As I was casually browsing the Internet looking for inspiration for the next Incenteev blog post, I stumbled upon a very interesting McKinsey’s article entitled “Sales-force productivity in India: How the best organizations go from chasing targets to creating value”. The title intrigued me enormously as, naturally, I wondered, “is this productive strategy only reserved for the Indian sales forces? Or can it be used everywhere and anywhere in the world?”
Deep diving into the article, the authors listed four different actions that companies can take to bring their sales force’ productivity to the next level. I hope you- like myself– will also find some inspiration in the following suggestions to help your sales teams improve not only their productivity (speaking in terms of quantity), but also the their work value (speaking in terms of quality).
- “Base coverage on potential, not geography”:
As a matter of fact, the article states that Indian companies often organize their sales forces around the traditional “geography” criterion, which allocates one executive per district (I would argue that, until recently, this was the main criterion pretty much everywhere in the world). This method is, however, very outdated as, although it makes it easier to monitor the sales force’s performance, it doesn’t help leaders and decision makers to distinguish between high-growth and slower-growth markets (and thus, help them invest in those different areas accordingly). The (not-so-optimal) result is that roughly the same investment (in time, effort and capital) is being spent on markets and customers with very different potential (that doesn’t sound logical, does it?) — thus, clearly not maximizing the company’s bottom line.
A leading pipe company in India has decided to use a new approach to not only achieve 5 to 7 percent price premiums compared with their tier-one competitors, but also achieve more share of new markets, starting from less than 20% and getting greater than 55% (yes, you read it right!). In fact, with the help of around 30 different parameters, the company developed a very tedious evaluation and assessment of the diverse potential of these different micro-markets’ that they’ve created. Once they obtained the results, they proceeded in classifying these micro-markets into different categories according to their 1) size, 2) growth potential and 3) ability to win.
As it is so accurately described in Brar’, Chhaparia, Choudhary and Viertler’s article, this method of classifying micro-markets is very holistic, for it allows many different elements to be addressed, such as sales target, sales-resource allocation and type of distributor programs, just to name a few. These elements are then converted into different specific indicators (whoever says “indicator” says “Incenteev Dashboard”!) for each of the salesperson in charge to follow and monitor.
Sounds easy enough?
- “Embrace an attitude of less is more in sales-force automation and analytics”
It is very common, in this day and age, for companies – big and small—to adopt endless digital tools in the hope of boosting their sales-force productivity, gathering market intelligence, and improving performance management. However, what many companies and organizations sometimes fail to realize is that, complex and expensive tools do not necessarily lead to better results – in fact, most often it even brings down the expected average results because of the complexity of the tools and the fact that many salespeople consider these tools to be more of a burden than anything else.
According to the article, the companies in India that have successfully deployed digital platforms have assured that they are simple to use (“simple” is also one of the four main values here at Incenteev – coincidence?), quick to implement (we can easily deliver a platform for your company within a few weeks!) and eliminate spreadsheet-based reporting (none of your salespeople will ever see any excel sheet on their Incenteev platform – ever!). The trick is to avoid bombarding your salespeople with extraneous and superfluous data in order for them to focus on their tasks and objectives at hand (what a better way than to display only four to six main indicators on their dashboard and wipe out the rest?).
In McKinsey’s case study, a large Indian industrial company was looking for ways to push a new line of products into the market in which the sales growths were slowing. Instead of investing in a new sales-force digital application with hundreds of functionalities that would take months (if not years!) to first develop then test, the decision-makers decided on a simpler platform that was deployed within four weeks (we also deliver on that timeframe – and even earlier!). Said platform had only three functionalities, but those were all that they needed: activity planning, lead-funnel management and performance management (that last one is Incenteev’s specialty!). Unsurprisingly, the sales force’s productivity increased threefold within the six months of the platform’s deployment.
Again – coincidence?
- Engage, don’t just teach
Based on their surveys, experiments and case studies, the authors have found that the best way to engage – not teach!— your sales forces is a combination of the following: 1), coaching, 2) experiential learning and 3) digital and live training (hate to brag, but Incenteevers have known this since 2012!). And one of their success stories in India is that of a pharmaceutical company whose sales managers mapped the daily activities of their subordinates. What they have found is that their salespeople spend an enormous amount of their time on public transport (to get to work, go meet clients, etc.) and they waste all of that valuable time on social media and gaming (as per the norm of the world now, dare I say?).
With these findings, the managers went ahead and built an in-house platform that 1) incorporated gamification into learning modules (we call them “quizzes” at Incenteev), 2) built-in leaderboards (we call that a “dashboard”) and 3) in-play rewards (we allow not only in-play rewards, but also real life prizes and points to be converted into Amazon money!). Through this experience, the management in this pharmaceutical company have realized that “micro-learning” (personalized, relevant, and engaging learning delivered in shorts bursts) is the best way not only for your salespeople to learn more about their company (and/or product), but also for them to stay engaged and entertained as they commute to their workplace (too bad they didn’t know of Incenteev before actually building this platform – we would have been a match made in heaven!).
- Take more time for sales conversations
At this stage in the business world, sales forces are currently (still) wasting an enormous amount of time on both internal and external communication (not to mention a million other things that they also have to do such as ordering the products to be sold or collecting the incoming payment). In other words, salespeople tend to be doing too many tasks that aren’t directly related to generating a new sale. Thus, each minute that a salesperson spends on doing any non-sales related activity (chasing payments, for instance) should be considered as a wasted minute. In fact, the authors in this article highly encourage managers to re-think the role of a salesperson: for them, salespeople should be dedicating the majority of their time in creating additional values for their customers – and thus generating demands—rather than any other tasks that aren’t doing exactly just that.
The example given in the article that backs up the above claim and suggestion is my personal favorite: After receiving countless complaints from their salespeople regarding their supposedly too low dealer margins, a tier-one Indian cement manufacturer had developed a digital tool that gave their salespeople information regarding the returns on capital employed (ROCE) that the dealers were gaining from working with the company. The data collected showed a completely different story than the one understood by both the dealers and the salespeople: the information demonstrated that most dealers were making very reasonable ROCE of at least 25% and this is explained by the fact that this cement manufacturer— due to its importance in the market— had a very strong brand pull, which in turn gave dealers the opportunity to rotate their invested capital faster. This story told by the collected data completely changed the conversation and the dynamic between these two parties. Indeed, they went from focusing only and solely on dealer margins to finding different indicators that they can work together to jointly increase the returns on capital employed.
The reason why this is my personal favorite success story of all four mentioned is because it gives me even more faith in the future impact that our product – the Incenteev platform—will have in the modern workplace. This story demonstrates the fact that there are many different perspectives within a business and that as long as the indicators are chosen carefully and everyone’s incentives are in alignment with the objectives given, only then can we truly create a win-win situation for all parties involved, not only in terms of productivity (measured in the company’s profit, for example), but also in terms of happiness (measured in company’s churn and turnover rate, for instance).
And so to answer my own questions at the beginning of this article, I am convinced that these methods and approaches are applicable in all types of businesses around the world, whether you are a big or a small company, or whether your company happens to be in Europe or Africa. Additionally, this strategy of creating additional values for your customers –instead of constantly chasing arbitrary and pre-established targets— will always propel your company ahead simply because this shift allows for the human individual to be at the center of the equation. Suddenly, your clients or partners are no longer just a number but also people with their own goals and objectives. Suddenly, your salespeople are no longer money making machines, but lifelong learners wanting to do well in the school of life. Suddenly, you – the management— also find the whole game more fun, humane and interesting.
Wouldn’t you agree?