July 26th, 2013

Sales Transformation – No Guts, No Glory

sales transformation

Sales Transformation – No Guts, No Glory

I read somewhere recently that organizations should consider very carefully whether to undertake a full-blown sales transformation initiative, because of the time, effort and cost involved.

Really?  Whatev! (Sorry, I live with teenagers.)

Yes, perhaps if your basic strategy or business model is flawed, your product has serious quality or value-delivery issues, your service delivery destroys customer loyalty, or your costs or pricing/profitability are grossly out of line, you might plug another hole first while bailing water.

But before long, you need to address revenue, profit, and growth. No organization has ever cut their way to the top. Sales remains the lifeblood of organizational success. As the old adage goes, “Nothing happens until someone sells something.” I simply have a hard time imagining a more worthy corporate endeavor than transforming your sales force into a more effective, well-oiled machine.

And I’m not talking about 3 or 5 percent incremental improvements, either.

Aim Low, Hit Low

You’ve probably heard the quote that we use only a small portion of our brain’s potential capability, right? I’d argue that generally-speaking, we’re in the same boat with our sales effectiveness.

Perhaps you’re thinking that so many organizations are already doing extraordinarily well at growing sales year-over-year, that sales transformations aren’t necessary? I do know this is true in some specific cases. Some organizations are doing quite well;  have already taken a logical, organized, piece-by-piece, evidence-based approach toward sales transformation, have addressed multiple parts of the sales performance ecosystem, and are steadily progressing toward system and organization alignment.

I tip my hat to these company leaders, but I don’t see enough of them.

Frankly, I haven’t walked into an organization as an employee, where I didn’t believe that we could double sales, with the right people, focus, attention and effort.

Yes, I said double. But if my zeal makes you uncomfortable, pretend I said 25 percent improvement. Anything but 3 to 5 percent.

Look, I want to be more positive about our current state of affairs, but when we look at the big picture, let’s be real. Week in and week out, I continue to come across these and similar data points:

  • Over the past four years, various sources, including CSO Insights, have reported that 36 to 46 percent of sales reps do not achieve quota.
  • According to Xactly Corporation, 40 percent of sales teams make less than 80 percent of quota.
  • The average tenure of senior sales leaders is 18 to 24 months.
  • ES Research Group, Inc. estimates that 20 to 33 percent of salespeople do not have the capabilities to be successful at their jobs.
  • ESR also estimates that 80 to 85 percent of sales training produces no long-term impact (after 90 days).
  • In ASTD’s report The State of Sales Training, 2012, half the respondents felt that 50 percent or less of the training they received was relevant to their job.

Seems to me that there are a few more opportunities for sales transformation initiatives.

Sales Performance Ecosystem


In a post for ASTD’s Sales Enablement community recently, I talked about the Sales Performance Ecosystem, as I see it

I suggested that we’re not doing more because it’s daunting and complex, and so many sales leaders are under short-term pressure to make their numbers. I believe that’s true. Our short-term, stock-price driven economy sometimes pulls us toward the urgent and away from the important. Fact of life, though, and it is not changing. Note that panic is not a business strategy.

Over the years, I’ve seen some recurring themes that hold companies and leaders back.

No clear ownership: Look at the various functions that are involved in managing different aspects of the ecosystem. Coordinating sales, marketing, IT, HR, and others is like herding cats.

  • Sales transformation, like any major organizational change effort, rarely is (fully) successful without top-down involvement, support and accountability. Whether or not an “owner” is clear or assigned, or whether it’s a coordinated team effort, top leaders need to be involved and coordinated project management is required.

70 percent of change efforts fail: So why try?

  • If that’s true, as we’ve heard from John Kotter for a while now, 30 percent of initiatives succeed. Change leadership and management is not a mystery, with arcane secrets locked in a vault somewhere. It’s just not typically done well. Do it right, or work with experts who can guide you. There is a difference, by the way, between change leadership and change management, just as there is between leadership and management. To maximize your chance of success, you need both.

Boiling the ocean: Whether they try to do too much at once, or hold back because they fear it requires doing that to transform a sales force, I’d like to have a nickel for every time I heard “let’s not boil the ocean,” in a meeting room.

