April 23, 2014/Jack O’Holleran/Decision Support

Which decisions made by the sales team can you control as a Sales or Marketing leader? Which can’t you control?

The reality is that with a large distributed field sales force, your ability to “control” is very limited. At the end of the day, reps often do what they feel is best for their territory or their customer – not what they are told to do. Sales leaders that don’t embrace this reality create a culture that lacks transparency and trust. Those sales cultures often lead to serious gaps in performance.

The real questions that those in charge should be asking are:

  • Which decisions made by the sales team can you influence?
  • And how can that influence have more sustained impact?

The most common influence techniques occur through training, management guidance, and comp plan structure. These techniques are the “blocking and tackling” of most sales teams.  But where this strategy falls short is in real-world application.  Because in the end, the sales rep must still remember what he or she has learned and apply that to the constantly changing landscape of their day-to-day decisions.  Human nature tells us that a gap is inevitable between the training itself and the application of it. This gap leads to significant error – especially in complex selling situations with multiple customer segments, sales channels, products, and consistently changing data.

In the pharmaceutical world, for example, let’s say a competitor is launching a product that will compete will your blockbuster. This launch may affect sales reps differently in different territories due to formulary coverage variances. In theory, your competitive positioning should be different and specific for each rep to each physician – some reps should emphasize formulary coverage while others might focus solely on drug efficacy or minimal side effects. Trainings, spreadsheets, and management reinforcement can only go so far in helping reps execute on targeted strategies when carrying multiple brands and covering large territories.

This execution gap reinforces the 80/20 rule. Your top 20 percent of reps will retain greater information and be able to apply it to the various situations they face. The remaining 80 percent will continue to make the same mistakes as they are burdened by the homework required to consistently put training into action.

The answer to this challenge is real-time decision support for every rep in every local market. By providing data-driven guidance to reps on whom to visit, which products to emphasize, which questions to ask, what digital content to leverage, or which company resource to trigger, you will see better decisions being made and as a result, better numbers.

A good, data-driven, decision support tool should provide assistance in a user-friendly manner that aligns with existing workflow. Think of the hotel concierge. They provide guidance to you on what restaurants to visit, help you book shows, etc. And they’re always right in the lobby waiting to be of service to you. Imagine if you had to walk four blocks and wait for 15 minutes to talk to them. You probably wouldn’t utilize their service. The same concept holds true for software. Insights must be delivered in the right way, at the right time, every time.

Control is an illusion in the modern age of selling. But influence is not only possible, it’s even more effective than ever with the right tools and practices in place.

Not all sales activities are created equal, however. In my next post I’ll be writing about the ones that are best to influence and which are better left alone.