capability of their companies to speedily flex and adapt to change. These they placed above their anxiety for global economic performance and financial risk.

This is understandable, because unless a company can change quickly and effectively to meet today’s changing and unpredictable economies it will likely die.

Why sales effectiveness is not enough

Many already have. Improving sales effectiveness is fine, but by its very nature it is directed at where things are now and not where they will be, because that is the future and uncertain. Recessions have a habit of purging and changing things forever and bringing about new ways and means. They always have and this one will be no different. (We only have to look at two sectors – automotive [with climate change/declining oil] and publishing [the web] – to see the inescapable truth of this – Ed.)

This recession is a dramatic example of the increasing frequency of change and uncertainty in business that has been steadily growing for years. This is why the two previous CEO surveys placed execution and company flexibility well up in their top ten concerns. This year, unsurprisingly, CEO anxiety about these challenges was heightened. More importantly, developments in global markets, technology and know-how suggest that this frequent change and uncertainty trend will continue to escalate well after growth returns.

Unpredictable environment

A crucial factor in any company’s survival and success is the ability of its sales operation to be effective at operating in this unpredictable environment. And this is the problem. So many sales managers are frustrated by their sales team’s apparent reactive approach and general resistance to new ways and methods.

Review Management is a new initiative that goes some way to addressing this problem. In its first year of introduction in just one operation, in a single country, it saved National Car Rentals £3m and gained double-digit sales growth. The process makes four changes:

  1. embeds proactive working in the sales operation;
  2. aligns the company strategy or direction to the actions of every individual;
  3. improves the agility of the sales operation to change swiftly and effectively; and
  4. enhances sales governance.

Most importantly it recognises that the solution is found in the way sales managers operate rather than focusing on their salespeople.

Proactive working

Reacting in times of frequent change and uncertainty leaves the sales team at the mercy of events. Waiting to see what others do in these times will at best position a sales operation as a second-rate follower, at worst missing the bus altogether.

These times call for sales individuals who anticipate, plan and act. They take the initiative, continually review their assumptions, decisions and progress to learn and move as one: in other words, they’re people who work proactively. This is the way of the entrepreneur and those who accommodate change and make use of it to succeed.

Companies have attempted to embed proactive working in sales teams for some time through initiatives such as sales operation, territory, account and sales opportunity planning. Sadly, most initiatives quickly deteriorate into time-consuming form-filling and few are executed.

Focus on execution

With Review Management, the focus changes from building and presenting plans to their execution. When a manager reviews a salesperson’s plan, attention is directed at whether it is feasible, supports the company’s strategy or direction, and if the individual has the resources and capability to make it a reality. Why she does this is an example of a powerful feature of Review Management.

When signing off the plan, the manager becomes equally accountable with the salesperson for its success. Because this accountability is made transparent, the manager will be exposed if the plan begins to fail. When people perceive they could be exposed, they act to reduce the exposure.

The manager’s response will be to continually review the execution of the salesperson’s plan. These reviews will be more than just performance to date, but will be mainly directed to the actions and changes needed to keep the plan on track. The manager will coach, not because he is expected to, but because it is the best option to influence the success of the plan. These performance reviews and coaching, which are also transparent, drive and foster proactive working.

Performance Review graphic
Figure 1: linking manager and team.

Alignment

Figure 1 shows that by linking the plans and reviews of each manager and salesperson in the sales hierarchy, the actions of every individual in the sales operation are aligned to the corporate strategy. As performance review are continuous, transparent and give direction to the one below, the operation changes swiftly and as one.

Also note that constraints impacting on performance are escalated up the operation. Again the glue is Transparent Accountability which ensures people are exposed if they attempt to hide or spin bad news. Factors that have the potential to constrain performance are escalated quickly to a level and position where they can be addressed. Transparent Accountability ensures they are acted upon quickly. Review Management does not make it any easier to own-up to the boss, but it certainly does make it difficult to hide or spin bad news.

Agility

Fostering proactive working through the entire sales operation, directly aligns corporate strategy to every individual and escalates potential performance constraints. This enhances the agility of the sales operation to change. Review Management also exposes sales processes, methods and tools that are inappropriate, redundant or unrealistic. This is done in a way that ensures action is taken.

Governance

Governance is increasing becoming more topical and is concerned with accountability and control. The vast majority of selling takes place away from the office, with much resting on the individual behaviour and judgments of salespeople. This makes control difficult for sales management. Hopefully it can be seen how Review Management address this issue by continually reviewing the results of quality decisions, intentions, actions and activities.

What is certain, is that a fair part of a company’s ability to survive and succeed during and after this recession will be largely down to the ability of its sales force to change swiftly and act proactively. Review Management does this largely through a different approach to management reviews and embeds it into the operation with something called Transparent Accountability.

Management framework

One important point is that Review Management is a management framework. It is ‘agnostic’ to the sales processes or methodologies applied. In fact it helps make them a reality. More importantly it is about making things happen and embedding working practices that are fit for today’s business environment.

This is a very brief introduction into the subject which, although more to needs to be known to understand its impact fully, is simple and powerful.

As National Car Rental’s Ron Santiago said of the initiative; ‘I can tell you this team certainly changed, motivated and focused in such a way that we could have achieved anything. The entire operation was totally aligned and once you achieve this, you can produce outstanding results in any business.’

*‘CEO Challenge 2008 – Top 10 Challenges – Financial Crisis Edition’, The Conference Board.

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