by Michael Cannon
You know the drill – it’s classic material for a Dilbert comic. The executive team is frustrated that Sales is not meeting expectations. To fix the problem, a significant portion of the sales team is fired, a new team is hired and the company winds up back where it started 6-12 months later.
The spotlight then shifts to sales management, and in comes a fresh squad, which triggers another round of fire-and-hire through the sales ranks.
When that doesn’t work, the CEO fires the VP of Sales and hires the “right person.” This change starts yet another round of fire-and-hire across the sales team.
The CEO may go through several Sales VPs before the Board fires the CEO to get the “right person” at the helm, and the cycle starts over again.
This fire, hire, and repeat syndrome is all too familiar for most business warriors. Those who witness “the body wars” also know that throwing people at the problem rarely produces the expected results, and it is always expensive.
This is because in most cases the people are not the problem. The system that supports – or fails to support – the sales team is the problem. Fix the system and most of the people will do just fine. You can then easily identify and cull the few salespeople and managers that really need to go.
Let’s take a quick look at why the fire-and-hire exercise fails most of the time – and why management (and the Board of Directors) continues to use this questionable approach to improving sales performance. Then we will review a superior alternative, a systems approach for increasing sales performance.
Why the Fire-and-Hire Exercise Fails
Most fire-and-hire exercises explode in management’s face because hope is not a strategy! That’s right – hope is not a strategy! Think about it: statistically speaking, there’s a 50% chance that the person being hired will be as good as, or worse than, the one being fired. This fire-and-hire exercise is founded on the hope that the new hire will be better than the last hire. And at 50% odds, it’s a risky bet.
It’s also an expensive bet. How much does it cost to fire a person – including severance and unemployment compensation? How much does it cost to hire a new person – including recruitment cost and bonuses? How about training costs? What about the lost-opportunity cost of having the managers tied up in interviews and training rather than driving sales opportunities? How many months does it take for new hires to become profitable? Fire, hire, and repeat syndrome is a major drain on productivity and profit, and it has a negative impact on any company’s ability to stay competitive.
The Fatal Attraction
So why does management continue to throw bodies at the problem? The results are questionable, and the costs are high! What logic drives this cycle?
Well, it’s politically astute, and it’s easy. No one has to spend serious time thinking about how to solve the hard problems – such as, “What is the real reason Sales is not performing to expectations?”
And the answer comes prefabricated: “The problem is not the company, the market, the products, or the marketing. It’s the sales team. We just need better salespeople.” This explanation may save the VP of Sales’ or Marketing’s or the CEO’s job for another year, but it rarely fixes the problem.
Alternatively, management or the Board may use the fire-and-hire technique because it’s “the way we’ve always done it.” They may not be aware of an alternative, thinking-outside-the-box strategy for increasing sales performance.
A Better Way
Most sales teams are not successful because the system or sales infrastructure they need is not in place. A glaring example of what’s missing is summarized in this Customer Communications Index, (compiled from 10+ years of 3rd party market research):
- Less than 50% of your marketing and sales communications are relevant to your customers
- Less than 30% of your marketing content is relevant to your customer-facing teams
How can management realistically expect Sales to be successful when over 50% of the go-to-market content is not relevant to their needs?
Use the checklist below to make sure your sales teams have the support, and tools, they need to be successful. Creating the sales infrastructure required to support a high-performing sales team is not easy. But it’s far less risky, costly, and time-consuming than the constant call to fire, hire and repeat.
Sales Infrastructure Checklist
Several components make up this system:
- It includes having the appropriate positions, like inside versus outside sales or farmers versus hunters, plus the associated job descriptions and compensation plans defined and aligned with company objectives and market requirements.
- It includes a hiring process that identifies competent salespeople, which means it needs to include a structured interview process and profiling or testing for the right skills, aptitude, and personality.
- It includes a formal sales process that is aligned to the buyer’s journey and used to create leads, meetings, buying events, and orders.
- It includes reports that track the sales activities, goals, and processes, and that distinguish sales pipeline from sales forecast.
- It ensures that the management team is effective in terms of providing coaching, accountability, and recognition.
- It includes providing training in the areas of product and sales enablement, as well as traditional sales skills training.
- It includes collateral and sales tools that are synchronized and that support the key steps in the sales processes.
- And, of course, it includes high-quality messaging that is used across all the customer touch points, collateral, and sales tools.
Experience has shown that focusing on the creation of a solid sales support infrastructure, as defined above, is essential to achieving and exceeding revenue, market share, and profit targets. And, great messaging – specifically persuasive messaging – is one of the most critical components for building a successful sales support infrastructure.
Resources to Implement the Most Influential Customer Communications
Michael Cannon is an internationally renowned marketing and sales effectiveness expert, best-selling author, speaker and an authority on enabling B2B companies to engage customers with the most influential communications. For more information, visit silverbulletgroup.com.