What is a Sales Development System?

What is a Sales Development System?

If you’re unfamiliar with the term “Sales Development System,” it may be because the sales training discipline historically suffers from a lack of systems thinking!  Now is the time to familiarize yourself. Systems thinking is required if you need your sales force to take results to the next level.

First, let’s define the terms.  A system is an entity with interdependent, interrelated parts that is more than the sum of its parts. An active system (made of structures/components that interact in behaviors or processes) grows and adapts based on how well it is adjusted to its environment.  Although systems tend toward homeostasis (steady state), active systems also adapt, tending to make changes needed to accomplish the goal.

As B2B sales complexity rises (more parts, more processes, more interdependence), so has the need for systems thinking and the application of systems theory. Applying systems theory entails discovering the conditions, dynamics, constraints, and the principles that drive the system.  Armed with this knowledge, system thinkers can apply the methods, metrics, and tools required to optimize system performance.

Sales Development System vs. Sales Training Program

A true sales development system is different from traditional sales training in two fundamental ways:

Sales Training vs. Sales Development: To train salespeople is to teach specific knowledge or skills.  One level up from training is development: to develop salespeople is to help them evolve, grow, mature, and progress. So, any training you do is part of a more strategic focus on developing sales effectiveness over time.

An effective sales development system focuses on the key competencies required for sales success, and uses every available learning moment to develop multiple competencies, not just sales skills or product knowledge. Instead of separate training interactions on sales skills, product knowledge, CRM skills, etc., think of a holistic simulation where you’re pulling all those levers at once, to varying degrees based on your assessment of seller needs.

The great news is, when you own your own sales methodology and training, you can focus on the broader issue of developing talent.  You’re not required to put everyone through the latest program you “bought,” and you can ensure any focus on sales skills happens in sync with development of other, critical competencies.

Programs vs. Systems: A program is planned series of events according to a schedule, but programs live inside a system, which has interdependent, interrelated parts that are more than the sum of its parts. In the case of sales development, a functioning system relies on systems, people, and processes working toward the same end – to make sellers more productive.  The problem with traditional, rented sales training is your reliance on vendor systems (e-learning, customization process, delivery, assessment) versus leveraging your own. Building and owning your own content and delivery allows you to leverage your own system (marketing, product management, CRM, ERP, LMS, etc.) and get exponentially better results.

Sales Development System Components

A working sales development system relies on several core components:

  • A clear understanding of the conditions and constraints in your sales environment
  • Measurements that reveal the system dynamics and principles that drive sales and seller development
  • Sales methodology that capitalizes on system dynamics and addresses system constraints
  • Functional alignment among every component of the system (people, process, functions, tools)
  • Feedback loops that drive system iteration and optimization
  • Strong leadership willing to spend the calories to optimize the system

This last component is critical – without strong leadership willing to focus at a systems level, organizations fail to address systemic issues (like a broken sales process or poor functional alignment) and instead focus on immediate, seemingly easier fixes (like sales skills).

How Do You Apply Systems Thinking to Your Sales Force?

It’s not easy or simple, but here’s a start:  Get smart on systems thinking, then start to systematically ask the questions that reveal your actual sales system in all its current glory (or lack thereof). Identify the measurements that reveal the true workings of the system, not just the results. (Hint:  The answers are seldom found in your pipeline report!)

Starting with a clearer picture of the system salespeople live in will put you light years ahead of ordinary sales trainers, who focus on their area of expertise.  Operating at a systems level helps you make smart choices on whether sales training is even necessary, or if it’s addressing a symptom versus a cause.

If you’re interested in getting a deeper understanding of systems thinking, start with the classic:  General System Theory by Ludwig von Bertalanffy.  If you’d rather discuss the application of systems theory to your sales organization, contact us for an initial discussion on how to develop your own system.