Getting your sales force to achieve peak performance requires thoughtful strategy and execution across a diverse and interconnected set of categories and sales force effectiveness drivers. It requires a delicate balance of effective talent management to ensure capable and motivated salespeople, and the infrastructure to enable their focused effort on the right customers, behaviors and outcomes.
Driving a sales force effectiveness transformation at any scale is daunting. At Intel, where the sales organization is tasked with not only hitting its short-term objectives but also with helping the tech giant grow over the next five years, it’s an entirely different ballgame.
I caught up with Greg Ernst, Intel’s vice president of sales and marketing in the U.S., to discuss how his team does it, as well as his advice for building and scaling an effective sales organization.
Q: How do you balance short- and long-term priorities for Intel’s sales organization?
A: We assign near-term KPIs on a 12-month basis, and that rolls up into commissionable goals. In parallel to that, we set a longer term objective on where we want to be in three to five years and the initiatives we need to drive that and become a force of nature inside the markets we serve. That drives our sales initiatives, the skill sets we want to bring in and the digital technology capabilities we invest in. The long term is really important because it’s a source of inspiration for our people: They don’t just want their KPIs for 2020 but also a vision for the future that they can use to inspire our customers to go with Intel. It’s not based on how good your products are today but how relevant you’ll be five years from now. You think bigger and tackle more ambitious initiatives by looking at the longer range versus just the next 12 months.
Q: What are your best practices for building, retooling and scaling sales teams?
A: On my team, we have a strategic skill set analysis. We want to grow our expertise organically, train our current employees and look at strategic hires or partnerships to bring skill sets into Intel. For the tools capability, we’ve reserved a budget that we won’t spend on anything other than digital tools, so we continue to evolve them. As companies become bigger, IT systems become more complex, so you have to be more purposeful about the tools you bring in. We are always looking for opportunities to leverage digital tools to train employees, reach the right customers and scale our message.
Q: As you hire for new skill sets and scale up, what effort at the manager level is made to support coaching?
A: We recently redesigned our performance review process to emphasize and capture regular and frequent conversations (at least three times per year) between managers and employees, focused on growth and performance. These conversations are really coaching sessions, where managers take the time to appreciate the things that have been going well, and coach employees in the areas that will continue to help them grow, develop, progress and improve. Having and systematically capturing these conversations holds both managers and employees accountable, and ideally leads to each employee having a clear and specific understanding of where they’re performing well and what they can do to grow and develop. We believe having this knowledge engages and excites our employees about the opportunities in front of them.
Several years ago, we launched a program called Managing at Intel, which trained all managers across the company on the fundamentals of management, including coaching and the importance of inclusion. We successfully trained 13,000 managers worldwide and have extended that training through a program called Managing for Excellence. In addition, we have a robust internal coaching network, with coaching opportunities available to all employees, including peer coaching, leader coaching, spot coaching and mentoring, as well as the opportunity to become an Intel internal certified coach. Coaching experiences range from one-time engagements for advice on a specific topic, change, or relationship, to longer-term coaching for growth and development.
Q: If you’re trying to drive change, how do you motivate people and make sure the right metrics or incentives are in place?
A: People get inspired by three things: sense of purpose, autonomy (owning something and controlling their fate) and mastery of a skill. We’re setting up a structure that elevates all three elements. The long-term vision matters, too. People not only need to see themselves in this, but also be willing to take risks with Intel to get there and know it will be rewarded. Our leadership team regularly reviews the commissions structure, solicits feedback across the organization and tailors the plan to Intel’s business needs.
Q: What common mistakes do companies make when building and scaling their sales organizations?
A: One key to not getting sidetracked is to keep things as simple as possible. Complicated messaging is confusing for employees and customers. Be clear on what you’re trying to accomplish and communicate it regularly. At Intel, since we’re a manufacturing company, many of our values in the sales organization come from that side of the company. For example, in our fabs, once a process is perfected, the teams replicate exactly. This is the same in our sales organization. Once we find a particular success, we work to share the strategy for winning across the sales force. We have also been purposeful in defining our organization’s value proposition and making sure that everyone in the organization is able to articulate it. Then, you use the story across multiple venues like press interviews, customer meetings and events. Eventually the message becomes part of the company’s DNA and the center of your sales mission.