Sales is the life blood for companies and yet, for as critical of a business component as it is, the modern nature of it is something that is well, vastly outdated. At least that's the view of Justin Roff-Marsh, founder and President of Ballistix, a sales process engineering company that is bringing a full frontal assault upon the orthodoxy of sales and seeking to change the way companies all around the world do business.
The argument over the best manner of engaging in sales is an intellectual one, and is a concept that should constantly be revisited in the face of a rapidly-changing world. Unfortunately, sales strategies that deliver initial success quickly become gospel for many companies and years later, when numbers begin to fall, the sales approach is often overlooked or misattributed when determining the source of a company’s struggles. Roff-Marsh, who had over twenty years of experience in sales prior to founding Ballistix, says that the problem is that is there simply hasn’t been enough scrutiny over the actual fundamentals of sales, and when there has been, those in charge have been unwilling to acknowledge such.
He recalls an instance when he was touring a paint factory in Sydney, along with a number of lean practitioners. “The leader of the lean practitioners was pointing to all of the infrastructure assets they had decommissioned over the last year and a half as a result of their initiatives taken, which was significant amount of equipment and machinery,” he says, adding, “Seeing such prompted me to ask them why they weren’t selling the assets instead of decommissioning them, and that if they were increasing their efficiency to such a degree, why weren’t they taking such and using it to implement a cost advantage to compete with, say, the Chinese?” The answer was simple. “He turned to me and said, ‘Oh, we have done the math and found that we absolutely could do so, the problem is that we cannot, for the life of us, convince senior management to run those numbers.”
Instances like this are commonplace in his experience. “Pretty much every organization’s sales function that I’ve seen has been covering diminishing returns, because no one has bothered to stop and ask the question, does this model make sense?”
The days are long past the point where companies sought to grow sales by simply recruiting more salespeople. Instead, there is a prevailing orthodoxy held by many sales managers and upper-level executives that, to increase revenues, they need to assemble a team of “superstar” salespeople. “This strategy of finding, developing, and managing superstars is an inherently flawed approach when you think about it; it’s a definition of sales that has impossibility programmed right into it.”
He says that the focus on improvements in sales terminology, such as those expressed in Neil Rackham’s more recent SPIN Selling book, offers no real fundamental change over the sales philosophy discussed in Tom Hopkins’ How to Master the Art of Selling, which was released in 1981. “If you were to read these books in reverse order, you’d find that nothing has changed with regards to the fundamentals of sales.”
In effect, Roff-Marsh, who recently authored his own sales strategy book called The Machine, says that the function of sales within a company has largely remained the same while the rest of the world has continues to rapidly evolve. “Change is being forced upon sales from the outside, but the sales managers’ response to such has been similar to how taxi drivers are handling the rise of services like Uber and Lyft—utter denial.”
Outside of breaking through a sales manager’s orthodoxy, Roff-Marsh says that the biggest challenge is a company’s inherent inertia. “Organizations adopt cost accounting models that determine decision making, but when there are changes on a fundamental level, say from an externality, the models assume homeostasis where there isn’t and they spew out incorrect answers that take the company a long time to figure out.”
It’s why Roff-Marsh and Ballistix call for a division of labor to be applied to sales, removing the “generalist” and replacing him or her with an inside, specialist-based approach. “The fact of the matter is that a customer doesn’t benefit from having a single point of contact, especially in complex sales environments,” he says, adding, “Customers most often aren’t a single individual but a team of personnel involved in the decision making process, and so it makes sense to have multiple people on your team interacting with the multiple people on their side so that all questions and information can be transmitted as clearly and efficiently as possible; an aspect that ultimately benefits both sides.”
Part of the problem is that there are simply too many people out in the field, with Roff-Marsh estimating that most companies have 4 to 5 times more sales representatives out in the field than they actually need. Instead, he says if a company averages around $100 million in revenues, for example, they are much better suited having one or two business development managers—the actual “salesperson superstars”—to handle face-to-face interactions with clients while the rest of the force focuses on developing more opportunities that eventually produce these meaningful selling conversations.
It all ties into division of labor. Instead of having the salesperson handle everything, from putting together expense summaries to providing continued customer service, they should be focusing on meaningful conversations while in-house specialists manage all other aspects.
Think about a team sport like American football versus an individual one like tennis. Unlike tennis, football players must subordinate themselves to one another in order for the play to be successful—each individual has a role to serve that, and when all done together effectively, it leads the team to a touchdown, or in the business sense, a sale. “If all of these players decided to operate autonomously and do things on their own, every play would be a failure and the ball would never be able to be moved downfield,” Roff-Marsh says, adding, “Which is why we recommend that organizations convert sales from an individual sport-approach to a more team-based identity.” It’s about a master controller calling the “plays” for a subordinating team of specialists who work together to “gain yards” and achieve progress.
To learn more about Roff-Marsh and his company’s philosophy of sales process engineering, read his recently released book, “The Machine” or visit Justin’s blog at www.salesprocessengineering.net.
Ballistix is a sales management and marketing consultancy, specializing in the implementation and ongoing support of Sales Process Engineering (SPE). The company operates nationally throughout North America, United Kingdom and Australia.