4 Practices to Keep Sales Innovation on Track

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Sales innovation is often the factor fueling companies’ race for relevancy, for their products and services. And, in recent years, as companies have instilled and and nurtured innovative cultures, they’ve positioned themselves for agile growth.

But then came President Donald Trump’s budget blueprint: Its proposals for cuts to research and development funding meant that caution flags suddenly went up.

Many startups and small businesses are frustrated at the government’s apparent lack of support. I’m thinking, for example, about the medical software company Syapse, whose $400,000 in funding is in jeopardy. If the Trump administration chooses to implement its budget, organizations will have to look inward for solutions. Rather than lament this shift in perspective, though, companies can capitalize on these circumstances by turning a routine pit stop into a viable, lucrative opportunity.

Related: Here Is What Small Business Needs From the Trump Administration

Get innovation on track.

All businesses can innovate by implementing four practices. The first two forge stronger intra- and interdepartmental connections, while the second two create bonds with prospects and clients:

1. Break the bureaucracy chains.

When you remove bureaucracy, you instill a line of open communication and understanding. Suddenly, teams aren’t silos — they’re “in this together”-type allies. Likewise, by embracing a more agile culture, companies become more seamless and adaptable.

Related: How to Flatten Your Organizational Hierarchy Now

For instance, companies may want to place a sales-enablement liaison in their marketing departments. As an intermediary, this individual can foster initiative development and bolster interdepartmental-support structures. According to Salesforce, two-thirds of customers feel that sales teams are underprepared for their initial meetings.

That’s a statistic that indicates a striking disconnect between what customers expect (marketing) and what they’ve been delivered (sales).

Not only will this liaison strengthen relationships between the sales team and clients, but he or she can also improve the sales team’s ability to communicate internally.

2. Rebrand new sales strategies.

Calling new sales strategies “projects” or “initiatives” can lead to a flavor-of-the-month mentality and dilute their potential.

Take former 3M CEO George Buckley as an example. According to the MIT Sloan Management Review, when Buckley initiated a project, he often found it difficult to get his research and development team on board if the project didn’t appear to lead to a breakthrough. But he learned that by applying more traditional branding principles to the company’s internal projects, he could garner interest and investment so the project could run its course.

Borrow a page from his book and rebrand your own new sales strategies as “experiments,” a term that will not only imply that what you’re doing is a test, but will also allow room for failure. Once you decide to undertake an experiment, though, dedicate yourself and your sales team to it from the beginning.

3. Establish simple, trackable metrics.

Business intelligence numbers from complex data sets are a vital tool. Too often, though, businesses create sales metrics that can’t be understood and that frustrate their sales teams. That’s probably why Bloomberg Businessweek notes that in-demand data scientists are seeing their starting salaries climb above $200,000. While having advanced analyses can be beneficial for long-term reporting, simpler and more common sales tracking — such as a lead source — makes small-scale evaluation easier.

Companies, then, should make sure they’re focusing on qualitative metrics as much as quantitative ones: The former allows you to put a face on the numbers. According to a Gartner prediction, by 2020, only 50 percent of businesses will be able to successfully utilize their business intelligence feedback. So, while the numbers themselves are significant, a company’s inability to construct a narrative for those numbers will render all of that great data relatively negligible.

4. Live and breathe a customer’s day.

Encourage your sales team to spend time with clients. If your people better understand their clients’ businesses, they’ll be better able to create new solutions and quash inefficiencies. But impactful innovation can’t happen in absentia. It has to happen on-site.

Related: How 9 Successful Companies Keep Their Customers

In an age when sales teams are spending less than one-third of their time actually selling, according to Docurated’s State of Sales Productivity report, adding more face time to their schedules may seem like a pipe dream. However, this action can reap great benefits.

In one of my earlier roles leading a national sales team, I insisted that every sales rep spend two days shadowing the people who used our products. Those clients loved the commitment, and we learned so much about what they actually dealt with daily: how they struggled to use our solutions, the inefficiencies we’d inadvertently built into our processes, etc.

Those valuable insights allowed me to turn a sales team that was underperforming into one that exceeded its quota five years in a row.

That said, be realistic. Don’t expect your people to come back with a plethora of ideas. Shadowing is a slow but important process.

Overall, the road to innovation can be gusty, but sales teams will stay competitive mile after mile if they’re structured for mobility and have the support they need to adapt.

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