How to Determine Which Sales Problem is Worth Solving?

April 19, 2013 at 7:00 AM

CEO ResourcesSales “problems” make it on to your agenda in many ways. As CEO, sometimes the board feels there is a sales problem that needs attention. The competition is a source of sales problems. It is not uncommon for customers to be a source of sales problems. There is one source of sales problems more active than all of these combined. Your team. 

Your team brings sales problems to you every month, quarter, and year. Why? They want you to give them money and people to solve these problems. You could spend all of your time reacting to your sales team. You could also go broke. If you funded, and staffed all, a profit will become a loss.

This post seeks to help you answer a simple, yet powerful, question:

Is this really an issue?”

Here is a screening tool. When your team brings you a sales problem, evaluate it with this tool. The tool has 10 yes/no questions. A yes response gets awarded +10 points. A no response gets 0 points. A total score of 50 or above means this sales problem warrants further investigation. A total score below 50 means this sales problem should be ignored.  It is noise. 

Why you should care?

Any leadership team can arrive at a long list of areas to improve upon. Even best-in-class sales teams have dozens of ways in which they can get better. The question is not “Can you improve?” The question is “Where are you going to improve to achieve the greatest benefit?”

A client of mine recently stated to me:

“Becoming a world-class sales force is not our goal. Our goal is to be world class in specific areas. The areas that will lead to significantly better financial results.”

You need to prioritize which sales problems warrant further investigation. The 10 questions in this tool can help. 

The answers to these questions will inform you. The cost-benefit tradeoffs associated with solving the sales problem will become visible. You can develop financial models to quantify the incremental revenue and costs, if needed. This tool is used before spreadsheets are built. It is meant to screen.

The first question of the ten is the most import. It asks if the sales problem persists, will you miss the number? Your team will likely not address this relationship explicitly. As a result, their recommended solutions do not directly support the most important opportunities. For example, your sales team will almost always lead with two solutions:

  • Sales compensation
  • Sales training

Sales leaders rely too heavily on comp and training to solve sales problems. Both are critically important. But, by themselves they are almost always insufficient to solve the identified sales problem.

To answer the question, “Is this really an issue?” focus only on rich sales problems. This will result in far more actionable solutions. For example, when asked for funds to train sales reps, ask for an objective. If you hear something like, “grow 20% in Enterprise Accounts in the US”, decline. These high level objectives do little to guide CEO decision making. When evaluating sales problems brought to you by your team, objectives must be by:

  • Market segment
  • Product
  • Territory
  • Root cause

An Example

This worksheet helped a company prioritize which sales problems to tackle. The CEO was getting bombarded with request for funds from his team. The sales problems were because of rapid growth (0 to 100 million users).

sales problem priorityThis worksheet presents the priorities. The workshop was attended by the CEO and his team.  It allowed a number of sales problems to be prioritized. In order to make the number, we need to address these problems: 

  1. The sales process was ineffective at cross selling in the Enterprise/Large segments. This was problematic for these two are the largest and most attractive markets.
  2. The sales force was too small to cover the mid-market segment. This was resulting in insufficient new logo acquisition. A big problem. New logo acquisition represented the most attractive revenue source in this segment. Excluding cross selling Enterprise, it is a more important revenue source than any other.

The CEO has concentrated his efforts on sales process and adding sales headcount.  He recognized if he did not, he would miss the number.

The next time your team brings you a sales problem, ask yourself:

Is this really an issue?”

Rely on this tool in this post to help you answer it.

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Topics: CEO, CEO Resources

Posted by Greg Alexander

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