Unleashing the Power of Your Sales Team

If your sales people are involved in the delivery process, then the only way to increase revenue is to sell bigger projects. Help your company grow by moving your sales force back into the business of finding and maintaining customers.

Last month I made the comment that, “You can’t grow your business if sales people are involved in the product delivery process.”  What in the world was I thinking? Isn’t the sales team an integral part of the customer experience and therefore part of the delivery process? Well, yes and (a qualified) yes – just not in the manner most of us go about it.

Why would you want Salespeople to be less involved in projects? The obvious answer is “So they can get out there and sell more.” However, the more powerful idea is that you would no longer need a +10-year AV veteran to fill every sales job. Instead, you could hire smart, personable, well-trained sales professionals and leave the technical details to designers, estimators, and project managers.

There are many examples of successful individuals that sell and micro-manage their projects. What these persons have in common is they control some portion of the overall operational resources of the firm. There are two ways in which an Account Executive (AE) can garner this supply – and I often see both. The first way to control resources is by having “the most important projects we do (or clients we have).” Important work gets resources. Engineers, project managers, CAD, meeting time, the best technicians, and the best equipment all go to the biggest most complicated jobs. And once those assets are engaged, the AE has a captive audience to focus on his or her other projects. In the meantime, the younger inexperienced AE is getting hammered for making mistakes that these resources could have helped avoid. In other words, one person’s success is at the expense of other people’s projects.

The second way that certain AE’s stay involved in their projects is by controlling the relationship with the client. These relationships appear to be a good thing, until information is lost because only one person can ask questions and convey the answers. Next thing you know, the job is sold, there are huge gaps in the scope, and the clock is ticking. Management throws a lot of resources at the job and all is saved. The AE feels he or she has to hold the client’s hand all through the process, because “the delivery team seems so stressed all the time.” Getting answers from the AE seems like pulling teeth, but without their involvement the project won’t go. The AE has to be involved and probably gets some satisfaction being the center of attention.

In both cases the AE to stay involved because the budgeting process didn’t develop the project correctly. This is a failing of both the operational system and sales. We’ve designed selling processes where the salesperson controls too much information and budgeting goes on whether that info is shared or not. The Salesman has become the project manager, while the intended PM fulfills the administration and scheduling role. Here’s a simple test to determine whether your PM is really in charge of the project or not:

In an ongoing installation or show project, who prices the change orders and presents them to the customer? The Account Executive? The Project Manager? Someone else?

If you answered that the AE handles change orders, then your PM isn’t really the PM. Your project is really managed by the AE, who will therefore be more focused on work in progress than on developing and closing new opportunities. He or she will likely be an unnecessary constraint to information flow that will ultimately affect the customer’s perception of your company’s performance. If you answered that change orders are the PM’s role, then how often is he or she actually able to fulfill this role? Is the PM on too many projects to have the personal relationship with the customer required to do this?

What you may discover is that some of your longtime salespeople are really very good project managers and that this is where they need to be. In other words, our definition of project management isn’t wrong – it’s our definition of an Account Executive that is tripping things up. Let’s look at the Sales and Operations roles and see what might be going wrong:

There are three roles in sales: Business Development, Account Management, and Customer Service. The bigger your company, the more distinct these three roles become. Bizdev finds potential new customers and gives them to the account manager, who writes proposals and closes orders. The customer service representative takes orders from existing clients and monitors delivery. In many companies, the focus in to place the salesperson all of these roles at once. Because he or she is the next person in line, information never needs to transfer. No one else talks to the client. By the time the traditional Project Manager becomes involved, the salesperson is so deep into the project that stepping back will alarm the customer.

On the delivery side, the AV project management system forces the PM into the field to manage crews – sometimes on multiple projects, taking away time for planning and customer management. With the PM unavailable to focus on the next customer, the AE has to remain involved longer. What we get is a vicious circle. One half of the problem starts at the sales end with incomplete project hand-offs and the other half starts at the technician level with under-trained teams that need PM supervision. It all meets in the middle around an incomplete definition of project management that forces the sales process to go on and on.

The solution to making the sales team more effective is to have an operation that can lift projects from the salesperson’s shoulders. Within this system are “salespersons” that are actually project managers by skill.  In other words, let someone else perform the business development and account executive functions (find, capture, and close business) and let the traditional AV Salesperson (now, Account/Project Manager) budget and manage projects. The client relationship is now managed by a person not involved in project details, who is therefore free to find new customers and projects. The project is now managed by someone with client-skills, but not responsible for maintaining the client relationship or selling the next project. Companies can hire Business Development professionals with little or no AV savvy, but with lots of channel experience.

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