Four appointments a day, five days a week

Jennifer retrieves her Blackberry from her purse and flicks it free of its protective case in one easy gesture.

Moments later, she’s talking to David – her assistant back at head office. “Good meeting,” she answers, “you can go ahead and schedule the RDM. Yep, you can keep talking to Debra. And the opportunity’s actually a retro-fit … say fifty-grand.”

“I’m all over it.” David reassures Jennifer as he updates fields in the CRM. “So, you’d better hot-tail it over to Tyson Engineering.” Phillip left here half an hour ago, so he should be ready for the presentation when you get there.”

Jennifer, David and Phillip all work for James Sanders Group, a manufacturer of point-of-sale displays and internal fit-outs. JSG is one of our quiet revolutionaries.

JSG is an engineering-centric company. They got to be successful by solving tough problems and building really cool stuff!

In recent times JSG had been suffering a slow leakage in sales. The problem was not that they were suffering at the hands of a large competitor – that’s a battle they were well equipped to fight. What was happening was that numerous small competitors (some of them recent market entrants; others, offshore manufacturers) were chipping away at their base: winning numerous small jobs, often at crazy margins.

JSG had recognized that this was not a trend that they could reverse solely with superior production performance. They knew that they needed sales activity: boots on the ground.

Easier said than done, however! Each time JSG added a salesperson, the new recruit would win a job or two and then become entangled in account management. Before long, account management would become so all-consuming that sales activity would grind to a halt. While this was happening, JSG’s competitors were simply side-stepping those complex jobs and focusing on winning the easy stuff.

Initially, JSG looked to account managers (as they had taken to calling them) for a solution to the problem. Ultimately, it became clear that this was process problem – not a people problem.

The snippet of conversation above speaks volumes about the consequences of JSG’s revolution.

Jennifer is JSG’s salesperson. And that’s the first unusual thing. In spite of the fact that JSG services the whole of Australia (an area roughly the size of the continental USA) JSG has just one salesperson. The reason is that Jennifer is exactly 10-times more productive than one of JSG’s competitor’s salespeople. A competitor’s salesperson averages two sales meetings a week: Jennifer consistently performs 20!

David is the key to Jennifer’s efficiency. David and Jennifer talk at least four times a day. Like an air traffic controller, David is Jennifer’s eyes and ears. He carefully monitors the status of all sales opportunities – freeing Jennifer to focus only on sales meetings as they appear – as if by magic – in her trusty Blackberry.

David’s official title is sales coordinator. His responsibility is to manage JSG’s portfolio of open sales opportunities. He manages each opportunity like a project. He works tirelessly, trying to schedule the next activity in sequence for each. In most (but certainly not all) cases the next activity is a meeting with Jennifer. And, of course, Jennifer’s objective, at each meeting will be to sell the next activity – generating still more work for David.

David frees Jennifer of the requirement to do anything other than face-to-face business-development meetings. In addition to appointment-scheduling, David performs all of the clerical tasks associated with the management of sales opportunities: data-entry, reporting, literature fulfillment, expense tracking, and calendar management.

David routes non-administrative tasks to other specialist resources within JSG. Customer support issues and simple request-for-quotes are routed to customer-service representatives. And requirement-discovery and solution-design become the responsibility of project leaders.

As each task is handed-off, David logs the date in CRM, as well as a prompt for himself to follow-up prior to the task’s expected completion date. In many cases, these tasks are pre-requisites for meetings he has already scheduled for Jennifer. It’s critical, therefore, that he keeps all the parts of this machine working in unison.

Phillip also makes a significant contribution to Jennifer’s tremendous efficiency. Phillip is a project leader. His job is to manage the interface with production. Prior to each sale, Phillip works closely with Jennifer. She introduces him to clients early in each engagement to discover their requirements and to conceptualize and design solutions.

Solution design is always a collaborative process. Clients have their say, of course: they want Rolls Royce solutions on Corolla budgets. Phillip represents production: he must ensure that whatever is specified can be delivered on time and within budget. And it’s Jennifer who uses a mixture of hustle and artful diplomacy to close the gap between both parties.