  • Sales transformation usually requires an overhaul of many areas. They don’t need to all be done at once. Prioritize initiatives based on potential impact, and do a few at a time. Do, however, have a master plan to get everyone and everything in alignment eventually, and continue to execute over time. Continuous improvement is also not a mystery. Just be clear that expecting it to happen without a purposeful, evidence-based, well prioritized and orchestrated plan, is like wishing on a star.

Not knowing where to start: Like “paralysis from analysis,” this is “paralysis from overwhelm.” The ecosystem is big, spread out across the organization, and has a lot of moving parts.

  • Using analysis, problem-solving methods, decision-making tools, and some plain old logical thinking can help you cut through the clutter. Sometimes, a tool like Kurt Lewin’s force field analysis can help. It’s public domain, free, simple (not necessarily easy – the thinking needs to be valid), and has helped many. Check it out.

Not sure how to do it: There are so many moving parts these days, who can possibly be an expert at everything?

  • In this case, the previously-perceived downside of ecosystem functions being spread throughout the organization is a benefit. Capitalize on the distributed nature of talent in your organization and involve people who are experts in areas where you are not. And if you don’t have experts in a particular area, charge someone with becoming one, hire the expertise, or outsource. Then, if you’re a senior leader; listen. Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of real expertise squashed at a conference table, in favor of an idea, which had little validity in comparison. I hesitate to say this, but very often, training leaders know how to maximize the impact from training, but can’t get buy-in to execute on what will really work because it involves more than just putting people in classrooms or taking courses

This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it does cover themes I’ve seen frequently. If you’re struggling with any of these issues and unclear about whether you should tackle a sales transformation, or how to best proceed, feel free to contact us to explore your situation and possible options. We’ll do our best to guide you. And as always, I’d enjoy hearing your thoughts in the comments.

Additional reading:

Previous posts on change management, change leadership and sales transformation:

Download a complimentary copy of our white paper – Driving Sustainable Change in Your Sales Organization

About The Author: Mike Kunkle

Mike Kunkle is Richardson's Director of Product Development. Bringing over 25 years of experience in the sales profession, Mr. Kunkle is a training and organizational effectiveness leader with special expertise in sales force transformation. After his initial years on the front line in sales and sales management, he has spent the past 16 years as a corporate director or consultant, leading departments and projects with one purpose — to improve sales results. He led major sales optimization efforts in both B2B and B2C environments, producing significant results for both employers and clients.

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11 Responses to “Sales Transformation – No Guts, No Glory”

  1. July 26, 2013 at 3:08 pm, Greg Imhoff said:

    Outstanding and deeply accurate article. I know the EcoSystem is precise as are all other points. Thanks Mike.


    • Mike Kunkle

      July 26, 2013 at 9:02 pm, Mike Kunkle said:

      Thanks Greg. I appreciate that you read the post and took the time to comment. If you’re up for it, let’s get connected on LinkedIn and stay in touch.


  2. July 30, 2013 at 4:49 am, Glen Williamson said:

    Superb Mike, great article. The only point that I would make is that within the Sales Performance Ecosystem should Culture or Environment not be one of the factors acknowledged as critical to sales performance. My experience over 26 years and especially the last 2 years as a sales coach is that in order for an organisation to be truly aligned, the culture must reflect the ambition, and this is not always the case. I will connect on LI. Glen.


    • Mike Kunkle

      July 31, 2013 at 10:01 am, Mike Kunkle said:

      Glen, good points, thanks. There is no doubt about the impact of culture and for the Drucker fans out there, we all know that “culture eats strategy for lunch.” So, it’s important, and impacts everything organizationally, but what I’m pondering is whether it’s part of this particular ecosystem. It’s not a specific sales performance solution or an initiative that is typically chosen and driven by sales leaders. I’ve not seen many grass-roots or “other-than-CEO-driven” efforts to change the culture work. I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on that or to hear others weigh in other whether culture should be added and where it fits specifically within the Sales Performance Ecosystem. I’d see it as part of a larger organizational ecosystem, which Sales fits into. But that’s just me.


