What Diamond Cutting and Sales Effectiveness have in common

Most of us are fascinated by Diamonds. The combination of their rarity, beauty (and price!) gives us a sense a perfection. Giving or receiving one as a gift is perceived as a romantic sign of a strong and durable bond. Owning them in quantities is a sign of wealth and power. Diamonds are valuable because they are rare. The raw material is literally an anomaly of nature, a highly improbable geometric arrangement of carbon atoms. Diamonds are also the result of a human construct, a very precise and extremely difficult piece of work.

Diamond Cutting is an Art based on a rigorous process combined with passion

Transforming a raw stone, which most often is nothing but spectacular, into a beautiful form based on multiple facets that play with light is called Diamond Cutting. It is a complex process based on a precise sequence of operations spanning from initial planning to final polishing. It combines the scientific knowledge of crystals properties with a pragmatic view on how to combine aesthetic and economic considerations.

Cutting a Diamond requires a clear sense of one’s intention, a method, a strategy, an action plan and excellent execution with monitoring of progress and corrective actions when needed (Readers of this post who might believe this description is exaggerated are invited to check the “Diamond Cutting” article on Wikipedia). However, while based on a rigorous process, Diamond Cutting is an Art and not a science. It requires talent, passion and hard work.

Sales Effectiveness is exactly the same

Sales Effectiveness is the state of a sales organization reached when Sales Performance is attained AND sustained while also maximizing the utilisation of resources (people, time, systems) as well as the satisfaction of the involved human beings (performance at the cost of human tensions does not qualify as true Sales Effectiveness).

Sales Effectiveness is very similar to Diamond Cutting. Exactly like finished Diamond, Sales Effectiveness is a construct which requires the adequate raw material and the completion of the right process.

The raw material for Sales Effectiveness is a company with a fairly good offering, a healthy culture and a sales team made of normally talented people. Contrary to the case of Diamond, the good raw material for Sales Effectiveness is not so rare. What is rare, however, is that in the business world, Sustained Sales Performance is a form of “perfection” that few companies manage to attain.

The facets of Sales Effectiveness seen as a Diamond

Like in the process of Diamond Cutting, Sales Effectiveness is achieved and maintained by identifying and polishing facets, parameters that when properly combined, lead to a very specific result defining how well a sales team is doing in a given market context. Below is a list of the facets of the Diamond of Sales Effectiveness.

  • The adequate Sales Skills for the sales rep with a process to assess and develop them.
  • A clear Commercial Strategy that translates the company’s strategy and marketing plan into a clear and operational set of directions for the sales team.
  • A Commercial Customer Segmentation that helps each sales rep prioritize customer according to the value they generate.
  • Sales Action Plans, detailed at the sales rep level, in order to focus and prioritise the actions.
  • A good management of the Customer Experience as well as an adequate Account Management practice aiming at strengthening the relationship and increasing customer loyalty.
  • If and where relevant, sound Key Account Management practice that allow to create more value for and with the truly strategic customers.
  • If relevant, an integrated approach of Marketing and Sales to market Solutions rather than Products and to use Prescriptive Selling.
  • Influencer-oriented Marketing & Sales practice and tools that embed the modern process of influence in an holistic Marketing, Communication and Sales process (this can include Prescriptive Selling).
  • An appropriate Sales Management System that provides a framework of scheduled interactions (team and one-to-one) to support motivation and drive results.
  • A culture that values individual and collective accountability, fosters collaboration and continuous improvement, and leverages coaching as a key management technique.

In fact each of the items in the above list can also be considered as a single Diamond itself and decomposed into more facets. This is especially true of themes such as Key Account Management, Solutions Marketing and Sales, Influencer Marketing and Customer Experience.

The need to cut and polish all facets

The above list might look like a shopping list elaborated by an academic or a consultant but it is in fact a pragmatic check-list for the Marketing & Sales Performance practitioner.

In order to reach the grail of Sales Effectiveness, Executives should lead their team (by the way, not only Sales) to work on all facets of the Diamond. This sounds obvious but the reality check shows that, when pursuing a goal of increased Sales Performance, companies tend to polish only one or two facets and neglect the others. For example they define a set of measures to assess sales reps, improve their sales skills and implement a CRM. Unfortunately, in most cases such programs have little to no effect because other facets have been neglected, for example the clarity of the Sales Strategy, the Management System, the Sales Managers skills and the Customer Management practice. Another frequent reason of failure are facets that are not polished well-enough. For example, too many Sales Performance improvement program focus on training and on enhanced IT systems but neglect on-the-job coaching for sales reps and sales managers, a lethal mistake for the whole initiative.

Can companies and their Executives avoid these traps? Yes but remember, Diamond Cutting is hard work.

Based on my 30 years + experience across industries and with companies of all size headquartered in various countries, high performers on sustained Sales Effectiveness (in B2B and B2B2C) do not show a major weakness in any of these areas and perform well to very well on many of them. The Diamond of their Sales System is made of well-cut and polished facets which leads to a Diamond of superior value: Sales Effectiveness. It is a long-term game, a marathon rather than a sprint as Sales Effectiveness can only be attained if the company, its Executive and its Managers at all level, have the required will, focus and persistence.

Practical consequences for ambitious Executives

So, how to act? Company owners, start-up teams, CEOs, Sales and Marketing VPs should behave like Diamond Cutters:

  • Assess the current level of maturity and performance on each parameter of Sales Effectiveness (or on a subset of parameters).
  • Define a clear goal, usually a desired level of improvement, and an associated timeframe (that second part is tricky and short-termism is a fatal error).
  • Identify the facets on which it will be necessary to act and prioritize them (remember, it is a marathon).
  • Build a program, a clear description of all measures that will be necessary to trigger the change and drive the desired improvement.
  • Have the topic present in the Board Room (monitor progress and challenges regularly at Exec level).
  • Get the required help to drive the Change (hire new blood: new team members with game-changing capabilities and truly operational consultants).

In 2016, I will regularly publish posts focused on all the facets of Sales Effectiveness. You will find them on LinkedIn Pulse and on this blog. If you have suggestions on topics, do not hesitate to get in touch!

About Olivier Riviere
I am a consultant helping companies of all size optimize their Marketing and Sales Performance and drive a Cultural Change. My focus is on General organisation dynamic, Sales Effectiveness, Key Account Management, Solutions Marketing & Sales, Prescritive Selling and Influencer Marketing. I am a European citizen of the world working in 3 languages and with a passion for diverse multicultural work environments.