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Sales: Unwrapping the “Black Box”

Sales enhancement opportunities

Between the setting of targets and the achievement of goals sits a black box, unopened. Effective unwrapping of this black box furnishes the difference between success or failure. This black box contains elements that drive growth, ensures sales funnels remain active and full, creates opportunities for the sales teams to excel and allow for a virtual framework to be created based on the multiple aspects highlighted. Creating depth in the one word that drives it all “Sales”.Soft skills play a large part (Active listening skills, effective communication skills, problem solving, empathy, relationship nurturing abilities, drive and a disposition for the role). But a deeper dive would provide a broader understanding of what this box contains.

Let’s see if we can unwrap that black box using this quote below:


“Small and mid-size companies grapple with 1) common sales effectiveness issues. 2) Inconsistent sales processes 3) lack of access to the right information 4) low sales productivity, and a 5) lack of actionable insight all hindering a company’s ability to maximize revenues and profits.”


So what does it all mean? Words that sound good, make sense, but, do not lead anyone anywhere in tangible step-by-step ways to any potential solutions. It’s attacking the problems and not addressing the potential solutions. We must see beyond this approach and visit its component parts.

So, maybe it’s time to break this “Black box” down into its elements as presented by the above quote.

  1. Common sales effectiveness issues:

 Preparing / Targeting / Connecting / Assessing / Solving / Assuring /Managing. Several areas where focus needs to be put to ensure the entire process is being enhanced, not just the numbers. Unfortunately, people involved in sales simply look at one thing and one thing alone. The numbers. Although it’s understandable, given that this is what they would be assessed on. But if they could look at the entire journey, they would have a better chance of gaining those numbers. The reasons may not lie in the underperformance of the salesperson, but other factors like Non-alignment between sales & marketing, lengthy sales cycles, lack of competitive differentiation, our direction, target market, price point, market positioning, product positioning, sales team orientation and training issues, ineffective lead generation, territory misalignment etc. etc. The list is long. A deep dive is required to ensure all is in place for the sales teams to be effective.

2) Inconsistent sales processes:

Having or not having a sales process may not be a pivotal factor, but, having an inconsistent one surely is.

What is being assessed is if there are pre-visit / visit / post visit processes in place?

If there is actually a sales process of moving leads to prospects to customers and tools & templates in place to support the same. If it is clearly articulated / defined, sales cycles are managed efficiently or can be shortened, pricing / discounting strategies are consistent, marketing / sales strategies are consistent etc. etc. then a positive impact is felt on the closing rates, accurate forecasting, more salespeople achieving their targets and shorter ramp-up times for new salespeople.

In short:

  • Is there a sales process in place?
  • Is it a consistent one?
  • Pre-visit / Visit / Post visit processes in place?
  • If the sales process is clearly articulated / defined
  • Sales cycles are managed efficiently or can be shortened
  • Pricing / discounting strategies are consistent
  • Marketing / sales strategies are consistent
  • Tools & templates in place to support moving leads to prospects to customers
  • Process diagnostics
  • Process monitoring & re-design / improved / upgraded / more efficient processes.
  • Standardization is key. Putting everyone on the same page is critical. Documented.
  • Ensuring the path of least resistance when dealing with the organization is the holy grail.

3) Lack of access to the right information:

Information overload in our lives is evident. Yet relevant information, delivered or accessible at the right time (ALL the time) on ANY device, ANYWHERE, is not easily available. It can make or break a deal and yet it is sorely missing. Like the FAQ on every website, it should become the norm rather than an exception. One needs to be prepared, look at the bigger picture.  People assume you’re a banker, not just a credit card sales person. They think you’re an IT professional not simply a laptop screen technician. Think big. Know your industry, your market, your competition. To do so requires information. Relevant. Anytime. Anywhere.

Secondly, access not only to the information, but the right information, at the right time. Immediate, 24/7, anywhere on any device. In almost all of my training programs I raise this aspect asking random delegates what the rates are on different products or how one would access the free services offered on the credit card or………and almost always I get confused looks or differing responses. Things change constantly. Updated, relevant information is key.

4) Low sales productivity- (People):

Trip planning: Incredible how many get this important aspect wrong, ending up with maybe 2 or 3 visits a day rather than the possible 4 or 5. May not seem like much of a difference but it’s actually nearly a 100% more, at times.

