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McKinsey on Sales Growth: Five Proven Strategies (Author Interview)

07 June 2012

McKinsey is arguably the best known and respected management consulting brand in the world. Their customers share that distinction: they are the Fortune 100, the largest and most recognized global companies. As owner and founder of a 20-year-old consulting business, I looked forward to interviewing Jon Vander Ark, who co-leads McKinsey’s Sales practice and is one of the three McKinsey partner-authors of recently-published Sales Growth: Five Proven Strategies from the World’s Sales Leaders.

Product Details

 

Here are the five, by the way:

  1. Find Growth Before Your Competitors Do
  2. Sell the Way Your Customers Want
  3. Soup Up Your Sales Engine
  4. Focus on Your People
  5. Lead Sales Growth

My interview with Jon follows.

Given your reputation and what I have to imagine is a steady stream of inbound and referral leads for interesting and challenging projects, why write a book? What was your objective?

We didn’t start with the objective to write a book.  In fact, our effort started with a conversation with some sales leaders about how to drive growth following the economic crisis. It was fascinating, so we started to talk to other sales leaders to develop an even deeper understanding of the cutting edge practices of the world’s sales leaders. What we learned was that companies that put sales management at the heart of their agendas capture astounding growth. And not just once, but time after time. After hearing so many inspiring stories, we came up with the idea of a book. When we looked through the leading sales books, we saw a lot of self help books but nothing that systematically addressed sales management.  That confirmed the value of doing the book.

I’m working with several companies on their social selling strategy and initiatives and would welcome your perspectives on social media in the sales function. While there is general agreement that social can’t be ignored, there is seems to be little data available to support the business case. Are you studying the return on social selling? Are you finding that investments in Social produce measurable, meaningful outcomes?

When done well, social media absolutely delivers a return. There is a great example of Outback Steakhouse in Chapter 5 of the book. They used a smart promotion through Facebook to learn what their customers valued and to get them to participate – they ended up driving a million incremental tables per quarter. But you’re right about the data part; while there are lots of metrics out there (I’m on Twitter now and track follows and retweets), the problem is that until recently there hasn’t been an effective metric to let CMOs or sales leaders know whether their social media has really driven sales. Clearly having data to show that social is working is critical as we come out of the age of experimentation with social (some colleagues of mine are about to publish a piece on “social GRP,” actually). While there are many great individual examples of social delivering real value, most companies are still in a stage of exploring how and where to play on social.

In your first chapter, you identified trends in technology (i.e. cloud computing), politics (i.e. government stimulus programs), geography (i.e. emerging markets), and regulation (i.e. carbon reduction mandates) that could help companies get ahead of the competition.  What have you identified as some other trends businesses can take advantage of?

Great question but it’s a hard one to answer because every industry has their own sets of trends and many of them create sales opportunities. For example, the nature of work is changing. Where people work has moved from the office to the home and even third spaces like Starbucks, Panera, etc.  If you build commercial real estate, manage it, or supply office products this is a big change. Naturally, it threatens the size of your market. However, it is also a big sales opportunity if you’re proactive in helping your customers adjust to this changing reality. What I found astounding in writing the book is that the best sales leaders were able to systematically track trends, invest resources to find growth (typically 2% – 4% of budgets), and figure out how to take advantage of them. This isn’t about reading tea leaves and getting lucky; it’s about a systematic process that marries data with analytics to tap into all the growth opportunities that are out there.

I’m also hearing that many large companies, working actively to reduce fixed cost in favor of variable cost, are seeking out more flexible “on demand” staffing solutions which favor consultant /independent contractor experts over full-time employee headcount, especially when unique, hard-to-find skills are required. Are you seeing this trend as well? How will this impact sales and marketing departments?

Marketing and sales leaders are realizing that we live in a more connected world. At the same time they’re asking themselves what core capabilities do I need internally, and where should I look to outside partners or agencies for support. In many cases that leads to partner with value added resellers or marketing agencies. However, that also leads them to build up in house capabilities in certain areas they deem critical (e.g., digital.)

We in the Sales 2.0 Community talk frequently about the importance of aligning marketing and sales to fuel sales growth. What are your most successful clients doing to insure marketing and sales integration and automation?

Working off a common fact base is often the first step.  I’m seeing more and more companies where Marketing and Sales align on a segmentation and customers they want to pursue.  Marketing also then provides insights on customers (leads, use cases, etc.) that the sales team can execute. But it goes beyond process; it’s a mindset. The best companies make sales a “team sport,” which means that they’re breaking down those walls. Initiatives like embedding marketing people into sales teams and having joint budget responsibilities go a long way to breaking down those barriers. Clearly marketing and sales need to come together, but sales needs to work more closely with a range of departments from IT to legal much more closely.

Another favorite Sales 2.0 Community debate is whether sales is more science or art. What do you think?

That’s a debate that has lasted through the ages. The fact is, from what I’ve experienced, the best sales organizations understand it is both.  The heritage of most selling organizations is on the art of selling.  But the best organizations are investing heavily into the science of selling, adding deep analytical capabilities in sales ops and building more quantitative skills into their sales force. Their sales people are becoming great “data hunters” because that’s the skill you really need these days to unlock all those opportunities – whether it’s examining long-term trends or uncovering micro-markets or optimizing sales through e-commerce, science really is becoming a core capability for the modern sales leader.

What are YOUR questions for Jon? Which of the five proven strategies is most critical for YOUR business growth and why?