17th January, 2022
As a management trainee, when I started my first sales stint with P&G India, the concept of selling was uncomplicated. The only channel was traditional trade.
I managed a suburban Mumbai distributor team with 3 salesmen. The sales target growth was 15% annually.
The product line was simple – Vicks VapoRub (3 main SKUs), Clearasil anti-pimple cream (maybe 2 SKUs) and a couple more brands. The number of outlets my sales team and I were able to cover in a day, and the assortment we were able to sell in, translated directly to daily/monthly sales.
Implicit for each of us on the frontline was developing an intuitive understanding of the retailers on each route and applying the right persuasive skills to get a sizeable order. This varied by salesperson. As the leader of the team, I had to raise the team skills to an even standard. Net, what we did or didn't do daily directly correlated with growth.
Fast forward to today when the process of selling is far more complex – multiple shopper journeys, an omnichannel world, multiple SKUs and multiple touchpoints for the same retail outlet/ buyer, etc. Enough complexity to cloud the key variables that actually deliver growth and sustainable growth.
OxfordSM’s founder Hugh Davidson, in his book ‘Offensive Marketing’, published in 1972 and also in his second book ‘Even more Offensive Marketing’ published in 1997, outlined five key principles of Offensive Marketing: Profitable, Offensive, Integrated, Strategic, Effectively Executed.
A key principle we will examine today is about strong and disciplined execution every single day.
A 5 step competency framework for consistent outperformance
We understand and appreciate that strategy is only as good as its execution. What does that really mean? And what does it take in today’s complex business world to re-establish that clear and tangible connect between ‘doing’ and ‘growth’.
It’s a simple tool kit that organisations with consistently great results apply. We examine this in the context of the sales function and a competency framework that truly can be set up to drive consistent outperformance:
- Identify the metrics that matter
- Make them simple, relatable, memorable
- Empower with skills to deliver against metrics
- Motivate learning, practice & self-assessment
- Make progress tracking continuous vs only year-end
Let’s take each of these in turn:
1/ Identify the metrics that matter
While this may seem obvious, several evolved tools help do this for every level in the organisation. What’s often not so obvious is the need to match metrics with what an individual can impact.
Let’s take the example of a frontline salesman who can influence a) the no. of stores he contacts per selling cycle; b) and the assortment for that store. What he cannot influence is the frequency and quantum of offtake from the store.
Yet, he is often incentivised on monthly $ sales. If the brand is competitively disadvantaged on quality, packaging and media investment, the offtake will be impacted and the salesman cannot influence this; whereas the marketing team can.
Hence, metrics that matter for the salesperson are the above two (a & b) and not $ sales. The metrics that matter for the brand manager are brand equity, spontaneous brand awareness and blind product wins. Disincentivizing employees when they can’t impact outcomes only creates frustration and a demotivated work culture.
2/ Make them simple, relatable, memorable
To ensure that there is unerring focus on the key metrics, it's critical we keep them few – three, at best four - so they are always top of mind. Taking the same example forward for the salesman - this could be ‘SAN’.
S = Stores called per selling cycle; A = Assortment booked per bill; N= No of New products or SKUs booked.
3/ Empower with skills to deliver against metrics
This is the heart of building a true learning organisation and it’s a systematic application of common sense vs rocket science. Let’s look at the steps involved:
Step 1. Identify the competencies or skills needed to deliver the metrics that matter. For example, the frontline salesman will need to be fully equipped with a) Category knowledge – own/ competitor; b) Customer knowledge – consumer base, fast selling SKUs, past sales history; c) Influencing/collaboration – persuasive selling, objection handling; d) Executional agility – resolving day to day bottlenecks, escalating critical issues.
Step 2. Having identified the skills needed, we must define the proficiencies that are needed to get each member of the frontline sales organisation to move from a basic appreciation to a level of mastery of that core competency.
You could imagine a simple proficiency level framework such as:
Basic - aware & applies
Intermediate - applies consistently
Mastery - leads by example; challenges to upgrade existing competencies
Step 3. We then build a hierarchy of competencies laddering up from the frontline sales rep right up to the account leader in the sales organisation. We define which competency (e.g. influencing/collaboration) might need intermediate proficiency for a KAM (Key Account Manager) in the hierarchy, and could require mastery from an Account Leader.
4/ Motivate learning, practice & self-assessment
Now it’s about populating simple story-telling training modules (no more than 4-6 minutes each) against each level of each competency in the framework.
So with 4 competencies and 3 levels, we are talking about 12 training videos/modules. Pilot-run these within the organisation to: a) check whether these competencies cover all critical skills needed; b) check if the language/ descriptors are easily understandable and c) ratify the engagement levels.
Leaders then launch the competency framework, explaining the logic and creating a motivational context of what it means to be a true learning organisation - where employee growth and business growth is visibly and inextricably linked.
At the core of a learning organisation, are two philosophies; a) motivated self-learning; b) ensuring the ‘doing’ is happening after the learning.
To drive motivation for self-learning, employees need to truly internalise what’s in it for them, have the freedom to pick their pace and order of learning within a finite time and content framework and then play with highly engaging content.
5. Make progress tracking continuous vs only year-end
When evaluation shifts from end year to continuous - and from self-evaluation for learning to self + leader evaluation for the ‘doing’, it creates the momentum for ‘a doing organisation' that is constantly transforming, upgrading with enthusiasm and high energy.
The shift from knowledge assessment to demonstrated behaviour assessment is directly linked to demonstrated business outcomes.
A one-company, real-time dashboard that provides an unfiltered view to where each member sits on their learning journey is a good way for leaders to assess the readiness of their teams to deliver the overall organisation metrics for the month/ year and long term.
It also spurs momentum to members to chart their own yet step up the pace when they appear to be slowing down.
If your strategy is sound, the portfolio has the right to win; thereafter it’s the execution edge that will decide the day after day, year after year consistency of growth.
In my experience, when sharp about the metrics that matter and equipping our employees with skills and competencies to achieve these metrics, the results unerringly will follow.
Going back to our frontline salesman example: more stores, more assortment, new SKUs/ products sold in, will definitely translate into sales growth. That's if the strategy is sound and the portfolio is competitively advantaged.
It’s always about enabling, harnessing the incredible potential human capital presents. Blaming or finger-pointing never gets sustainable results.
What’s more, a learning organisation is a growing organisation both for the business and its employees who grow in their career whilst playing an invaluable role in the organisation outperformance story.
If you’ve found this helpful and you’d like help in your approach to embedding a true learning organisation, please get in touch with me.
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