Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Implementation vs. Execution

Sales is a game of words and meanings; the words we use, how we communicate them, their interpretations by the receiver, directly impact the meaning others take away from our message. It all count in sales, and therefore has to be actively managed and results dealt with. This is why language is an important aspect of sales; further, a key attribute of a solid sales culture is a "common language." The key in sales is that the communications have to align with actions.
It is no surprise that people often hide behind words, or get very different results than they set out to achieve, based on what and how they communicate, then act. Case in point is how some in sales the words: Implementation and Execution.

By Tibor Shanto

Many companies implement things, be it software, process, training, a strategy, policy and more, only to find that they do not realize what they set out to do, or achieve results they were led to believe could be achieved by implementing one of the above. The specific reason is that they fail take steps and action that will make the implementation a success; in other words, they fail to Execute.

One national company "implemented" a new policy for 2011; each rep had to carry out four hours of outbound prospecting each and every week. It became a KPI, an element on the reps' scorecards. They got marketing to participate not only in terms of prepping leads lists, but also in developing campaigns to fuel the calls, and a host of other things. Based on stats and other inputs they were looking to generate a minimum of five new appointments a week, which would (could should) lead to the level of pipeline and sales they were looking to achieve.

Unfortunately, it did not take long, for not only the reps, but the managers, to begin to find exceptions. Two of the most popular songs on the hit parade were "I have a big deal I am working on, the proposal is due Tuesday, but I will start Wednesday", which manager can resist that age-old favourite. The other, "I have an appointment I have to get to, it is an important one". I am just relieved that no one has had the leads list eaten by their dog, although I am sure that will come after they read this article.

After 10 weeks of the program being "implemented", there has not been one week of full compliance, they have definitely seen improvement in activity and more appointments, but somewhat short of where they were looking to be by the end of Q1, given the headcount.

The company, like many who "implement" and fail to "execute", made a couple of key mistakes. First, they failed to get buy in from the reps, second, they failed to translate the implementation into an action plan, for both the managers, and the reps. Not surprisingly, these two are related and fixing one will go some way to fixing the other.

First, the people putting together the plan, be they the VP of Sales or Sales Ops, need to understand that just because it was conceived and makes sense, does not lead to it happening. When it come to activities, habit based activities, it requires much more than a sound plan, it requires a detailed action plan, and selling and support points for each step of the action plan. This leads to a disciplined approach, which will take time and effort.

Many sales leaders forget that we are not dealing with numbers, but with people's perceptions and habits. Let's face it, if they saw things as the VP does, there would be no need for the whole exercise. When trying to change people's habits, sales habits, it is no different from a smoker going "cold turkey", that's why they call it quitting the habit. Few can do it that way, most need help.

Simply telling a rep that they will make more money as a result of the "newly implemented" policy, is like telling a two pack a day smoker that they will be healthier once they quit, good luck with that. You need to find a specific motivation, an action plan, support, and yes, consequences for non-compliance beyond reduced income.

Where many fall short on motivation is putting too much emphasis on money, "if you get more prospects, you'll get more sales and make oodles more cash." The reality is, if they are an "80% of goal type" rep, which in many instances is deemed to be good, they are usually happy with the money they are making. If not they would have taken steps on their own to increase it, the fact that they have not is a clear statement that money is not a driver for them. You need to tie the effort required to change to something that is important to them.

This will vary from rep to rep, but is usually tied to something personal, ego, or other non-monetary goal.
For example, one rep I know has made a commitment that he will not miss any of his son's hockey games, no matter what, and he works diligently to manage his calendar to meet that goal. One way to motivate him is to show him how the newly implemented policy will increase his ability to be at all the games. His execution of the plan is not the resulting appointments; it is the son's games. I remember that I was resolved never to go to a sales meeting and not be presented an award. As long as I was a rep I always worked to ensure I would be getting an award, be it for most deals, size of deal, top revenue, whatever, I was going to get one, and did. My director knew this and used it when I needed to get something done.

These are great "levers" for a manager to work with, it may take a bit to figure out what these may be, but if you are a real sales manager, interacting with and regularly coaching your team, it does not take long to understand and figure out where the button is for each of your team. That is the first step, engaging your team the same way as you would expect them to engage with their clients.

You can then tie this to a specific action plan; this action plan can be part of your ongoing (weekly) coaching with each team member. Rather than saying "right we're gonna do some prospecting now, 4 hours a week, 5 new prospects, no brainer, you'll make more money; off you go then". Break it down, knowing the desired results, knowing the person involved, likes dislikes, current habits, etc., create an ongoing plan. The plan needs to have a series of objective, clear and measurable actions, with deadlines; each step moving them towards the desired new habits.

Introduce the first element, get buy in, which means more than the person nodding and smiling. One way is to jointly or mutually create the objective; even something as simple as getting the rep to figure out how much time it will take him to generate five new appointments a week. More than getting agreement on the objective, the rep feels ownership when you leave it to the rep to come up with the action item. This allows you to set an agreed on timeframe, and measurable related to the objective. Again, it drives ownership by the rep, which is much more likely to succeed than an edict from on high. As they success with this step, you introduce another, each realistic, not easy, but doable; each moving towards the long term desired objective, each allowing the rep to own their progress, and drive mutual accountability.

This means the manager also has obligations, which is to coach on a consistent basis, if they do not, then the whole thing falls apart, and you experience what many organizations do, which is implementing something that does not get executed.

One last related point: Given the smoking analogy, the goal should be to avoid the whole need for changing the habit by adopting the right habits to begin with. If you don't take up smoking you will not have to quit. If you get people doing the right things to begin with, you will not have to have as many "change exercises", and avoid the friction and use the energy for the important things from the start, which still comes down to execution.