Sales Best Practice - The
by Richard Ilsley
It is hard to find an organisation that is not using the term 'Best Practice'
somewhere within its sales operation. It seems that no matter where you go,
someone is talking about it and everyone wants it. But what is it and how
do we know when we have it?
A recent survey by The Sales & Marketing Consulting Group suggests that
some clarity is required. The survey involved senior managers from a number
of different organisations and considered attitudes as well as processes.
Here is the initial question, take a moment to answer it yourself.
Is your organisation part of the upper quartile of Best Practice companies?
The response from the senior managers?
65% agreed that their organisation was in the top 25% of Best Practice companies.
Clearly there is a need for clarity and objectivity.
This article summarises the main learning in the form the Best Practice
Top Ten Fundamentals.
Best Practice - The Ten Fundamentals
- Best Practice must be defined
If Best Practice is to have any meaning it cannot be a vague intangible
concept. This means that the company needs to be able to define specifically
what it means by 'best practice' so that everyone can understand what best
practice looks like.
In some cases awkward questions need to be asked. Questions that many people
would like to ignore quietly. Questions like:
- "What added value does the customer believe we offer beyond the product?"
- "What do we have to do to increase the volume while maintaining or
reducing the cost of sale?"
- "What is success and what causes it to happen?"
- Best Practice must be measurable and measured
It is fair to say that if you do not know how to measure best practice then
you probably do not have it. Applying a measure forces the company to define
exactly what is meant and to recognise that performance may not always live
up to the definition.
More than just having a measure is having a realistic view of the current
situation along with an objective and plan for development. It is also critical
that everyone believes that the objective is achievable.
- Implementing Best Practice does not guarantee a performance increase
Implementing the Best Practice process does not guarantee success - however
it can be shown to increase the chance of success.
What tends to happen is that the best practice performers remain as the
top performers at about the same level as before. The real gain to the organisation
is that the average performance rises. If performance is plotted we tend
to get some form of normal distribution. The best practice process will
move the average towards better performance.
- There is no single 'Best Practice company'
Best Practice is not vested in one company. The generic best practice model
that we have developed as a result of this and other work has come about
by looking at many corporations. What we find is that different companies
are particularly effective at different things. Inevitably companies have
stronger and weaker areas.
We also find that companies are in a state of constant flux. People move
on, markets evolve, new companies enter, focus shifts, attitudes change
- the net result is that the most successful company of today is statistically
unlikely to be the most successful company of tomorrow. This Fundamental
Point is closely linked to Fundamental Five.
- Success today does not guarantee success tomorrow
The often-told story about the frog in the boiling water is still applicable.
The frog, thrown into the boiling water, jumps straight out but remains
in the cool water that is steadily heated to boiling point. The frog is
not able to detect the slow temperature rise. The market is constantly changing.
The most vulnerable companies are those whose managers fail to notice the
slow changes around them until it is too late. Yesterday's best practice
is unlikely to be effective today or tomorrow in the same way that today's
best practice must evolve to meet the demands of tomorrow.
To support our view consider the 1984 book "In Search of Excellence" that
cited 36 companies as "excellent". Most of those firms subsequently went
through very difficult times, failed completely or have under performed
the market. Today's success does not automatically lead to tomorrow's success.
- Talking is not the same as doing
Talking about Best Practice is not the same as doing it, just as thinking
you have a Best Practice approach in place is very different from knowing
you do. This takes us right back to the original question posed in the survey.
Do you believe that your company lies within the top 25% of best practice
companies? The point is of course that believing is not nearly as important
as knowing. Knowing implies that best practice is defined and that we can
all recognise it going on around us. Knowing involves having something tangible.
- Having is not the same as using
Similarly, having a Best Practice mode is very different from using
a Best Practice model.
A common problem that was identified was one of compliance. We found companies
that had invested in revised processes and systems that had been designed
with best practice in mind yet were not using the processes. There was a
strong degree of comfort on the part of some members of the organisation
to continue with the original approach. In some cases the management team
did not even regard the new method as being the 'best practice'. The dilemma
that this created was that the most senior management team could not understand
why increased performance was not in evidence unaware that the new processes
were not being applied in full.
- Best practice is not fixed
The Best Practice model is not fixed but will change as circumstances change
and as new learning is gained.
This is similar to Fundamental Five but recognises that Best Practice is
a constantly evolving concept within the organisation. In other words it
is likely that individuals and groups will discover advances to the current
defined Best Practice approach. There needs to be a mechanism in place to
recognise these advances and to incorporate them into the overall model.
- Best means best
If everyone is doing it then it is no longer Best Practice - it is common
practice! It is not Best Practice to make products that work that you can
deliver on time in the same way that it is not Best Practice to arrive on
time. That is just a basic expectation. Once again, having a clear Best
Practice model will ensure that Best Practice is defined for everyone and
that the definition really does reflect best.
- Make it your own
It is a truism that every company is unique. A Best Practice Model cannot
be introduced by copying from someone else without adapting it to your circumstances.
On the other hand many corporations have accelerated the process significantly
by starting with the generic learning or best practice model and adapting
it to their specific needs. This ensures that the company does not have
to start with a blank piece of paper. It also has the benefit of offering
the company a template from which to start.
There are many companies that are claiming huge benefits from implementing
a Best Practice model. The lessons from this survey are:
- Make it clear for all
- Measure it
- Keep it simple
- Expect it to change
The Sales & Marketing Consulting Group is a global firm working with corporations
to measure the return on sales and marketing activities and to implement best
practice processes. The main offices are in Chicago, London and Sao Paulo.
Richard Ilsley is a Director in the London office. He can be contacted at
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