The Oversimplification of Sales Performance Work

The Oversimplification of Sales Performance Work

The Oversimplification of Sales Performance WorkYes, you read that right.  I’m worried about some of the things I’m reading and trends I’m seeing in the world of sales performance improvement.  Simple is good.  Oversimplified is not.

If you’ve been reading my work for a while, you may remember that I define performance levers as the knowledge, competencies, skills, behaviors, and conditions that must exist, for ethical, sustained, high performance to occur.

The work required to improve organizational performance (in a sustained, ethical way) is complex.  To radically improve performance (shift toward high performance), that’s even more true.  Doing this for the sales function – transforming sales results in today’s complex buying and selling environment – is particularly multifaceted and complicated.

The Sales Performance Ecosystem

Here’s something else you may have seen me writing about… the sales performance ecosystem.  We could debate the bucket names, where things sit, and possibly whether I’ve missed including something, but there’s little doubt that these elements (many of which are department or organization levers) all influence sales performance.  Aligning them or getting them “firing on all cylinders” can greatly improve sales results.Sales Performance Ecosystem

Not exactly “simple,” is it?

When Simple is Good

Please don’t misunderstand me.  I’m not lobbying for unnecessary complexity.  Simple is good (or even great) and unnecessary complexity should be systematically stamped out or avoided.  I was in the audience at the 2013 Forrester Sales Enablement Forum when Scott Santucci recommended we all become “simpletists” (but not simpletons) and I agreed with him, in the same way that I agree with the quote often attributed to Einstein

“Everything should be as simple as possible, but no simpler.”

Simple is often a wonderful goal.  It’s great when you are:

  • Delivering service
  • Navigating a website
  • Using a product or service
  • Ordering something online
  • Explaining a product or service
  • Crafting or improving a process (Lean rocks)
  • Searching for an answer or using a Help system
  • Avoiding unnecessary complication
  • Explaining a value proposition
  • Using a sales enablement tool
  • Crafting sales messaging
  • Teaching a concept
  • And more…

When Simple Worries Me

When you’re analyzing to develop performance interventions, such as trying to diagnose training needs, align levers to radically improve sales performance, or lead or manage change in your company… I worry about oversimplification.  I often ask myself, are we:

  • Afraid to think our way through complicated issues and factors?
  • Shying away from the hard or complex work?
  • Settling to get something done (activity) rather than get a great result (outcome)?
  • Dumbing-down our approach, too far?

An example…

An Oversimplified Example of Oversimplification

Is surveying a sales force about what they “need,” really a “training needs analysis?”

The answer may vary greatly, depending on what you mean by “surveying” and how you did it.  I’ll have to oversimplify this, myself, for a brief blog post, but here’s my best effort, to make my point.

  • If you’re just asking what training your sales force needs, this is a very weak oversimplification, in my opinion.  You might see patterns; you might not, and in either case, you won’t always know whether closing those gaps will improve performance.  In some cases, you might just be seeing an indication that previously-delivered training wasn’t transferred or reinforced.  In my opinion, this is “going through the motions.”
  • Are you asking about specific knowledge, competencies, skills, behaviors, and conditions that – based on your initial analysis – you’ve hypothesized must exist, for ethical, sustained, high performance to occur?  This starts to move in the right direction, but is still too simple.
  • Are you verifying the Importance of your hypothesized levers to achieving results, asking how Difficult those behaviors are to perform, how Frequently the behaviors are used, and perhaps how often they should used?  Again, positive movement.

Sales Performance Lever Survey Example

  • But if you do the above, and:
    • Don’t know whether you are asking these questions of top producers, mid producers or poor performers (and therefore can’t segment your analysis).
    • Aren’t looking at the differences in responses across those bands.
    • Or aren’t later asking about or otherwise assessing Comfort levels or Ability to Use the skills (to the level required for high performance)…

 …you’ve missed a real opportunity to gather data which can point to:

  • The differentiating practices of top producers.
  • Where the gaps exist in your sales organization.

Want even “less simple?” Consider that:

  • You can collect the sales managers’ analysis of the same factors, for each of their reps, for comparison to the rep’s self-rating.
  • You can capture some of this data in ways better than surveying (or as a follow-up to surveying, which is a great starting point for analysis), such as interviews, focus groups, and DITLO (day in the life of) field observation.
  • You can do statistical analysis on the data gathered, to look for correlations, points of differentiation, or even predictive validity (if they do this, to this level, this frequently, they are X% more likely to get Y results).
  • If you’re looking for the root cause of lower performance, you may find that training is not the best solution to the problem, at all, as suggested by Mager and Pipe in their classic Performance Analysis Flowchart.

What’s My Point, Again?

I’ll stop here because the point of this post isn’t about needs analysis, performance gap analysis, or selecting the best interventions or solutions.

The point is that any of those critical tasks can be oversimplified to the point of ineffectiveness, where the outcomes are only a partial, pseudo, or completely inaccurate indication of what is really needed.

Doing the “simplified” method may:

  • Fulfill an obligation
  • Keep you busy
  • Be easier, faster, less resource-constrained, and generally less painful
  • Have you delivering training that people (say they) want
  • Get high “reaction” or satisfaction surveys….

…but if you get a performance lift, it will be as much due to luck (or other unconsidered factors) as to the work you did.

Simple, But No Simpler

In the end, I am a fan of simplifying as much as possible, avoiding unnecessary complication, but not oversimplifying.  I think this is especially true when your work involves the analysis of performance issues and the identification of performance solutions.  Perhaps the words/phrases “simplifying, unnecessary complication, and oversimplifying” are so open to interpretation that it’s mostly a semantics debate and better lends to a dialogue versus a blog post, but I’ll look forward to see how my points resonate, or don’t.

While I was writing this, interestingly, Don Clark published a post on “Simplicity Combats Complexity,” and as normal, it’s excellent.  You can read it at:

Consistent with my above semantics comment, you may or may not find Don’s recommendations for combating complexity to be “simple,” because that’s very contextual.  But they are logical and proven methods.

Whatever you believe, be cautious about oversimplifying your approaches to sales performance improvement, and let me know what you think.  I’ll look forward to hearing.

In the meantime, thanks for reading, be safe out there, and by all means, let’s continue to elevate our sales profession.


Mike Kunkle
Transforming Sales Results with Clear Insight & Focused Execution

<mike at mikekunkle dotcom>


Mike Kunkle

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