Measuring Today's Sales Professionals

I am fortunate to work with some wonderful companies in this industry.  However, the company that will be described is from another industry – industrial gas distribution.  Currently I am working with their sales force to increase sales and grow gross profits and the issue this company is seeing may be common place to this industry as well. 

I was asked by the President of the company to come in for a day and understand their business model.  At that time they would share their goals and their chief complaint regarding their sales force.  I flew to their facility and began working.  We toured the facility, offices, and reviewed their basic business model.  Of course, with me being from the south, we went out to a great lunch!  I have made it a habit over my 40 plus years to not miss many opportunities to eat!  Late in the afternoon the President said he was ready to discuss the problem(s). 

            The President leaned forward and said, “We are in a mature industry, and our sales people are a mix of 50% veterans (greater than 10 years experience each) and 50% rookies (Under 5 years experience each).  Here is our problem - we are not sure that we know all of our existing clients listed on our account lists and we believe that there is considerable untapped market.  Currently we are growing, but I believe it is just price increase driven growth.  Quite frankly I don’t know what to tell our people to do.”  I was shocked to hear the brutal honesty and, to be candid, found it refreshing.  It seems sometimes in business we have this façade that keeps us from truly addressing the issue; maybe we see it as a sign of weakness.

Let me jump forward about 6 months and tell you a little bit about the outcome and then we can look at the process.  The outcome was an increase in sales above price increases (about 12%) and margin growth above normal (about 2.5% increase).  This was accomplished without changing compensation or moving accounts around.  We did not hire any new sales people or release any of them on their own recognizance.  If you have read this far you may be thinking “this Texan is telling me a fairy tale” – but nothing could be farther from the truth.       

Upon further discussion with the President I asked what the sales process was for his company.  Without hesitation he stated find them,get them to buy something and keep them buying.  While I agree with the overall philosophy of this process, it is very difficult to coach or manage a sales force on this large of an objective. The end results mentioned above were achieved largely by identifying and measuring sales professionals on a sales process. Not a very clear picture

Working in the Industrial Distribution Program at Texas A&M University is a very rewarding experience.  This affords me an opportunity to work with professionals from many unique industries.  One of the first action items after being hired at Texas A&M was to develop a Sales Council from several industries and work toward defining the basic industrial Sales Process.  While we may not have been breaking new ground, I believe that we did articulate a solid process and, more importantly, we identified the skill set necessary for each step in the process.  We identify the industrial sales process as

Pre Contact – Planning

Lead Identification



Getting in The Door – Value Prop

Contact (Appointment Setting)

Agenda – Expectations

Sales Discovery

Needs Assessment

Understanding Client’s business

Tactical Execution


Having a defined sales process can truly transform our entire sales team.  Wow - now that is a big statement Mitch!  I truly think that identifying what takes place from becoming aware of a lead to providing a service and money changing hands is one of the most important sales activities we can spend time on.  Knowing intimate details about the process of sales is critical to becoming more proficient in the process.  Identifying skill sets specific to our industry for each step of the process is the next step to changing our current direction.  

Articulating our sales process can help in several key areas.  The hiring process can be greatly affected by sales process identification.  Think about when you hired your last Sales Professional.  How did you find them?  How did the interview go?  What kind of questions did you ask?  Most of us have either been in or conducted interviews where the majority of the time was spent on who know who in industry or showing off communication skills. 

What if you had a list of skill sets necessary for each of the steps in your sales process?  With this list of skill sets you could create questions that analyze the applicant’s ability to perform the job.  Think about the change it might have in your interview protocol.  The affect could even be seen in the initial recruitment process by requiring a minimum level of certain skills before someone is ever considered for a position.  This could transform the interview from primarily using subjective measures to include a much more objective component. 

As it relates to training, a Sales Process can be very helpful.  This may seem basic and even elementary to veterans but it has been my experience that they can often benefit the most from revisiting skill sets necessary to perform each of these steps.  All sales professionals can receive value from role playing, idea generation and the practice of skill sets for each of the steps in the sale process.  We can see this point clearly illustrated in the sports world - no one doubts the talent and God-given ability of Nolan Ryan or Roger Clemens.  Both of these men possess a tremendous amount of natural talent.   However each of these men spends or spent hour upon hours on the most basic aspects of pitching.  Release points, ball grip, foot work, and placement are constantly being practiced.  Now if a Hall of Fame baseball player and a future Hall of Fame player work regularly on fundamentals, shouldn’t our sales professionals do the same?  The answer is obviously yes!

A sales process can be of benefit by allowing us to measure ongoing sales activities.  If we measure only on the amount of sales or gross profit generated in a period we may look at some individuals as underperformers.  However with the use of a sales process and a method for data collection we might learn more about the lower performing individual:  Looking at the following table may change our mind about how we develop our people.

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By capturing data based on the sales process and adding it into the traditional method of viewing sales professionals, we might decide to spend more time with James in developing his ability to understand client’s needs and offer solutions.  James has a tremendous potential and if we can define the best place to spend time coaching versus pushing, chances are that he might be more productive.  Additionally, we might want to learn from Sarah on her ability to close on such a small number of leads and work toward transferring some of those skills to James.  Finally, on viewing this information, we might work with Mark to develop his ability to find leads.  He obviously has a current base of business but could benefit himself and the company by finding more leads.     

Finally a Sales Process can give us hard data to use in providing a true coaching experience.  We can make our time much more productive if we spend it on the areas that are most critical to the individual sales professional!  Think about reviews: with hard data we can provide excellent feedback and identify development opportunities for each of our sales professionals.  These are some broad thoughts but can be refined to fit your business model.  Remember, business isn’t for the faint of heart – it is hard but rewarding work!  Hard work pays off!

Mitchell Harper