Archive for February, 2014

Sales: Process or Art?

ManOboe Partners is admittedly a quantitatively and analytically driven consultancy, with our recommendations focused on making strategic changes that leverage rigorous analysis and information. We attempt to change our client’s internal behavior and external perception by helping create a more intelligent organization. We have also primarily worked with sales organizations, many who are looking to become more disciplined in their approach to their clients.

This has always been an interesting intersection since traditionally sales has been considered more of an art than a science. Writers like Dale Carnegie, Zig Ziglar, and Og Mandino, whose books are about building relationships, understanding customer needs, and the art of persuasion, are held with reverent regard by many in sales. We were recently debating this and we challenged ourselves a bit. Are we missing anything significant in our quantitative approach to rethinking sales organizations? Worse, is our methodology possibly harming the delicate juju found in top sales teams?

We feel that our approach is unique in the industry because we are taking into consideration not only the tangible impact of a data driven organization, but we also incorporate strategies that help foster intangible sales assets as well. Our mantra from our beginning has been that creativity is our top virtue and that collaboration is a critical element in organizational strategy.

A recent article in the Harvard Business Review called Dismantling the Sales Machine validated our approach. The authors argue that a certain process-driven discipline has dominated current sales management thinking, based on scorecards and activity metrics intended to ensure compliance to an “established optimal behavior”. They state that sales managers can gain significant advantages by shifting emphasis towards “judgement of individual reps” and manager’s focus on “providing guidance and support rather than inspection and direction”. We agree. We feel that managers create outperforming teams by nurturing creativity and collaboration, which can be achieved by defining very clear strategies and goals, then using information and productivity tools to make client teams more effective. Managers should think of data and analytics as ammunition that can direct teams to perform in a more coordinated and intelligent way.

We feel that oversight metrics, while they can provide certain “fear” motivators, have the potential of harming a sales team in the long run.

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Does Your Firm Suffer from Information Disadvantage?

In many of our client assignments, we’ve been challenged to solve significant information gaps. Managers understood that they were significantly behind their competitors in leveraging information, but they didn’t really know where to start in evaluating their deficiencies.

We came up with a scorecard methodology to evaluate 5 key areas that make up an information platform. We approached the evaluations party on how well the information platform was built, but also partly on whether what was being built and used was aligned strategically with the goals of the organization. The 5 key areas are:

Info Disadvantage - Chart

1) Information Capture: how information gets captured or procured. Is the firm capturing the right internal information from their systems or personnel, and are they procuring the right third party data?

2) Data structuring and integration: how well the data is organized, structured, and integrated with other information within the firm. Are the data from different sources brought together to complement each other and matched so that similar information is well mapped and accessed together (for example information about a certain client)?

3) Data availability: making the data made available for review and analysis. Are tools built or made available for analysts and data scientists to explore the data?

4) Information context: enriching data and creating metadata to give more meaningful cuts and views of information that is more relevant to managers. This is related to the data structuring  point above, but differs in that much of this context is business-specific and in many cases need to be defined by the business, specifically product and sales managers. Are there consistent and global definitions in order to make sense of the information, for example consistent definition of products and regions?

5) Information delivery: creating tools for managers and salespeople to access, receive, and interact with their information so they can use it to enhance their business. Are these tools easy to use, intuitive, fast, and up-to-date.

Half-Baked

What’s interesting is to note how many of the client’s past projects have identified and attempted to expensively address deficiencies in one or two of the five key areas but have often rendered sub-optimal results because problems in other areas were not addressed. In a lot of instances, for example, large investments have been made in information delivery, creating front-end tools to dress up information, but lesser investment in cleaning up the structure of the underlying data or not procuring 3rd party data that could add significant value to existing data.

Firms need to strive to realistically evaluate their platforms in all five fundamental areas and make sure that they understand, and invest strategically, in each of those areas. The knee-jerk response by managers is to argue that it would be prohibitively expensive to address the build-out of the entire platform. Our response is that you don’t have to build out all the areas in full and and they don’t have to be done at the same time. If you target certain specific deliverables that involve development across all five areas, you approach this problem more cohesively and inter-dependencies become much clearer. Also this will most likely be a multi-year project, so it should be planned and invested as such. The project also should be designed to include an element of flexibility to allow for evolution of requirements as the business changes over time.

With this broader approach, an organization can ensure that projects they embark with will be more successful and valuable to the organization.

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