Mark Hawn: Sales Team Transformation

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Mark Hawn joined a major global business consulting and outsourcing company in 1985, immediately upon graduation from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He remained with the organization for 27 years. “I grew up there,” he says today. After “carrying a bag” in sales – “winning some and losing some”– he made partner and took on bigger and more complex deals.

Working his way through the ranks, Mark learned a lot about the sales process, ultimately getting involved in outsourcing sales and working with the firm’s governing committee. He’s a true believer in methodology – any methodology. “Even if you use the worst methodology, you’ll still get better results than if you hadn’t used any,” he says. Along the way, Mark became known as a good judge of business. “A lot of big firms were selling,” he says, “but not selling profitably.”

As-is analysis

In the early 2000s, he recalls, “we were performing well but constantly faced with the challenges of growing a very large business at double digit rates.  We did a good job of reducing selling, general and administrative expenses, so profits were good, but the pressure to continually grow sales by $2 billion+ each and every year was very difficult.”  On the heels of an updated strategic plan, Mark was selected to lead an internal sales effectiveness and change program as well as run sales operations for the company.

Senior management decided it wanted something big, not just incremental changes. “We gathered 30 people across all the business units,” Mark recalls. The team’s goal was to transform the sales organization and gear it for consistent double-digit growth—above its peers who were typically in the high single digits. “A lot of people aren’t compelled by numbers,” he says.  “So we started a qualitative and a quantitative side. A lot of the qualitative had to do with the soft side, the sales pursuit and client interaction.” Mark’s group also did a traditional as-is analysis across a number of areas on both a qualitative and quantitative basis.

Five buckets comprised the as-is analysis:

  1. Client portfolio management: Do we have the right number and mix of clients in the portfolio?
  2. Quality pipeline: Is our pipeline growing in the right way to support growth aspirations?  Are the underlying metrics like deal size and volume improving in a way to achieve growth and cost goals?  Is the pipeline coming from the right mix of clients and types of services?
  3. Winning deals: Are we winning enough and consistent with our brand and capability?  Are our losses and wasted pursuit investments more about competitors or not qualifying opportunities with clients well?
  4. Sales management: Are our sales leaders effective in managing the ever-growing and sophisticated sales force?  Are they spending time on the right things and do they have the skills to lead?
  5. Offering development: Do we have the right offerings or products and are they competitive in the market?  What do we need to invest in to ensure they are?

It wasn’t hard to gather data in each of the five areas. “We had to put a lot of elbow grease into finding data and collating it and understanding the picture,” says Mark. When you have a disparate set of systems and information, you can’t rely on the accuracy and have to be comfortable knowing that close is good enough. “We developed a saying: ‘We’re consistently inaccurate.’    We knew that many of the underlying metrics weren’t very accurate, but that we were inaccurate on a consistent basis, which allowed us to know what direction things were going.”

Closing a large account

Because it was critical to demonstrate to the organization that these best practices worked, Mark’s team would seed the larger, more complex competitive opportunities with someone from the core transformation team to ensure the use of best practices.  The power of the new approaches resulted in one of the largest wins ever at a major international food and commodities company that had strong incumbent competitors already working with them.. “You’d have thought one of the incumbents would win it,” says Mark. “We never deluded ourselves about how hard it would be to win. So we were able to do things that allowed us to win.” For example, Mark’s company extended the time of the pursuit. “We knew we wouldn’t win without extensive involvement with the client. That was a big part of sales transformation that we incorporated. When you make a buying decision you are always trying to confirm hunches and get to an answer so you can move on and get things done.” Mark’s team persuaded the client to extend their analysis and spend more time with the bidders. “One thing we showed them was what other companies did in making similar decisions so they could see they were moving too fast.” Meantime, the competitors were encouraging the client to go as fast as they could. One of Mark’s jobs was to find opportunities to get to know the prospect. “We had a relationship development program. Find out what hotels they were staying at, and try to stay there; find out where they were having coffee, and we’d just happen to be there. It’s a diligent process – about thinking how do you find time with them and then getting it.”

By extending the time frame and getting to know the prospect, Mark’s firm surpassed its competitors and won the business.

From infrequent to standard

Of course, no engagement is perfect. Looking back on a successful sales transformation, Mark says if he had the chance, he would do three things differently.

  1. Spend more time on client portfolio management. “It’s so strong. I’d push the principle of having fewer clients harder than we pushed it. In my most recent consulting experiences, we had a services company who cut their portfolio in half and they’ve had back-to-back 25% growth.”
  2. Find one business unit that would be a guinea pig on everything. “I’d have found that business unit earlier. You need to be able to point to something and say ‘See, it worked!’ Some things you can mandate, but some must be encouraged. I’d have gotten participants earlier.”
  3. Get people to believe in the concept earlier. “One of the business units that adopted the methodology got good results, but we didn’t push it enough. It would have been smarter, in hindsight, to get help from the leadership team on it.”

As-is analysis, transformation, flexibility and even relationship development programs: sure, everyone does it. But not everyone does it consistently; not everyone does it well. “We did well at turning that from an infrequent occurrence to a standard occurrence on large deal pursuits,” says Mark.  “We wanted to turn our best day into every day.”

Download This Top Performer Profile in PDF Form: Mark Hawn – Top Performer Series #8

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