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Jul 07 2020
Focus on Sales Milestones to Accelerate Sales Results


In the several decades that I've been involved with building sales training and performance interventions for business-to-business sales, I've learned about the important advantages of defining sales performance by identifying the milestones and progress indicators or accomplishments that exemplary sales people work day-to-day to achieve in their territories and accounts.

This is an accomplishment-based approach to exemplary sales performance. We've described it in a recent YouTube playlist and in our white paper on sales performance. We teach sales performance analysis in our Performance Thinking® Practitioner Program for performance improvement professionals. Our accomplishment-based performance coaching program offers a results-oriented coaching methodology for sales managers.

Here is a list what sales organizations can do to accelerate results once they have done the hard work of identifying the milestones in their best practices sales process, based on analysis of their top performers.

Anchor all training and development to sales milestones: Build this framework into all your training and coaching. Do this throughout beginning and advanced sales training, in field-based coaching, and in development of tools and resources for sales people. Define progress from initial prospect to closed deal and beyond with sales milestones that describe the purpose of everything we learn or teach, of all the strategies, tactics and tools we provide to enable sales.

Leverage the expertise of exemplary performers throughout the sales organization: Once we know what sales people need to accomplish at every step, we can harvest successful strategies, tactics and tools for achieving the milestones from successful sales people. "What will this help you accomplish?" is a good way to frame it all.

Shift from knowledge-based training to performance-based training:  A lot of so-called product knowledge training is focused on the features and benefits of the product, and perhaps on the comparative features and benefits of competitive products. However, once we set the context for sales knowledge based on which milestones one is attempting to achieve, we can teach and assess competitive strategies and tactics, what one would say and do in specific situations related to the milestones, as well as what one might not need to say. This helps make training leaner and more performance-focused.

Drive sales coaching with a focus on milestones:  Once you have identified the large and small milestones and progress indicators in the best practices sales process for your organization, managers and their people can discuss which one(s) are most important for their business right now. They can then zero in on discussions about how one might best achieve those milestones. This is a far more focused and reliable way to coach people than assuming specific behavior as being necessary. Once milestones are clear, sales managers and representatives can decide what behavior might be best for achieving them. Behavior-based coaching by sales managers is common. The organization defines behavior believed to make a difference in the sales process, e.g., delivering the message, asking open ended questions, asking for the business, etc. The sales manager then uses a job aid to record and provide feedback to the sales representative. This might or might not be helpful, depending on whether the behavior happens to be what is needed to achieve an important milestone in a sales call. Frankly, I've had more than one top sales person roll their eyes while telling me that when their manager is present, they exhibit the expected behavior, but when the manager is not with them, they focus on what they're trying to achieve. An accomplishment based approach drives results in a way that behavior-based coaching cannot.

Use sales milestones to adjust to changes in the market:  When market conditions change it is sometimes necessary to shift how sales representatives achieve milestones.  Perhaps there is a new emphasis on what's important to clients, and one needs to speak with new stakeholders to achieve a request for proposal. Possibly the world moves from in-person to virtual meetings, in which case one might need to learn new behavior to conduct an effective virtual meeting for achieving a given milestone. But with clear milestones to achieve, it is usually the behavior or tools and resources that must change when conditions change, not so much the milestones themselves. Having defined the best practices sales milestones in your sales process will make that adaptation easier and quicker. In other words, it will support agility in your sales force.

Design competitive sales training and coaching based on sales milestones:  Which milestones in your best practices sales process offer the greatest competitive leverage? Rather than merely teaching competitive features and benefits, identify the milestones in your sales process most likely to put the competition at a disadvantage or to give you an advantage. Once you have identified those milestones, individual sales representatives can target those in their own accounts and territories.  Sales training and coaching can drive more effective strategies and tactics for achieving those milestones, well beyond providing additional competitive product knowledge.

Organize internal social networking tools and resources around sales milestones:  Structure communication and collaboration among the members of your sales organization around the milestones they need to achieve in the sales process, not around knowledge topics or subject matter. Answer the question, "In this situation, what's the best way to achieve this milestone?"

Revise product training to deliver situational product knowledge: Product knowledge should not be "academic." It should not be separated from the situations in which one must know and do what is required. It should not be taught out of the context of the milestones that the sales person is attempting to achieve.  While some basic training might be needed in technical knowledge to lay a foundation for further understanding, product training should shift as rapidly as possible to teaching and practicing situational product knowledge – what one must do and say based on the milestones one is attempting to achieve.

Integrate sales milestones into your CRM software:  If you use sales support software that monitors progress through the sales cycle, you might be able to build more refined milestones into that system rather than using the "big" generic ones that often describe the sales pipeline in CRM software.

First determine the milestones and progress indicators that consistently exemplary sales people work to achieve. Then encourage sales leaders, sales training and sales operations professionals to base their overall definition, management, and development of sales performance on those milestones. 

And, of course, we offer Performance Thinking® programs and services to support such an approach for organizations that choose to go in that direction.

 - Carl Binder, CEO


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