Working backwards: Working backwards i.e. How many calls are to be made to get how many appointments & how many appointments are to be made to get how many commitments to move forward & how many of these commitments convert to a sale? This would provide you the number of calls, visits, appointments you need to make to arrive at your target. A virtual roadmap to success instead of “working hard” & “making a lot of calls”.

Time Management: We only have a certain number of working hours in a day. We have heard this a million times. So what have we done about it? I have been on joint sales visits with sales people from multiple organizations and found this lagging across the board.

Application of experience: Experience. A misunderstood word. Like the adage goes: Experience is not what happens to you. It is what you do with what happens to you.

Most sales people go from meeting to meeting and then some more meetings, given the pressure of targets, deadlines etc. Never stopping to think. What went right in that meeting? What went wrong? What were some of the questions the customer asked me that I did not know the answer to or that made me feel uncomfortable? Then go back to the office and ensure you have the answer to those questions. Once this exercise has been effectively conducted by the sales person a few times, there would be very few situations left where he / she would be caught off guard or not know the answers to queries raised.

Metrics: As the old adage suggests “You cannot manage what you cannot measure”. Firstly, are we measuring anything, and, if we are, is it the right thing? This aspect also provides for a more balanced fact-driven and realistic performance management tool.

Real top-down support: Receiving feedback like “think outside the box” or “work smarter not harder” or “what is the matter with you” does not help. Its badgering, not constructive feedback. Leaders should remember, in their success, lies yours. Hands-on support is key.

Belief: This is one area most sale programs do not address. If you do not believe in yourself, your product, your organization, your market etc. there is no point in knowing the rest of the sales techniques. If you think your product is not as good as the other competing products in the market, if the others are offering better prices, more benefits etc. or if you feel you cannot achieve unrealistic targets set by your organization. Move.

Linkage: In a retail environment you cannot separate sales from service. Service is not a department in your organization. It is an attitude. Service and sales are intertwined and we need to look at both elements to ensure success.

Success VS effective: Success is about achieving targets. Effectiveness is achieving your targets but with thought given to the people who are helping you achieve the same. Some examples: For sales managers, whipping their team into achieving targets may be easy. But how does that leave your team feeling? For sales persons, pushing your customer to buy while leaving a bad taste in their mouth or making them suffer from Sales remorse. For leaders, pushing your team and scaring them into achieving targets may achieve targets, but your team is left stressed & unhappy. Effectiveness needs to remain in focus.

Handling objections: The end is nigh. You have done all that was needed and an objection stands in your way of closing your sale. How effectively you handle it will denote success / failure. A bank / list of objections needs to be created with the best possible responses, to ensure a smooth outcome.

Load assessment: Not all of the sales challenges can be resolved via training. Internal workings as mentioned above, need attention as well. One cannot make someone sit on a PABX of 100 lines and expect high levels of service. After all, there are only so many lines one person can handle. Provide the backup as well if you want success not just the targets.

Closing techniques: If you don’t ask you don’t get. Multiple approaches can be utilized, but utilizing them effectively is a must.

Training, motivation, direction, effective performance management is all key. But it starts with affective hiring and on-boarding, on-going training and effective / supportive management.

5) Lack of actionable insight:

Far too many initiatives regarding data collation and surveys are conducted and then nothing happens. Most data collected may be understood by a few or kept by others, but it does not filter down with specific plans to do anything about it. Insight from these could provide huge opportunities for actionable next steps. Across a broad spectrum of companies, this is the case, even now. Voice of the customer (VoC), Employee surveys, market surveys, marketing campaigns, audit findings, CSAT scores and other methods are used to collect data, sift through it, come up with conclusions and create action plans to rectify / enhance / improve specific areas. In theory. In reality, although considerable efforts are made to conduct and implement such initiatives, the data derived from them is not effectively utilized / shared. A priority area if numbers need to see marked improvements.

All the above-mentioned elements impact / support / enhance / create / hinder the environment for success. Use them wisely.

Author: Uzair Hassan, CEO, 3H Solutions Group, Dubai, UAE.

(Uzair.hassan@3hsolutions.biz )