Focus on World-Class, Part 7: Personalized Performance Improvement

In this 12-part series, each post examines one of the 12 best practices identified in the 2017 CSO Insights World-Class Sales Practices Report. Today’s best practice: “As part of our performance review process, our organization consistently develops and ensures implementation of personalized performance improvement plans.”

The underlying philosophy of this best practice is that your firm’s revenues will grow as your people grow. This is especially applicable with respect to salespeople.

Dedicated readers of CSO Insights research are familiar with our Sales Relationship Process (SRP) Matrix; over a decade’s worth of data supports the fact that as levels of relationship are elevated, so is performance. What we have also chronicled is that individual salesperson skills, abilities and areas of specialized knowledge fuel this upward climb. This is where the practice of implementing personalized performance improvement plans comes into play.

We see in the graphic below that World-Class organizations dedicate themselves to this purpose at better than twice the rate of the general survey population.

Two aspects of this practice are particularly noteworthy. First is the principle of consistency. When sales training is presented as an isolated event, rather than an embedded part of everyone’s daily routine, it is unlikely to have a lasting impact.

Has sales training ever been included as part of an annual sales kickoff meeting you attended? Often, the CSO will make a speech about investing in the sales team’s development, the importance of process, the need to put the customer at the center of “all that we do,” and aligning the sales process with the buying journey. Late in the year, with sales 20% behind plan, the same executive will put out a broadcast voicemail with this magnificent coaching: “Make it happen.” (As if everyone has been waiting for this direction or somehow been trying not to make it happen until now.)

When the annual revenue target is at risk, the clear message is: a) do whatever it takes; and b) forget about the training, customer centricity, etc., because, clearly these do not make it happen. Really? Where was the reinforcement, enforcement, and demonstrated leadership uptake of the training between the kickoff meeting and now? What the sales force takes from this is that the leader never really believed in process, buyer alignment or anything beyond “doing whatever it takes.” Whatever that means, or is interpreted to mean. Yes, consistency counts.

Second is the idea of personalized development plans. “You need to do more prospecting.” “I want everyone out of the office by 8:30 each morning.” These kinds of broadly applied, generalized rules may provide some direction about what management wants, but no clarity on what individual salespeople need to improve. One may need to do more prospecting, but may also need better territory management and researching skills. Another may need to practice better call planning and account strategizing.

The question to continually ask is: What skill, if improved, would have the highest payoff for this individual over the next few months? Gaining agreement on what this is, how progress will be measured, what success looks like, and commitment to track and course correct at an appropriate cadence are all necessary to support the development and growth of your salespeople and, by extension, your team and its performance.

Questions to ask:

  • Do we really believe in the value/efficacy of our sales process?
  • Is our commitment to development and use, constant, ongoing and embedded?
  • Have we identified individualized paths to improvement and gained commitment (manager and rep) to pursuit of this?
  • Are we executing, reviewing and providing feedback on a timely basis and with appropriate frequency?
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