In a previous column we advocated a six- to eight-week strategic tuneup for small-business and middle-market banking units that must generate more sales with smaller staffs in a declining market. Business strategy development involves selecting target market(s) and the products/services to be sold; it requires a frank assessment of core strengths rather than a glossing over of problems or mediocre offerings; and it leads to tradeoffs among different priorities and goals.

Once senior managers have agreed on goals and a strategy, sales teams have to focus on the issues and target customers that have been outlined. Disciplined sales management is the bridge from strategy to intended results.

DEVELOP A SCOREBOARD

The first step toward strategy implementation is development of a sales scoreboard that translates the tuned-up strategy into performance indicators that answer two questions:

Are we executing the right activities to present our value proposition to the right customers in the right way?

Are we generating the results our strategy aims for?

To be effective, this scoreboard should include leading indicators of sales success and should balance external measures (for example, revenue, market share, and penetration of key accounts) with internal measures of processes such as response times on proposals, number of "pitch books" delivered, and number of sales calls completed. It should also include easily quantified measures as well as more subjective measures of performance quality and quantity.

These numbers will help sales managers understand how the business development process is working and get an idea of revenue that can be expected months down the road. Without such metrics, they revert to guessing and managing based solely on past results.

DEVELOP SALES ACTIVITY PLANS

Once a bank has drawn up its strategy and scoreboard, the next crucial step is activity planning. This must be more substantial than "see what you can drum up," because internal resources are more scarce - banks are asking fewer relationship managers to handle more accounts with less internal support - and competition is broader and more aggressive. Three issues are important:

  • Targeting clients and potential clients that best fit the bank's value proposition and strategy.
  • Making activities pursue clients patiently and persistently, translating sales goals and scoreboard measures into specific activities.
  • Coordinating sales team activities, product specialist activities, and product-fulfillment group activities to ensure appropriate availability, focus, and responsiveness.

FOCUS ON RECOGNITION AND COMPENSATION Mary Kay Ash once said, "People want only two things more than sex and money: praise and recognition." While your company is proceeding with the development of integrated, strategy-focused compensation plans, your sales managers must shower praise and recognition on salespeople and support personnel in boundary organizations when they demonstrate implementation of the new strategy. This must be frequent and immediate and can be in the form of a brief e-mail or handwritten note, special mention at quarterly or annual sales team meetings, or disbursement of discretionary bonus money.

Meanwhile, sales managers must push the development of measurement systems and incentive plans. These should focus on a relatively small number of goals (five to nine) that match the bank's strategies for acquisition, penetration, and retention of targeted clients, and for revenue or profits. In the tuneup mode, sales managers may have to develop temporary measurement tools that cut across stovepiped computer platforms, consolidating data that can be used to measure sales productivity relative to the strategy. One of our business banking clients developed a jury-rigged software application that captured income from deposits domiciled in the branches but not shown on the commercial line of business income statement.

FOCUS ON DISCIPLINED EXECUTION

Finally, sales managers must ensure that their charges execute their plans by performing the right activities at the right times with the right clients. Team leaders should initiate a consistent pattern of checkpoints that provide a forum for inspection, feedback, and course resetting.

  • Weekly: Focus on deals and activities, field observation, behaviors, and skills.
  • Monthly and quarterly: Focus on execution of sales plans, progress toward planned objectives, and scoreboard measurements.
  • Quarterly: Hold formal performance reviews and business-plan reviews.

These coaching principles ensure that sales teams and individual sales representatives are executing the strategy. Sales managers' expectations, coupled with feedback and recognition, alter sales behaviors.Our experience indicates that sales success depends in large part on senior management's development and communication of the strategy coupled with disciplined sales management.
The tuneup may require major changes in organizational structure and job definitions, compensation plans, information systems, and even product sets. But these changes should not stop field sales managers and call center managers from putting their teams in the direction outlined in the strategy.

Regular conversations about the plan between sales team leaders and their direct reports involve one of the most important aspects of strategy and sales management implementation. These discussions must reinforce priorities and the commitment of resources that put the company in a strong position to ensure that its plan is activated while broader organizational and technology support is put in place.

Mr. Acton is the president of Clarity Advantage, an Acton, Mass. consulting firm that specializes in sales management. Mr. Wendel is the chief executive officer of Financial Institutions Consulting in New York.

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.