NASA Flight Director Gene Kranz spoke these words during the incredibly tense days in 1970 when his team worked round the clock to pull off the daring rescue of the crew of the Apollo 13. As the result of amazing teamwork on the ground and in space, along with Kranz’s unwavering belief that failure was not an option, the story ends with Jim Lovell, Jack Swigert and Fred Haise returning home safely.
Work the Problem
To solve the problem, I suppose you first have to admit one exists, and that failing to solve the problem is not an option. In talking with sales leaders at some very successful companies, they too see evidence of these statistics shared by the TAS Group showing up in their sales organization.
- 67% of all salespeople miss quota
- Over half of all salespeople close at less than 40%
- 40% of sales people can’t understand customer pain
- Only 52% of sales people can access key players
Sales performance problems continue to exist. One thing on its own isn’t going to shift the tide, but unless leadership – not just sales leaders – come together to work the problem together, how will things change?
Lessons from the Apollo 13 mission can be applied to improving sales performance.
Prioritize, Communicate, Commit – Assess your organization carefully. Look at the people, work flows, technology. Make tough decisions, decide what you need to do first, communicate clearly the action plan and then commit to making it happen. Then move to the next priority and keep going until you get there. Don’t be the CEO I heard Brent Adamson speak of who after investing in the Challenger Sale training program decided 8-weeks in to pull the plug. Why? Because he wasn’t seeing substantial improvements in the numbers. That is short-sighted thinking; real change takes time.
No Substitute for Experience – Look at your top sales performers and look at other sales organizations. What are the other 33% of sellers doing who are making their quota? Are there lessons that can be learned from their experience? If 48% of sellers are accessing key decision makers, what can your sales team members emulate? When 60% of sellers are able to understand customer pain, there is certainly something that can be learned from what they are doing.
Manage Risk but Don’t Ignore the Opportunity – Are there going to be risks in undertaking something new? Of course. Will moving in a new direction require an investment in time? Yes, it will. You can’t let that stop you. What will it continue to cost your organization if you risk nothing at all? Rather than viewing performance issues through the lens of OMG, now what. See this as an opportunity to right the ship by doing things differently.
Training Isn’t Optional – When sales are off the mark, inevitably someone suggests a new training program. This is especially true when something new hits the streets like social selling. Before diving in, the question to be asked is how will this program net us results that are different than the ones invested in before? Do we really understand the depth of the problem and are we sure this program can help? What will the ongoing adoption plan look like? Are company leaders willing to be patient and give the program a chance? Training works, but no matter how good the program, there is no quick fix!
Track and Adjust – Michael Jordan is quoted as saying that it doesn’t count if you don’t keep score. Resolving the systemic problems that underlie sales performance issues won’t happen overnight. They certainly won’t improve through one off training or if you don’t begin by assessing your situation in depth, developing a strategy to correct the problems and establishing the “right” metrics to use in evaluating how you are doing.
There is ample evidence that supports a significant change in buyer behavior and expectations of sellers. If sales results are not where they need to be, a temporary quick fix won’t cut it. It is likely time to rewrite the entire playbook.