One of the best ways to understand the operational effectiveness of an organisation is to sit within it, spending a day or so with individual staff. This was the approach with a regional commercial newspaper based in the South West of England. Our task was to find ways of improving the advertising income for the paper that had suffered from a significant decline in revenue.
I spent a number of days with Maggie; a seasoned Sales Representative who’s youthful looks belied her experience. Looking around the sales office on that Monday morning, I saw nothing but a sea of young faces. They chatted about the weekend’s frivolities until they were brought to order for the morning briefing. The faces slowly mutated from lively and full of fun to rather glazed and ‘not at home’. Maggie looked out of the window occasionally smiling at jokes made by her male colleagues.
The briefing over, and Maggie returned to her conscious state and beaconed me to follow her out of the building to where her car was parked in the cold bright November morning. It was a beautiful day to be on the road and the whole experience reminded me of the start of my own career as a Sales Rep.
As part of my ‘Day in the Life Of (DILO) study with Maggie, I had to ask her for certain fundamental elements that make up a sales management tool kit and reporting methodology.
“Who are we going to see first on the daily sales plan?” I asked.
Maggie rolled her eyes and with reluctance pulled out a blank daily planning sheet from her briefcase.
“You’re right, we should do this the right way”. Her pen jotted down 7 names of people we would see in the day. No need to call ahead for an appointment or check if there was any great need or sales opportunity…..just 7 appointments.
Troubling for me was that not only was Maggie with a Management Consultant sat next to her writing a performance based report on her day, was unfazed and did not change her routine at all. She clearly lacked motivation and supervisory contact.
We drove through the city streets visiting some of the customers on the list in a haphazard way. Some on the list were there simply to make up the numbers and were not visited at all. My assessment of the day was that it was generally a waste of sales time. On the plus side, Maggie shared stories of working in media advertising with me, and the company culture.
In building an organisational picture made of both subjective and objective material, a consultant must tread a fine line between forming a view that is realistic and developing the view that he believes in real. The latter comes from a thread of enquiry that narrows as the consultant seeks evidence to support his hypothesis rather than gathering an impression that may change over time.
During the business review, we gather observations and stories from a wide selection of the sales team members and were able to paint a picture of a typical day. We also looked closely at the Management Operating System (MOS) of the sales operation to understand its functionality and effectiveness. This directly related to the financial data derived by the senior management team.
Our findings showed that there was a substantial performance benefit to be achieved through improvements in management methodology and performance. The main areas of concern cantered around the level of motivation exhibited by the sales force. Maggie was clearly not highly motivated yet was capable of much more.
As part of the business review methodology, we checked through the HR training and development records that showed very little in the way of activity. Few of the supervisory staff had been trained for their job and most had been promoted because they were considered very good sales people; normally considered to be a very bad reason to promoted sales staff into management.
Management effectiveness was operating at very low levels, not just because of very limited MOS usage, but also because so much of their time was taken up answering internal requests for information on performance.
In summary, our business review highlight 7 areas that could be targeted to improve performance:
•Efforts to sell to new customers are unstructured. Others limit prospecting to selling more product to their current customer base. Opportunities exist to expand the current client base.
•The quality & quantity of management information about sales activities (visits, cold calls, etc), limits the possibilities for pro-active management.
•Opportunities exist to improve selling skills — handling objections, positioning the company, closing, etc.
•Effective, activity-based management does not generally occur. Salesmen do not make itineraries, and can not be followed-up. Poor time & territory management is leading to a loss of sales effectiveness.
•The training package lacks certain fundamental features for it to be successful. (Not enough time is spent on relationship building). Implementation and follow-up of a revised package will improve the overall performances of the sales team.
• Sales Representatives spending an inordinate amount of time handling problems such as missing or wrongly placed advertisements. This leads to the reduction of time they have for selling, the issuance of credits, and dissatisfied & lost customers.
•Category Managers do not spend enough time doing on-the-job coaching, i.e. accompanying on sales visits, listening to sales calls. Increased levels of coaching improves overall sales team performance.
We suggested that with a 12 week project based around the design and implementation of a Management Operating System and coaching around supervision, substantial improvements to sales effectiveness could be achieved.
About the author:
Andrew Woodward, Executive Director at Faculty Partnership CIC, is a widely respected management consultant having completed more than 30 change projects across Europe, America, Africa and Asia. Once described by colleagues as one of the best productivity consulting brains in Europe, his unique approach combines operational improvements with cultural change.