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July 25, 2019

Link Sales Training to Your Organization’s Strategic Goals (Pt. II): Sales Opportunity Management

This article is a recap of a presentation by Frank Cespedes, Strategy Expert and Senior Lecturer at Harvard Business School, at Allego’s 2019 customer conference. The session was entitled, “Accelerating Learning and Profitable Growth: Aligning Strategy and Sales.”

Once senior management has established and communicated strategic goals, these goals should inform opportunity management – a.k.a., customer selection – within the sales department. This is the second way in which companies can link their sales efforts and training with an enterprise-wide strategy. 

Quantity over Quality

Most incentive systems for sales reps are based on volume. In other words, just sales. Not the profitability of that sale, not the cost to serve that customer. Just sales. With such a system, the message to the sales force is clear: there is no such thing as a bad customer

Unless rigorous criteria for opportunity management is developed, taught and enforced, the company’s strategy can easily become fragmented.

Sales reps must be trained – from the moment they’re hired – on customer selection criteria that are aligned with the business strategy. Sales training and coaching programs must be tailored to the type of customer the company needs and values most.

Teach Where to Play and Not to Play

If trainers and coaches do not identify the “right customers,” and do not develop the skills for acquiring and retaining them, some reps will – on their own – develop skills tailored to acquiring unprofitable customers. 

Most sales learning takes place on the job, and reps learn to provide the things their customers value in order to continue doing business with them. Therefore, it’s important to coach the sales force to screen, acquire and retain customers who closely match the ideal client profiles. 

Remember: money, time and people spent on Account A is money, time and people who are not available for Accounts B or C. To maximize resources for the most promising accounts, reps need a blueprint that provides rules about “where we play and where we don’t play.”

Smarter Hiring and Training

The third and final way to link sales and strategy is to optimize sales productivity. One (often overlooked) way to do this is to focus on smarter hiring practices and faster training.

Across industries, it now takes an average of about three to four months to fill an open sales position, and nine more months to bring that rep to full productivity. This means that many organizations, if not most, have a number of salespeople who are not operating at full productivity (or, if a position is vacant, have zero productivity).

Another fun fact: the best salespeople are not just a little bit better than the average rep. They’re a lot better. Research tells us that the top 15% of reps typically generate five to 10 times the revenue of the average rep in that firm.

What these statistics tell us is that, when it comes to increasing productivity, there’s plenty of low-hanging fruit waiting to be picked. For example, organizations that have adopted mobile video-based learning and coaching platforms, such as Allego, have been able to shave weeks – or months – from the average ramp-up time and time to first deal. 

Meanwhile, those that also employ digital training tools to promote peer-to-peer coaching – coaching provided by top sellers – the ones who generate five to 10 times the revenue of the average rep – often enjoy significant increases in productivity and learning engagement. 

By linking clear strategic goals to opportunity management, and instituting smarter hiring and sales training practices, companies can dramatically improve the performance of the sales force, increasing the likelihood that the investment in sales will pay the desired dividends.

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