Is Yours A Sales Effort Or A Sales Engine?

Are You Guilty of Sales Lumping?

Sales lumping is a term that you may or not be familiar with.   It is one that is often used to describe the growing complexity, or expansiveness of the role of the salesperson.

In other words the salesperson gets ‘lumped’ with everything from generating leads to the management of customer relationships post sale, in addition of course to his, or her key job of making sales presentations, writing sales proposals and winning the sales order.  But just where should the majority of the salesperson’s efforts be focused and what is the right balance between sales effort and sales engine, or indeed sales person and sales process for that matter?

The  Sales Person’s Many Hats

The salesperson wears many hats.  That is because selling is many jobs not just one.  Those jobs centre around 5 key inter-related areas of activity:

  • Leads
  • Meetings
  • Cycles
  • Orders
  • Repeat Orders

Each sales related role requires a different blend of the above tasks.  Some roles – those often labelled ‘farmer’ for example –  involve the nurturing of existing customers, with focus on generating repeat orders by means of delivering on promises, deepening the relationship and keeping the customer happy.

The person who performs well in that role may not perform as well in a new business development role – typically labelled hunter – that requires opening up new markets, or winning new business.  Even in the latter role there may be a dichotomy in terms of the roles required.  A typical mistake made by organisations in recruiting to their sales team is to hire a ‘heavy weight’ salesperson with experience of closing deals at the highest levels and failing to ensure that there is a system, or person in place, in order to generate leads.

Fitting the right person – in terms of personality, skill and experience – to the blend of tasks required by each specific sales role is essential to the success of new sales hires.

Lumping Is A Symptom

In our experience sales lumping is a symptom of other things, namely a less structured, or engine like approach to sales.  It tends to be most common where there is:

  • A lack of resources for sales and marketing
  • No clear agreement regarding sales priorities
  • A lack of a sales plan that looks several quarters out
  • Poor organisation and frequent fire-fighting
  • Stops and starts in terms of the pipeline
  • The lack of an agreed sales process
  • Poor use of a sales system
  • Ineffective use of marketing
  • Poor team work and an inability to delegate on the part of sales managers, or their teams
  • An under investment in sales and marketing skills development

The Dangers of Lumping

The dangers of lumping the salesperson with too many diverse tasks are as follows:

1. It assumes the same skills are required at each step of the sales proecess, although they can be quite different.  For example the skills required to manage an existing relationship during project delivery, are quite different from those required to close the deal.  So too are the skills required to build a target list of teleprospecting, or make several hundred cold calls.  The danger is that the salesperson becomes ‘a jack of all trades and a master of none.’

2. There simply is not enough time.  The result is that with lengthening and more complex sales cycles the pressure on the salespersons time has mounted.  Getting a deal across the line is taking considerably longer and thereby eating into the amount of time available for finding the next opportunity.

3. It means that some tasks will inevitably get overlooked.  The classic example is in respect sales prospecting – the number one cause of conflict between sales manages and their teams.  Specifically, managers will argue that salespeople do not spend enough time prospecting, while salespeople will argue that balancing prospecting with other tasks is a real struggle.

4. The focus is on the salesperson not on the process.  Rather than creating a system to generate leads (of which the salesperson will no doubt be an important part), the focus is purely on the volume of cold calling by the salesperson.  The result is that the structural problem – not enough good quality leads – never really gets addressed. The result is an overdependence on the salesperson

5. Being ‘lumped’  with something suggests that the item, or task in question is an unwelcome one.  Not surprisingly for many salespeople this relates to cold calling and lead generation – something that is often top of their unwanted list.  However, that is because most organisations make it more difficult than it needs to be.  Rather than making the task easier and seeking to address head on the source of the often well founded resistance (e.g. I don’t have a list, I need a reason to call, what will I say, the sales system is not working properly, etc.) the sales manger heaps on the pressure.  Managers must provide salespeople with the tools, skills and support required to succeed in all the tasks to which they are assigned.

6. Most salespeople we work with do not have job descriptions that meaningfully spell out what they must do.  They are also not working to a clear monthly or quarterly plan that sets out what their priorities are.

7. If a salesperson feels like they are being ‘lumped’ with something then there is a problem.  After all salespeople want to succeed (show me one that doesn’t!) and if they cannot see how something is going to contribute to that success managers need to revisit what is planned, or at least how it is being communicated.  Our view is that salespeople should not that has not been agreed to as part of their sales plan and that does not support their attainment of maximum long term commissions income (and thereby maximum sales success for the organisation).

8. Lumping often results where sales is not seen as a team effort – something that the size and complexity of modern buying units requires.  Spreading tasks across a diversity of team members – borrowing on the functional expertise of different team members – to leverage the sales opportunity is essential to modern selling.  The salesperson should not be lumped with all the work, or all the responsibility, rather it must be shared.

9. The new sales hire is often most exposed to the effects of ‘lumping’ more than others.  Those who have earned their stripes are often happy to pass on the less glamorous tasks, customers and markets to the sales newbie.  In addition because a new salesperson may be starting from scratch in terms of a relevant contact book, customer list, or even market segment he, or she may be faced with a particular challenge in terms of generating leads, or even generating demand.  In some companies that new hire may be expected to pull together the target list and perhaps even write the sales letter, or pull together the sales slide pack before they can get started on the job of selling.  This inevitably means that the ramp up time for new hires can be several quarters a factor that in part at least explains why as few as one in three new sales hires succeed.

10. The cost of a day of the salesperson’s time is often under-estimated, that is to say his, or her direct costs (salary, expenses, etc.) associated with the salesperson, as well as any consideration of opportunity cost.  This is vital to inform a decision as to the best use of the sales person’s time.  For example, do you want to have the salesperson sitting at a desk making cold calls and building a target list, when that job could be done by somebody else at a fraction of the cost?  Would’nt you rather the salesperson was out meeting with potential customers than tied up in marketing, or administrative type work?

A Better Way Forward

The growing popularity among managers of topics such as sales productivity, sales effectiveness and sales process, point to a more deliberate and scientific re-engineering of the sales role.  This will inevitably mean that the sales person will be relieved of some less productive tasks, while taking on other more productive tasks in return.  Perhaps this is the key to resolving the issue of sales lumping.

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