Post-sale, Phillip is responsible for managing the relationship between production and the client. He’s on hand to negotiate change requests and to fine-tune the production plan on those occasions that it becomes obvious that there’s a gap developing between the client’s expectations and the direction of the project.

There’s no question that Jennifer is busy. Twenty business-development appointments a week is a lot of work – and then there’s the travel. A lot of travel!

But the interesting thing is that Jennifer loves working in this environment. There’s no stress. She doesn’t feel like a juggler with a hundred balls in the air. Clients are happy too. They understand where her responsibilities begin and end, and they always know exactly who to talk to if something appears to be going wrong.

All Jennifer has to do is show-up at meetings and talk to people – and she’s really good at that. The selling looks after itself.

Management by numbers

Matthew is one of James Sanders’ two sons. Today he is in charge of operations – and the sales function is now simple enough to be managed as part of operations.

On the face of it, managing sales is relatively easy. Matthew chairs a weekly sales meeting. The meeting consists of a review of a simple dashboard. First order of business is to ensure that opportunity flow is healthy. It’s critical that there’s a queue of sales opportunities sufficient in size to keep Jennifer busy. And the size of the buffer of forward-booked meetings in Jennifer’s calendar is important too.

Matthew knows that the profitability of the firm requires a steady flow of work to the plant. Any hiccups in meeting volume will result in idle machines and workers in a month or so.

Matthew keeps an eye on other indicators too. He scans run-charts looking for unhealthy trends and scrutinizes cycle-times for critical activities to ensure that protective capacities are being maintained where necessary.

Matthew’s biggest sales challenge is maintaining the support capacity required to keep up with Jennifer’s unrelenting flow of orders.

Prior to the revolution, Jennifer was one of five account managers. Today, four of those account managers have been converted into project leaders – all of whom are now sprinting to keep up with Jennifer. To free project-leadership capacity, Matthew has been building a team of customer-service representatives. But this team is under the pump too. Every month, it seems like there’s a couple of new faces in there!

Arresting the decline

JSG is clearly a different organization today.

There is a clear delineation between the critical sales activity and solution-design and production. Jennifer performs a fixed volume of business-development meetings every week – and the rest of the team sprints to keep up.

Obviously a complex job is likely to consume incrementally more of Jennifer’s capacity than a simple one. But that’s okay. Even when this is factored in, Jennifer still performs more business-development meetings in a week than the rest of the account-management team used to in a month. And, when there’s a hole in the production schedule, Jennifer does whatever’s necessary to win the jobs required to keep the plant busy.

But the impact has not just been on sales. The revolution has impacted every corner of the firm. Conflict has disappeared. People are happier and more willing to help-out when required. Strangely the firm seems quieter today than it ever has before – in spite of the fact that production is busier than it has been in years.

For JSG, the new model means a stronger and more consistent flow of jobs, a better interface between sales and production, and a less stressful work environment for everyone. And, as should be expected, the impact of the revolution on JSG’s profitability has been significant.

Theory into practice

This chapter has showed you the implications of sales process engineering for one business environment (an engineer-to-order manufacturer).

Chapters 2 and 3 will show you why sales process engineering (SPE) is so important in today’s business environment, introduce you to SPE’s four fundamental principles and then explain how these simple principles lead logically to the end result exemplified by JSG’s story.

In subsequent chapters you’ll learn how to apply these principles to create profound improvements in the performance of other business environments:

  1. Indirect sales (when sales are made through distributors, resellers or manufacturers’ representatives)
  2. Commodity sales (when solution-design is not a critical component of the engagement)
  3. A micro-business or a start-up (when resources are limited and specialization appears impossible)

One message that will play over and over throughout this book is that you cannot improve the performance of sales by focusing solely on the sales function. And this theme will be tackled head-on in Chapter 4.

In Part 1’s final chapter, we’ll explore the case for the elimination of salespeople’s commissions. Part 2 is dedicated to the practical application of SPE in your organization.

Let’s go to work!