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Sales Performance Expectations Rising Fast

From efficiency to effectiveness in the sales organization.
Rewards and incentives have always been considered the most direct means of aligning sales effort with organizational objectives. In order to elevate sales performance meaningfully, incentive programs should evolve on a couple of dimensions. One area begging to be addressed is the balance between base and incentive pay and the effective alignment of both components in concert with organizational objectives. Organizations are also seeking greater flexibility for absorbing and enabling quick and frequent modification of incentives as conditions and priorities change. More than tweaking "the plan," real flexibility comes only with effective means to link changes to performance improvement up and down the enterprise command chain and then effecting the necessary re-learning across the sales organization.

Ventana Research also expects the new focus on sales process and attention to performance improvement to further manifest itself in advanced functionality in the realm of knowledge management for sales, such as content and procedures for generating proposals and deal configuration tools. Hosted solutions will also be on most evaluation short-lists, continuing a trend that emerged during 2003.

A look at why the selling culture often appeals to athletes highlights the need and importance of sales process and enabling technologies to elevate "team" sales performance. Aside from the obvious common success attributes such as competitiveness, self-motivation, and win-loss records, there are more subtle points of comparison. Athletics and sales are both professions that provide easily measured outcomes, relatively quick feedback on performance, and frequent opportunity to learn from defeat. Natural athletes, like natural salespersons, are often egocentric and resistant to being cast in a role under a system or process control. Even more importantly, individual success does not guarantee team or group success - in fact, success disparity among the "players" often breeds contempt and destroys the organization - thus the importance of sales process and enabling technology in elevating sales performance of all participants to complement the star performers.

Recent successes of the New England Patriots and Oakland A's provide good examples. Team success in each case is often attributed to a "no stars" approach — the system (process), practice habits and conditioning (enabling technology), and the athlete's coach-ability (sales rep's manageability) are at least as important as the athlete's traditional skills. Process, technology, and people are all critical to improving performance and accountability in sales. The vendors that position their solutions to help organizations address all three bring the greatest sustaining value.

Assessment

Ventana Research encourages organizations to focus on productive ways to best balance sales performance management software and analytical applications with business and sales cultural realities. Successful companies cannot accomplish this without taking a challenging road less traveled.

The sales organization must be challenged to evaluate and understand how adaptive sales process and its effective implementation can drive real sales performance improvement. Sales process cannot be left solely to classroom training and role-playing sessions.

The IT organization must be willing to think outside the operational SFA box in delivering value to sales performance improvement. Technology can bring much more to sales performance than a formatted collection of subjective selling behavior metrics and reporting on the revenue outcomes of sales effort.

Challenge vendors to articulate how they will promote sales process consistency, deliver learning potential at the tactical level, and enable top-to-bottom aligned incentives with flexibility. Seek out those vendors that bring proactive selling analytics and innovative dashboards to their solutions.