Within the next week, many of us in the produce industry will arrive in Dallas en masse to one of the most prominent conventions of the year.
Armed with schedules, prepped in advance and hopes held high, sales forces from across the globe will march off to battle April 30 to May 3 at United Fresh 2012.
When these weary soldiers return home they will begin the process of sorting business cards — chasing leads — and demonstrating value to the organizations that send them.
But soon, “business as usual” will return, leaving us to once again debate the ROI of convention attendance and effort.
Because many return to sales practices, systems and structures that are fundamentally flawed and cannot be fixed with even the best efforts at a convention.
I have worked with hundreds of sales organizations during my business career and can boil the weak ones down to a fatal flaw in one or more of these five areas:
1. No annual sales plan
“Do more of the same — only better” is not a plan … neither is top management giving the sales rep a number to chase … nor is “sell whatever we grow.”
The best sales plans are short, simple and to the point.
Each sales rep should create a strategic and tactical plan for acquiring new business, growing the existing book of business and making or exceeding the sales numbers within their territory, market channel or product mix.
These individual plans are rolled into an all-company sales plan that is the foundation for all other department plans and budgets.
2. “Order takers” who sit at their desks
Many produce companies bemoan that sales reps have evolved into highly paid order takers chained to their desks in a flurry of daily phone conversations and paperwork.
At some point, the organization questions investment return and attempts to turn these poor people into something they are not — the guy out chasing the dream and knocking on doors.
The best organizations create organizational structure and role clarity around hunters and gatherers and are willing to invest in both pieces of the sales puzzle.
3. “Lone Ranger” still leading the charge
Just like the elusive search for Bigfoot, some companies still hope to hire an industry rainmaker complete with a fat book of business.
It all sounds great until the inevitable discussion about who really owns the business.
And while the debate ensues, a new generation business model has emerged.
Account staffs that develop strong working relationships with customers based on performance metrics, integrity and trust are replacing the solo artist.
Shared information and insight is the new currency of success.
Business solutions that bundle products, services and information have replaced products alone needing a team versus singular effort.
4. Convoluted sales incentive plans
Sales 101 says that an incentive plan is a management tool used to spur more sales. We spend hours of debate on the merits of base salary only — base plus commission, commission only — and typically end up with an approach that fits top management philosophy.
The only problem is, however, that the resulting incentive plan is almost always complicated, multi-layered and confusing to the average person.
The end result is an annual “bonus check” that people cannot directly tie to their efforts and ultimately acts as a de-motivator to good intentions.
The best incentives are simple enough for people to keep track of so they can keep score and self motivate every day.
5. VP of sales lacks an overarching, sophisticated approach
This is arguably the key executive position in any business.
Foundational skills in planning, analysis, business development and team leadership must be in place for your organization to go to market in an organized and profitable manner.
But that is not enough to win in today’s business climate.
Your VP must also have the “secret sauce” — a grasp of market forces and trends; ability to innovate; aptitude to explain and exploit competitive position; ability to connect market trends with marketing and sales programs, and the brainpower to translate complex variables into focused, simple execution steps.
When the stars align, you will have a superstar who can drive your business to superior profit and true competitive advantage.
As you pack your bags for Dallas, remember to do a good job preparing but an even better job creating a sharp, relevant and strategic sales organization when you return home.
Julie Krivanek, owner of Denver-based Krivanek Consulting, specializes in strategic planning, management consulting and leadership development for the global produce supply chain.
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