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The Four Building Blocks of A High-Performance Sales Team

In the foreword to “The 4 Disciplines of Execution”, Harvard Business School Clayton Christensen describes a scene that’s become famous in the world of business.

In the mid-1990s, Christensen received a call from Intel’s Andy Grove. Grove had picked up on Christensen’s research on disruptive innovation, and invited him to fly out to California to discuss the implications on Intel.After a positive meeting, Grove asked Christensen: “OK. But how do I do this ?”At first, Christensen started responding with a discussion on business strategy, explaining amongst others how Intel could set up a new business unit. This earned him a terse reply from Grove, who told him “I know what I need to do. I just don’t know how to do it”.This made Christensen realize a crucial point: the division between what and how is often overlooked in the world of business.To put it simply: strategizing is easy. Executing is hard.This discovery led authors Sean Covey, Chris McChesney and Jim Huling to write “ The 4 Disciplines of Execution ”.As I was reading the book, I came to discover that the model can be applied to virtually any aspect of business and performance, whether in teams or individually.And it’s ideal for building a high-performance sales team in particular.

Discipline #1. Focus On The Wildly Important

The world of selling is synonymous with distraction. On a given day, the members of your sales team can decide to spend their time on any number of activities – and they often will. According to this infographic , sellers spend one third of their time actually … selling.The challenge is that, unless there’s a clear direction, human beings will revert to tackling the challenges that are easiest, not the ones that are most important or valuable.According to McChesney and Covey, the purpose of this phase is to “focus your finest effort on the one or two goals that will make all of the difference, instead of giving mediocre effort to dozens of goals.”The 4DX model does this by – first – identifying which objectives are likely to yield the biggest results. Focusing on so-called WIGs (Wildly Important Goals) allows sellers and sales managers to focus all their efforts on executing against those critical goals.Ideally, company goals should trickle down into divisional goals. Divisional goals into team goals. And team goals into individual goals.Setting WIGs is an important, first step to ensuring that a team’s energy, focus, drive, motivation and creativity will all be laser-focused on achieving a small set of well-defined, ambitious goals. Action step: if you’re a sales manager, work together with your team to define a core set of 2-3 WIGs. For each, set a completion date, and define a set of measurable, simple KPIs. If you’re an individual seller, do the same for yourself.

Discipline #2. Act on the Lead Measures

Globally, there are two types of measures or KPIs. The first, and the ones most often measured, are what we define as lagging measures. Think of these as the results or outcomes of a process (e.g. closing a deal).Where lagging measures are important as a yardstick for success, they do present a unique challenge: given they only become apparent after the fact, they make it impossible to course correct during the execution phase.In other words, once you can measure the result, it’s already too late to take corrective action.Enter lead measures. Lead measures can help sellers and sales managers identify and mark progress towards a predetermined goal during the execution phase, and – most importantly – they allow for course correction to ensure the final goal is met. Action step: once you’ve defined your WIGs, identify 2-3 lead measures for each. It’s often helpful to think in “stages” of completion to get this started. For example, to close a deal, you’ll need to have a certain number of qualified prospects entering the pipeline, a certain number of opportunities that qualify and a certain number of proposals go out. But don’t just focus on quantitative criteria; try to include a qualitative component as well.

Discipline #3. Keep a Compelling Scorecard

People play differently when a score is being kept. By our very nature, we’re competitive, and leveraging that is an important part of building a high-performance sales team.To support the achievement of your WIGs, you should develop a highly visible, highly visual dashboard of progress towards the WIG. Ideally, the board should identify the status of the various lead measures, the actions leading to the completion, and overall progress towards the achievement of the WIG. Action step: develop a simple, shared and highly visible scorecard to track progress against the WIGs. Think flipchart or Excel sheet, not fancy CRM dashboard.

Discipline #4. Create a Cadence of Accountability

This is “where execution actually happens.” By coming together to review the scorecard on a regular basis (e.g. weekly) in short, focused meetings, the team can assess performance and identify course corrections required for completion of the goal. As an important side benefit, this ritual also creates momentum, energy and inspires team members to “give the best of themselves”. Action step: set up a regular meeting (whether live or virtual) with the team to review the scoreboard, identify areas for course correction and brainstorm on ideas to make attaining your WIGs more likely.The 4DX model is ideally suited for building and managing a high-performance sales team, because it:
  • Helps teams focus on what truly drives performance – not what looks good on a management reporting dashboard
  • Introduces focus on what matters most, at the exclusion of everything else – meaning sellers can spend more time on activities that generate revenue
  • Helps teams and individuals track progress at key moments – building momentum, energy and a feeling of accomplishment
  • Allows for on-the-spot course correction when circumstances change – and circumstances always change, but at least with lead measures you can react against those changes and still meet your goal
  • Leverages the innate drive human beings have for competition – and encourage top performers to stand out, whilst others can be inspired by their example
  • Introduces a feeling of shared ownership and achievement – meaning the team can truly feel like a team versus a loose collective of individuals, and help each other succeed
  • Like most powerful methods, this model appears to be deceptively simple at first.After all, a lot of it sounds like things you’re most likely already doing (setting goals, measuring KPIs).As usual, the devil is in the details. Or, in this case, in the execution.So here’s a challenge: try it for yourself. If you’re a sales manager, do it with your team. And if you’re an individual seller, find an accountability buddy.Set WIGs. Identify lead measures. Track progress. Be accountable.What could be simpler ?