Sales Representatives: The One Most Important Question

The McKinsey Quarterly just published an article, "Using your sales force to jump-start growth." This is a bit remeniscent of my article "11 Business Challenges in 2011: The Economy and Sales Representatives."

The McKinsey folks are sharp, but I think they missed the most important question a CEO or division manager should ask about the sales team: "Have we in the past month called on every customer and prospect that we should have?"

If your answer is "Well, I'm sure we have," then I can pretty much guarantee you that the true answer is "No." There are only two possible good answers:

  1. Our report shows every client and prospect who was designated for contact last month was actually contacted.
  2. Our report shows that of the clients and prospects who were designated for contact last month, all were contacted with the following exceptions and reasons:
  • Abby Adams was traveling and asked to schedule lunch for sometime next week.
  • Billy Bartles passed away; we'll check in with his replacement when he or she is selected.
  • Charley Caruthers was not contacted because our work on the Davis proposal took a great deal of time; he's at the top of the schedule for the coming month.

I can accept that exceptions need to be made. However, if they are not documented, then you end up with a slack non-program.

The key is have a system for designating the frequency of contact, such as segmenting prospects into A, B and C categories, and then declaring A's get contacted quarterly, B's get semi-annual contact and C's get annual contacts. The specific details are not nearly as important as the discipline to follow the plan. Without a regular report on plan activities, it's pretty certain that prospects will fall through the cracks.

When my kids were in junior high school, I'd ask "Is your homework done?" If they said "Pretty much," I learned to interpret that as "No." Same with your sales reps.