Efficiency and effectiveness are two of the most overused words in the business lexicon. It seems almost any sales approach can help you achieve both… but is that really true? At its core, efficiency refers to doing what we do, but in a manner that is faster or cheaper. A simple example would be the ability to find your usual collateral more easily through an improved search function and cloud accessibility. Effectiveness however implies finding a meaningfully different way to do something that achieves a superior result. Instead of simply finding the aforementioned collateral, you would instead be able to customize it and attach a personalized video.

It’s no secret what these words mean, but their definitions are relevant to why they appear so frequently. They encompass the three things every organization aims to improve: their process speed, cost, and quality. Yet, like the old saying goes, “you can only pick two out of the three.” If efficiency typically falls into the domains of speed and cost, then effectiveness controls the level of quality. So, when we are evaluating how to improve our selling approach, which one do we want – sales efficiency or sales effectiveness?

The obvious answer, and the one I would vote for as well, is both. But that doesn’t get at the crux of the issue. When examining the order in which efficiency and effectiveness should be addressed, a paradox begins to form. We can quickly get lost in weighing the pros and cons of “getting the job done right” and “making sure we get it done at all.” So, while yes, we should strive for efficiency and effectiveness, the real world often forces us to make compromises. This is why it is still important that we know how to prioritize the two.

Breaking It Down

In most cases, sales efficiency is the primary focus of an organization. Basic economics tells us there is an inherent, bottom-line benefit to finding cheaper and faster ways to do the things we need to do. This also tends to be the path of least resistance. Having been around sales organizations for several decades, there seems to be an endless number of initiatives teams could embrace to be more efficient. And this should be welcomed. For most sales professionals, time is their most valuable and most constrained resource. Anything that can be done to free up their schedule, or simply allow for more calls, more emails, and more meetings, will naturally lead to revenue.

Additionally, the sales profession is still littered with inefficiencies. But today, we can, and have, thrown technology directly at these remaining problems. Gone are the Rolodexes, carbon copies of letters, and day timers (for those of us that recall such things). We have saved immeasurable time and money over the last decade and, personally, I believe there are ways we could do even more.

On the other hand, there is sales effectiveness. How can we do what we need to, in a new way, to gain a superior result? Unfortunately, the question is: how early the alarm bells start going off? Unlike efficiency, effectiveness, by definition, requires organizations to change and let go of existing habits. Although every business wants superior results, when it comes at the cost of an existing process – even one that is markedly poor – there is a different mood in the air. This is the uphill battle sales effectiveness faces. Doing the same thing faster or cheaper will put few people offside. But diverging from the norm to do something better invites more critiques, more arguments, and more opponents.

The Limitations of Faster and Cheaper

Given these challenges, does it even make sense to prioritize sales effectiveness? Is it worth the effort of switching to a better process, approach, or strategy? My response is a resounding yes. In fact, I believe our very survival depends on prioritizing effectiveness. The way in which buyers buy and how buyers must be served, has changed dramatically over the last ten years. However, our research illustrates that our sales approaches are lagging far behind the times. This is largely due to the tendency towards efficiency. More organizations than you think are selling exactly the way they did in the 1980s, just faster and cheaper.

Today’s buying environment demands more effective sales. We must enable our sales teams to engage in their customers’ buying journeys and provide value and relevance at each step. This is a long way away from delivering collateral more quickly or at a lower price. Sales effectiveness is arming the sales team with the ability to identify where a prospect is in their buying journey, understand all the key players that are likely involved, know how decision will be made, and key in on their specific needs and concerns. Rather than sending generic value propositions, modern sales effectiveness is about being able to confidently, and deliberately, manage the buying journey.

The hurdle is that sales efficiency is admittedly less complicated to put a figure on and implement. But efficiency alone will no longer create sustainable business results. You may well see costs come down and win rates go up in the short term, but it’s nothing compared to the gains that can be made by tackling sales effectiveness. In no uncertain terms, buyers are buying differently. It’s time to start selling differently.

Written by Martyn Lewis
Posted November 29, 2022

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