All Right Turns: the future of B2B sales productivity
“What are we doing here?”
To many CEOs, and certainly many boards of directors, B2B sales is a frustrating enigma. It’s a black box that provides limited visibility and inaccurate forecasts causing great uncertainty, and lots of discomfort. Unfortunately, for many sales leaders, B2B sales is also an enigma. They simply don’t know what steps to take to improve productivity, gain more control, improve accuracy of forecasts, and deliver consistent results. We throw training at the problem hoping better skills and habits will stick with sales reps. We invest millions in CRM solutions only to have more than half of the reps not use them. It’s a pretty poor state of affairs.
But… change is coming.
I have a friend, Randy, who works for UPS. He’s been in the business 25 years and watched the industry move from paper driven process to completely state‐of‐the‐art technology driven package delivery. He likes to say UPS used to be a package delivery company with some technology, now they’re a technology company that happens to deliver packages.
Let me share some of the things UPS does to ensure maximum efficiency. I think you’ll be amazed. I certainly was.
- When drivers show up for work, their trucks are loaded with packages and ready to go.
- Routes are carefully engineered to not cross railroad tracks, bridges or anything that may cause delays.
- Packages are even loaded so drivers only have to make all right turns during their entire route.
- Every minute of the day drivers are tracked… every movement, each of their 125 or so stops—every activity along their route—which takes normally about 9 hours.
- If a driver fails to connect their seatbelt before rolling, it’s tracked, logged and displayed on a board back at the driver’s main office.
- And get this… when drivers stop for a delivery, a satellite image can be accessed with arrows showing the truck and driver’s location. For every delivery. Amazing.
- Each UPS business day, this process is repeated over 55,000 routes in the U.S. alone. Normal package delivery volume is around 17 million packages daily, with peak season reaching as high as 34 million packages delivered in a single day.
I think it’s safe to say UPS has reached incredible efficiency‐levels in the package delivery business. But they keep innovating—sharpening the process even further. The Orion platform, expected for full rollout in 2017, uses hugely complex heuristic algorithms to further refine and optimize routes, taking into consideration things likes newly added or changing customer delivery and pickup times, consistency of delivery times, mileage and fuel consumption, and traffic and drive time considerations. UPS has spent 10 years and hundreds of millions on this project alone. But the payout is much bigger. UPS CEO David Abney said he expected Orion to save the company $300 million to $400 million a year—a pretty impressive return on investment.
“Follow the money.”
B2B sales has always been about giving reps a certain amount of autonomy and freedom. Freedom to work deals the way they think best, freedom to use the materials they want. Freedom to engage buyers when they think it’s most appropriate. In short, B2B sales has been about self‐determination with sales reps, and sometimes managers, calling the shots. If they deliver, great. If they don’t, at some point there’s trouble. It’s been this way because B2B sales is largely commission driven, and reps have been given lots of leeway to control their own destiny.
It’s going to change. There’s just too much money at stake.
B2B sales is going to go the way of UPS—with teams operating at razor‐sharp efficiency levels. As CEOs, boards, and shareholders begin to realize what’s possible in terms of increasing B2B sales efficiency, change will take place relatively quickly. Gone will be the days when sales leaders can afford to worry about being intrusive or getting too deep into their sales reps’ business. Gone will be the days when B2B sales reps navigate the day doing what they feel is best or what comes top of mind. Gone will be the days when sales rep activities are not tracked—keeping opportunities close to their chest, and sharing on an as needed basis.
The days of limited or no visibility into what sales reps are doing are going to disappear. Sales leaders won’t have to wait until the end of the quarter, or worse yet the end of the year, to make conclusions on rep performance. The cost of keeping poor performing reps is just too high. Reps kept on board will operate at high efficiency, working through their days in a carefully planned and guided manner. They’ll have help in prioritizing where to spend their time, what strategies to consider, what sales resources and collateral to use, and coaching on how to engage. They’ll be able to seamlessly collaborate with their coworkers, managers, and buyers. And, most importantly, all of their activity will be tracked in detail
So the “WHY” in this whole equation is simple.
There is just too much money at stake. Too much room for efficiency and effectiveness gains for this change not to occur. Feelings, emotions, preservation of dignity, autonomy and self-determination are all going to be run over because of the additional sales revenue that can be made with change. It may seem like Big Brother sales leadership, but it doesn’t matter. It’s going to happen. The only question is how fast.
