Trying to scale a successful sales strategy can often be a huge waste of time and resources. Not every success can or should be replicated, and what worked with one client won’t necessarily work with others. Leaders should ask four questions to help establish when it’s worth the effort, and when you’re setting yourself and your team up for failure. 1) Does the program you’re thinking of scaling align with corporate sales strategy? 2) Do aspects of this program allow salespeople to spend more time with customers? 3) What is the return on investment likely going to be for scaling? 4) Can leaders create the right incentives to drive adoption, and get people to actually use it?
At Cloud Analytics, a $10 billion B2B global technology company, the growing sales team in Asia Pacific was selling successfully into existing accounts, but only a small number of the sales reps were making progress with new customers. Emily, the general manager for the region, knew that if she could scale some of what these successful salespeople were doing to other new customers, she would help the company exceed its targets and gain well-deserved recognition for the team. At the same time, she had seen numerous attempts at “scaled” initiatives, almost all of which wasted time and resources and failed to deliver value. Would it be possible to effectively scale what these few winning salespeople were doing to empower the field?
Not every success can or should be replicated. For one, the effort required may not be worth the return. Moreover, what worked with one client won’t necessarily work with others — and forgetting that can set you up for failure. Knowing when to try to scale an initiative, and when not to, can be the difference between the company hitting its numbers and not.
There are tried-and-true questions to ask before deciding when to scale a novel approach. Based on our 15 years of experience leading transformation projects at tech companies, we recommend that firms determine if an initiative is worth scaling by examining the alignment to corporate sales strategy, impact on time with customers, investment return, and adoption incentives.
Key scaling questions
When a sales rep succeeds with piloting a new sales program, leaders often just resort to sharing the win on a call or via a widely distributed email. But after celebrating the win, they often fail to take the important next step. Leaders should ask four important questions to determine the best path forward.
1. Does the sales program align with corporate sales strategy?
Sales leaders should ask themselves whether this win — even if it’s big — is one they want to replicate. They can examine this question through two lenses.
First, they should determine if they want to close more deals with the customer type that they just sold to, with customer type often characterized by industry alignment, current spend level, customer location, or company size. For example, if a salesperson closes a deal in health care and the firm has some health care clients but is not interested in significant health care expansion, it may not make sense to scale what they did.
Second, leaders must consider the type of sale and whether the products or services sold represent corporate priorities. Perhaps the salesperson just sold a large deal that includes newly released products that represent the future of the firm. In that case, scaling the approach may have significant value.
With those two lenses in mind, determining alignment between scaling a sales program and corporate sales strategy can become clear. At Cloud Analytics, Emily knew her region — and the company broadly — had to sell the existing product suite into more new customers to meet ambitious quota numbers and that investing in scaling worked in service of that goal. She decided to explore what the best salespeople were doing that she could scale.
2. Do aspects of this program allow salespeople to spend more time with customers?
If there is alignment between strategy and scaling, leaders must determine which parts of the program to scale. For salespeople, the goal is often to spend more time directly with customers or preparing to talk with customers, and to spend less time attending internal meetings, navigating systems and tools, or reporting. So, a simple way to evaluate a sales program is to understand which parts will allow salespeople to make better use of their time.
For example, salespeople tend to spend a lot of time prospecting and qualifying leads. While those steps are important and do ultimately lead to more time with customers, they are often repeatable and can be scaled. To do that, sales programs can establish marketing sequences, allowing the sales force to easily reach many prospects as they move through early stages of the sales funnel. Sales can send automated emails and post content on social media platforms to establish their credibility and brand, increasing the likelihood they will get meetings with prospects and close the deal.
In the case study example, the sales reps in Asia Pacific had books with a high number of accounts, and they were spending a lot of time trying to get meetings with new customers, not actually talking to customers. Many of the reps were becoming frustrated, both at the time they were spending trying to get meetings and at their low success rates. Two of the reps had made significant progress by sending messages based on templates and attaching relevant standardized content. They were using both the industry and the functional area (e.g., finance, HR) in considering what content to include in messages and what content to attach, and the response rates to these messages was very high. The general manager saw potential and decided to automate some of the sales processes to support this approach for the new customer segment, investing in an automation suite from a software startup to set up email-based marketing sequences that would easily scale.
3. What is the return on the investment to scaling?
Of course, scaling any effort must be evaluated in terms of return on investment. The investment to scale a program can usually be broken down into investments in tools and people to support new processes. Modeling out the return will mostly focus on the additional closed deals directly associated with the scaled program. There may be indirect factors to consider in calculating the return, though. For instance, the success of the sales program could lead to insights and to other initiatives that affect sales, marketing, or customer success.
After the new approach was rolled out in a pilot at Cloud Analytics, marketing and prospecting activities were on a single platform, so Emily was able to have a clear view of the impact. She saw that there was a significant increase in new customer response, interaction, and interest in the company’s products, specifically from two industries she was targeting: metals & mining and technology. She enthusiastically shared this data with the regional marketing manager, who decided to shift more of his marketing dollars for these target industries to online channels, including social media. The success of his efforts helped improve regional return on marketing spend.
4. Can leaders create the right incentives to drive adoption?
If the sales program is scaled and then not used, it will likely be considered a failure, so leaders must determine the right incentives to drive adoption. Easily accessible trainings and monetary incentives — from bonuses to multipliers — can assist in motivating the field to change behavior. At the same time, the company must reward salespeople who contribute to scaled initiatives, whether they come up with ideas of what to scale end-to-end or just contribute sales collateral that is shared with other reps.
Recognizing employees for these types of important scaling actions has numerous benefits. Individual employees who receive praise are more likely to be satisfied and stay with the company. Almost 80% of people who quit their jobs say that “lack of appreciation” played a role, so this type of recognition can make a difference. For the company, these actions show that firms are committed to celebrating and supporting a more innovative culture.
Many companies have sales clubs, where the salespeople who exceed quota are rewarded. Recognizing employees who aid efforts to scale is different. Leaders of course can offer them company-specific rewards and shoutouts on calls. Even better, though, is if they offer these innovative salespeople additional responsibilities, including the opportunity to lead more specialized teams that their work helps create.
Answering these four questions when scaling a sales program can change sales reps’ experience for the better. The benefits are clear. The companies that have scaled programs with the four factors in mind have salespeople who are more likely to hit their quotas, are happier on the job, and are less likely to leave.
Of course, there are challenges to scaling programs. Automating aspects of prospecting and lead generation can require significant investment, both in terms of time and money. Salespeople must invest time to set up the steps that will be scaled, and this effort doesn’t guarantee results. At Cloud Analytics, getting the field to support automated prospecting and lead gen was a challenge. The company recognized early on that selling the program all at once would be difficult, so they opted to roll it out one region at a time. They were diligent about collecting data and showing results, using success from one region to sell sales leaders in the next. Moving through these steps took time, though.
Building on a successful sales program has always been both important and challenging. But by supporting the field with better scaling practices, leaders can ensure their go-to-market programs benefit everyone involved.