  3. July 30, 2013 at 11:30 am, Andrew Rudin said:

    Mike: you’ve provided a list that resonates with my sales experience. A couple of additional points that I’ve discovered in working with companies as ‘root causes’ in sales performance gaps:

    1) lack of understanding or vision about what the Sales organization must deliver to the company. Get a group of senior executives in the room, and you’ll likely find divergent thought, once you get past the obvious one, “Revenue! Of course!” Dig down, and you’ll find much fuzziness about what people think Sales must deliver. In order for any department to be effective, there must be clarity.

    2) Many companies are simply not at a high level on their sales maturity model, and their executives are stuck in old-school thinking that sales processes involve cold calling, getting in the door and closing the deals. There is a ‘maturity model’ for sales organizations that mirrors IT maturity models – something I wrote about in a blog, “Are You Mature Enough to Invest in Marketing Automation?” http://www.customerthink.com/blog/are_you_mature_enough_to_invest_in_marketing_automation

    The challenge you have identified in transforming sales organizations is that some companies find it difficult to leap more than one level in a single bound. Like many things in business, the most common form of change is incremental.


    • Mike Kunkle

      July 31, 2013 at 10:23 am, Mike Kunkle said:

      Thanks for weighing in, Andy. Very thoughtful comments.

      On #1, I certainly agree. As with Glen’s comment on culture, I see this as how Sales plugs into the larger organization. But yes, there needs to be clarity about what Sales is to deliver.

      On #2, I think we’re seeing a transition, but also agree that many are stuck in old ways of doing business and maturing at different rates. Your Value inter-dependent (CMM level Dynamic) level reminds me of Dave Brock’s writings recently on “Value Co-creation” or Brian MacIver’s “Value Construction.”

      To be clear, while I obviously advocate planning and undertaking real sales transformation work (no guts, no glory), I didn’t suggest that everyone swallow it all at once. I did say, “Sales transformation usually requires an overhaul of many areas. They don’t need to all be done at once. Prioritize initiatives based on potential impact, and do a few at a time. Do, however, have a master plan to get everyone and everything in alignment eventually, and continue to execute over time.” But while I realize limitations and the difficulty, I simply do not agree with shooting for incremental results, when more is possible – especially not for YOY results. Incremental might be the most common form of change, but that doesn’t mean it’s best. It means it’s easier and comfortable. Aim low, hit low. We can do better.


      • July 31, 2013 at 1:27 pm, Glen Williamson said:

        Hi Mike, interesting. Whilst I take your point that culture is an organisational issue, I cannot yet see clearly how you can have a sales performance model that doesn’t address the culture of the organisaton as the culture/environment plays such a significant part in sales results in a number of ways. For instance, it affects the individuals personal view of what OK, good or oustanding performance is. It also affects how (high) standards are set, and how they are managed, monitored and measured and the levels of commitment sales people demonstrate. Cultural elements have a direct impact on sales performance, do you not think? As a sales consultant/coach, I find this area crucial to sales motivation, achievement, commitment, hunger and behaviour, and all of these elements are catered for in your Eco-system indirectly. Sales people always struggle to ‘excel’ if the environment they work within does not lend itself to sales achievement? This is as much a question as an emerging thought as I am finding myself spending an equal amount of time on creating the right type of culture as Sales Competency, Strategy, Sales Processes and Customer and Market Understanding, in my work as a consultant/coach. Kind regards,


        • Mike Kunkle

          July 31, 2013 at 1:54 pm, Mike Kunkle (@Mike_Kunkle) said:

          Your point is well-taken, Glen, respected, and appreciated. Culture is “the way things get done around here” and sure, a company’s culture greatly impacts performance in sales and throughout the company. I’ll continue to consider it, but the over-arching nature of it is why I consider it to be part of the organizational performance ecosystem, not specifically the sales performance ecosystem. The sales ecosystem exists within the org ecosystem. As a sales leader, I can directly impact the other elements of the ecosystem, without boiling the ocean. As a sales leader, if I try to impact culture, which can be a massive undertaking, I can hit the end of my 18-24 month runway pretty quickly, without making an impact on results. I still hesitate to include it in the sales ecosystem for those reasons, but absolutely agree with your other points on culture. Trust that I’ll keep mulling, and really appreciate your comments.


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