Is Sales Efficiency Killing Your Sales?


A search on Google for the following sales-related terms shows:

• Sales force management 315,000
• Sales force effectiveness 113,000
• Sales force productivity 44,500
• Sales force performance 37,200
• Sales force efficiency 28,100
• Sales force compensation 15,300
• Sales force motivation 6,150
• Sales force measurement 577
• Sales force relationships 244
• Sales force trust 33

The numbers alone suggest a certain sense of priorities in the world’s interest in sales. In the broadest sense, let’s just say the reigning focus seems highly seller-focused.

Here’s a quote from what I would suggest is a fairly typical piece on selling:

XYZ has developed proprietary approaches to measuring and maximizing salesforce efficiency. Sales managers can learn, quantitatively, how their best people invest available selling time, including a measurement of expected sales dollars per sales call. This knowledge is used to improve the efficiency of others in the salesforce. Simple tools can tell the sales manager what the expected outcome would be of adding one additional sales person, of getting each salesperson to make one more call per week, and so on.

[Our] model addresses several common sales planning flaws:
* Salespeople call on too many accounts, and therefore don’t have enough time to call on those accounts often enough to be successful.
* Salespeople don’t spend enough time with the accounts that provide the best opportunity for growth.
* Salespeople spend too much time calling on low potential accounts.
* Salespeople don’t realize how precious few sales calls they have to invest [sic] each year.

Let’s refine our statement of focus in selling. The usual treatment of sales goes beyond just “self-focused.” It also defines sales heavily in terms of return on investment, and of processes. The solution to higher ROI is often found in changing processes.

For a more academic example, see a 2006 Harvard Business Review Article, The New Science of Sales Force Productivity, by Ledingham, Kovac and Simon:

Today’s most successful sales leaders are taking a more scientific approach. Savvy managers are reshaping their tactics in response to changing markets. They are reaching out to new customers in innovative ways. And they are increasing productivity by helping the reps they already have make the most of their skills and resources.
Leaders who take a scientific approach to sales force effectiveness have learned to use four levers to boost their reps’ productivity in a predictable and manageable way.
1. They systematically target their firms’ offerings, matching the right products with the right customers.
2. They optimize the automation, tools, and procedures at their disposal, providing reps with the support they need to boost sales.
3. They analyze and manage their reps’ performance, measuring both internal processes and results to determine their teams’ strengths and weaknesses.
4. They pay close attention to sales force deployment—how well sales, support, marketing, and delivery resources are matched to customers.

What is remarkable in all these lists is the virtual absence of the “R” word: relationships.

There is “scientific” (read “quantitative analysis”) study of products, automation, tools, procedures, internal processes, results, and deployment;

There is general agreement that the end result is to be judged in financial terms (ROI—effectiveness), which can be decomposed into various ratios (efficiency in general);

Mirroring this self-absorbed perspective of both design and outcome is the treatment of the customer. Almost all sales models are based on a single-transaction—with the usual “feedback” arrow saying “return to beginning and start over."

Try substituting “relationship” into this self-oriented, mechanistic and transactional mindset and there is only one kind of relationship it applies to: a one-night stand, repeated endlessly, with only the names changing.

There is no forward momentum in a series of one-night stands. No growth, no development, no connection—and no relationship. (I’m not knocking one-night stands, by the way, or saying they are "wrong;" I’m just saying call them what they are).

There is nothing wrong with counting sales dollars as a pretty good indicator of sales success. And it’s natural to want to dig deeper. But if all the digging is focused on ourselves, our processes, our metrics; and if all the relevant timeframes are shorter and shorter; and if we fall prey to the Skinnerian belief that you must shorten the time between action and monetary reward for the rats salespeople—then we conspire to reap what we sow—the one-night stand.

Great short-term performance doesn’t come from short-term selfish, transactional management. Great short-term performance is simply one part of a longer success story that comes from a long-term, relationship-driven concern for the customer.

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