“What’s the problem?”
It all starts with visibility into sales activities. Knowing exactly what the reps are doing throughout the day. Without the recording of events and tasks, we really can’t get visibility. Without visibility we may have the illusion of control, but we don’t have real control. Low CRM adoption, or more importantly, low effective CRM usage leaves us in the dark. We simply need the visibility to assess our current state, influence positive change, and sharpen sales execution.
With no sales activity data available we can’t report effectively. Coaching is much harder—because we don’t have any record on what the rep’s been doing—or not doing. Accurate forecasting becomes almost impossible. Forget about analytics—without the sales activity data we’re not going to gain any real insight. We don’t know if our sales process is working or not working, or whether reps are actually following it. And we really can’t determine at what level of sales execution we are operating. With limited or no visibility, I can pretty much guarantee you it’s not optimal.
So, we have to tackle the visibility problem first—getting the right sales activity data entered into CRM.
“How do we fix it?”
Okay, here’s a newsflash: sales reps really don’t like CRM. And, more than half don’t use. Of those that do, less than 20% use it effectively—meaning they consistently enter their activities. They simply hate entering the data—because they don’t think it helps them make the sale. So what can we do to get reps recording the events we need to get adequate visibility to make positive changes?
There are basically 4 ways to get reps entering data into CRM.
- Show massive benefit: demonstrate how entering data into the CRM will give them additional insight, faster access to resources, and other benefits that help them close more deals and make more money.
- Apply massive pressure: apply management pressure to follow the process and record their activities. Use the promise of bonuses, recognition, or public embarrassment to apply the pressure.
- Challenge them: use gamification and contests to get reps executing the right behavior and recording their events in CRM.
- Automate the data entry: automate the recording of events, tasks and other sales activity into CRM as much as possible. And, when some rep data entry is need, make it really simple and easy.
Each of these approaches has merit. And all of them should be used to some degree. But the Olympic champion is automation. Letting reps go through their day operating as they normally do, using the tools that they normally use and then capturing and entering their activity data into CRM automatically is powerful. There’s no thinking or resistance from reps – it just happens.
“What it will look like.”
As a sales rep, if you send or receive an email—it’s captured and added to CRM under the right opportunity. If you make a phone call to a prospect or customer, it’s tracked and entered into CRM. If you’re traveling, your emails and phone calls made from your mobile phone are neatly captured and added to the CRM. The key point: as a sales rep it’s transparent to you. You simply don’t have to worry about it.
“We’re capturing the activity— now what?”
To begin, sales reps get more time to sell. On average, they spend 4 to 5 hours a week [for those that do it at all] entering data into CRM—not a good use of their selling time. Remove that time waster and reps can make more calls, do more follow‐up emails, have more quality conversations, etc. It’s a big deal. IDC says that for every hour you save a B2B rep in selling time per week, they’ll generate an additional $300K in annual sales revenue. I’ve always been skeptical of the magnitude of that number, but if it’s anything close to that—“I’m in.”
Now let’s talk about a much bigger benefit—the visibility. Sales teams can now see what their reps are actually doing. The calls they’re making, the emails they’re sending, the content and sales materials they’re sharing throughout the engagement. And they can better gauge how buyers are responding—who’s calling back, who’s emailing further inquiries.
The visibility for sales leaders opens up a world of opportunity. The activities and best practices of high performing reps can be shared across the team. B and C‐players see what it takes to become A‐players. Coaches can see the activities and behaviors and coach more effectively—spending time on areas that have the most impact. Refresher training can be laser‐focused on weak activity areas needing improvement. Sales leaders get a clearer picture of opportunities allowing more focus on deals that really matter. Forecasting becomes more accurate as estimates are based on empirical evidence versus opinion, gut feel and instinct.
At some point in the not so distant future, our B2B sales reps will be making “all right turns.” We’re all heading the way of UPS. Efficiency and razor‐sharp sales execution will be the standard. The only question is how fast this transition will occur. The technology is here. Innovative sales teams that move quickly will crush the market, leaving others wondering what just happened. Laggards will suffer because the gap in performance will dramatically widen. In the end, all B2B sales teams will get into the “full visibility” game. It just makes too much sense—and there’s just too much money at stake.
This blog was originally published as a quickpaper. To download the full pdf, click here.