sales productivity

What Fishing can teach us about Sales Productivity

The peanut-butter spread approach

Let’s say I own 100 fishing boats and I am awarded the exclusive rights to fish an area, let’s say it’s a square-shaped area that is 10km wide and 10km across. If I don’t know any better, I will divide this up into 100 equal 1km x 1km squares and allocate one boat to each territory. I will achieve a certain level of productivity, some boats catch full loads every day, but some boats are half empty and some are not getting any fish at all.

Takeaway : Spreading sales resources EVENLY produces UNEVEN results.

Look for Low-Hanging fruit

After some analysis I work out that all the boats in the Western half of the territory catch very few or no fish every day. So of course I move those boats from the West and double up in the East, so now I have two boats in each of the eastern 50 squares. Straight away every boat is catching a full load and my productivity almost doubles, and that’s without changing any of my fishing processes or fishing personnel.

Takeaway : Simple initiatives can generate HUGE gains.

Seasonality and predicting buying waves

A few months later I notice that my fleet’s productivity is dropping and then it starts to dive dramatically. After further study I realise that a seasonal change has seen the fish migrate from the Eastern side to the Western half of our territory. Of course I direct my boats to concentrate on the West for a while, and I recover my productivity.

Takeaway : Keep your radar up for changes in buying behaviour or other macro conditions that affect your market, then adjust your resource allocation.

Fine-tuning for greater productivity

I study my fleet performance in more detail, and I also bring in some experts to help. I find out there are different species of fish in my territory that can be caught at different times of year and in different locations. I realise I need different equipment, different bait and I need to send my crews out at different times of day and night to improve their catch. So I make various adjustments and keep incrementally improving my productivity.

Takeaway : Never stop looking for opportunities, we can always improve our targeting and productivity.

Fast-tracking our path to productivity

So after a few fishing seasons of trial and error we have continuously learnt from our experiences and made adjustments so we now have an efficient fleet. But this trial and error knowledge has been very hard learned, it has cost significant time and money.

Imagine if we could have started out with all of that knowledge before deploying our 100 boats. Maybe if up-front we had invested in some sonar vessels and a fish migration expert to map out the whole territory for us we could have hit the ground(water) running and ramped up to full productivity much more quickly.

Takeaway : Learning by trial and error is slow and much more costly than  investment in market intelligence.

How does this apply to Sales?

So how are we managing our sales teams? Are we peanut-butter spreading our resources, or absolutely laser-targeting them, or somewhere in between? Are we investing appropriately in market intelligence? Are we analysing and reacting appropriately to changes in the market?

There are many reasons for variations across territories, here are a few examples :-

  • The attractiveness of your solution to some segments more than others.
  • The tendency of some industries to invest more in your type of product.
  • Your solution may best fit organisations of a particular size or structure.
  • Some sectors may have regulatory mandates or competitive pressures to invest in your type of solution. e.g. finance industry, telcos, government, defence.
  • Some sectors go through periodic booms and busts, such as mining and related industries.
  • Account level dynamics such as M&A or transformation projects.
  • Seasonal buying like financial year, back- to-school or Lunar New Year.

I have seen many Sales/Marketing teams who have these processes down to a fine art. They keep their businesses in sync with the market and are continuously one step ahead of the competition.

A Quick Checklist

So in summary I leave you with the following thoughts.

  1. Our sales resources are precious and salespeople have limited selling time each day and each week.
  2.  Do not peanut-butter spread your sales team evenly across territories.
  3. We must direct sales resources towards the most efficient territories and accounts.
  4. Invest in market intelligence, start with analysis of your own data, then utilise outside databases, industry analysis, social and other sources to narrow down your targets. Have experts on your team or bring in from outside.
  5. Equip the sales team with the intelligence, tools, content and other resources to catch the specific buyers you are targeting.
  6. Marketing should focus their lead-gen and lead-nurturing activities in sync with the territory plans.
  7. Look for the bigger efficiency opportunities and execute those as a priority, then work on the incremental improvements ongoing.
  8. Maintain your efforts. Things are always changing in the marketplace and we need to be ever vigilant.

Effective and thoughtful territory allocation and targeting of the right accounts is a huge factor in driving your sales success and sales productivity. You just can’t afford not to do it.

Hope this helps, best of luck on your market intelligence journey and happy fishing!