September 19, 2013


Critical Success Factors - The Missing Umbilical Cord in Sales

Let me start with a bold question – “Is it fair to ask a crippled person to sprint and win a race competing with Usain Bolt?”

I have been researching the subject in order to calculate the impact of CSFs and their impact on KPPs in a sales world.

When I was in active sales, little did I realize that a KPP without a CSF is a topsy-turvy world. While KPP is the final outcome, CSF enables that outcome.

Quite often, a salesperson gets the blame for non-performance and takes a belly hit on bonus. The performance reward system fails to recognize the importance, and most performance systems are not designed to capture this critical element.

To me, this is downright unfair. Judging performance with standalone KPPs is like building castles in the air and not expecting them to fall under gravity. Unlike other roles in organizations, sales representatives are the ones who can be measured with direct business benefits, and it is amazing to note that we measure them archaically and enable them poorly.

Let me give an example. We ask our salespersons to sell new solutions to clients, train them to talk the solution, and finally measure the sales performance on the quantum of sale the solution fetches. What is conveniently forgotten is the fact that the eco-system did not enable him/her by way of investing in a proof-of-concept, creating partnerships if in-house expertise is not available, and finally, hitting below the belt.

Let us assume that every KPP has to be mapped to 2-3 CSFs, and if the organization does not enable the salesperson with any one of the CSFs, then the s/he should be rewarded proportionately, and by doing this, a more nimble organization can be created. Also, if organizations start penalizing the person responsible for not delivering the CSF, then it allows for an equal share of failure and does not hit the morale of the salesperson.

Everybody wants to be a part of a success story, and people don’t want to burden themselves with failure, unlike the man on the battlefield (THE SALESPERSON).

I was even perplexed when a couple of organizations I talked with along these lines told me this is a “Change the Business” initiative, and they are more in a “Run the Business” initiative. I think it’s time to rephrase it to change the thinking initiative.

Our breadwinners and revenue engines need to be treated better, and most importantly, system fairness is the key to ensuring the success of salespeople while while balancing with the organization’s goals.

Martin Luther King famously said, ”One day my children will live in a world that will not judge them by the color of their skin, but by the substance of their character” in his “I have a dream” speech.

It is probably apt to rewrite it as, “One day the salesperson will be judged in a world that supports his/her performance by CSFs, and not by standalone KPPs.”

To anybody holding a different view, I will be glad to consider your logic.