Do you think it’s possible to improve sales productivity by 100 % in one year?

Do you think it’s possible to improve hit rate by over 20 %?

These questions sound ambitious, I know. But this is feasible and some organisations have been able to do this.

Field sales (e.g. account managers, solution sales experts) are under constant pressure to perform. They are also given a very challenging task to win new customers and develop new business. To accomplish these tasks they are also given a lot of freedom. Some people do well, some not so well and some are really shining stars that seem to get lucky year after year.

I once had a colleague at IBM, a senior sales person who had met or exceeded his quota 20 years in a row. Asked how he did it and his answer was: “I have been lucky many time”. Yes, like luck played major role. Hah. To some extend of course, but he was modest enough not to brag about his performance. The reason for his success is hard work, systematic approach and luck played only the 2nd violin. He did not always have the winning product, easy markets or customers with deep pockets.

So how can we all become like him? How can we all meet and exceed our targets?

Selling and winning business is about team work. Very few of us are able to create breakthrough results alone. So how can we, more regular people, become winners in B2B sales? How can we improve sales productivity by 100 %?

I have been working with Lean thinking when improving sales processes and the performance of sales organisations. I constantly return to three key principles:

  1. Customer value
  2. Flow optimisation
  3. Continuous improvement


Instead of thinking about the performance of individual sales people, we should look at the performance of the whole sales team as a, well, team.

The first principle of customer value is central. What does create value for the customer or potential customer? This is a big and hairy question and we should look at value from different perspectives.

Your sales process and the buying process of your potential customer are actually one, integrated process. One very big source of value (or waste) is the alignment between these two parts of the process. If you are able to align your sales process with how the customers make decisions, you are in good shape. But in case there is a mismatch, you end up creating lots of wasted time and likely losing the deal. Aligning the sales process with customers buying process is critical. Given that potential customers search the Internet for information, you’ll also need to be present in multiple channels to get their attention. Which means that the sellers world has additional complexities to it. Buying is changing rapidly and sales processes need to adopt to this. For many organisations this means taking a critical look at the current sales process and how sales is organised.

The value could be in the features of your product. Chances are that if you talk with your current customers you’ll learn that there reason for them being with you is something else. They would probably talk about your approach being different from the competition or what they are able to accomplish with your offering. Customers are interested about what they can do with your products (not the product itself), what is the impact of your offering to their business. They can do somethings faster, easier or save a lot of money while doing it. The best sales arguments can often be found from your current customers.

Maximise customer value creation by aligning your sales process with how potential customers search for information and make purchase decisions. Sounds simple but it is not an easy thing to do.

Describe the customer value in terms of impact to the customer. How much more revenue they can generate with your offering, how much costs they are able to cut. This is also tricky but definitely worth the time.

Second principle, flow optimisation, is somewhat controversial. Flow optimisation means to make your sales funnel flow faster. More often than not field sales struggles with too few high quality opportunities and tries desperately to win all of them. Chances are some of these are impossible to win, some take lots of effort to win and only one portion is actually high quality opportunities with solid chances of winning.

To escape the this trap one has to make the sales process flow faster. This is also a bit counter-intuitive advise as most organisations focus on resource optimisation instead of flow optimisation. Resource optimisation means that we try to have everyone in the organisation working with high utilisation. This, of course, makes a lot of sense because idle people do not create value. The downside of resource optimisation is that it leads to sub-optimisation. If we see the whole sales process as a system that should first generate lots of leads (or early opportunities), then pick and choose high quality opportunities and pursuit only those, we start to see a different picture. Individual teams or people might not work at high utilisation, but the whole system can be put to generate significantly better output. This typically requires re-thinking roles and responsibilities across the sales process. Specialisation is important.

The third principle, continuous improvement, is just as important as the other principles. Sales process, like any other process, has pieces that work better than others. The perceived problems we see (say, too few sales opportunities) tend to be symptoms, not the problems. If we try to fix the symptom, we’ll just get into more trouble. And the underlying root cause is not fixed. But if we start to ask “why we have too few opportunities” over and over, we’ll soon get to the real root cause.

Very typical situation in many sales organisations is that there are too few sales opportunities for Field Sales to drive forward. The typical proposals to fix this issue quickly is “get new CRM” or “implement marketing automation”. The organisations that are able to look at this critically and ask why multiple times go through the following exchange:

Sales Director: “Why do we have too few sales opportunities?”

Field Sales: “We have not had time to look for new opportunities as much as we would have liked”

Sales Director: “Why is that?”

Field Sales: “We have been busy working with opportunity X and Y”

Sales Director: “Why is that?”

Field Sales: “They are big opportunities that we need to win”

Sales Director: “Ok, I get it and I agree with you. But we should also do prospecting.”

Field Sales: “Yes, but we don’t have time for it. And when we do it I just end up talking with people I know.”

Sales Director: “OK, why is it not easy?”

Field Sales: “Our customer selection is a bit vague. And we really not really efficient with it”

Sales Director: “What do you mean?”

Field Sales: “We have not defined clearly which types of accounts to go after.”

Sales Director: “Hmm. Why is that?”

Field Sales: “Nobody has defined potential customers for your organisation. Maybe we’ve been too busy running.”

Sales Director: “Ok. So the root causes for for having too few opportunities are we have not defined who to go after and sales people do not have time to do that piece of work, right?”

So at this point we can see why marketing automation would not fix the root cause. And the discussion around “Why” could go on. This is how one gets to the bottom of any issue.

More sales with less selling? Yes. Lean Sales approach helps sales organisations to manage sales better.

What do you think?

Read more on You’ll find more blog posts as well as case studies answering the questions presented in the beginning of this post.