This contribution, from arguably the world’s most respected management consulting firm, to the sales body of knowledge is welcomed. McKinsey has a lot of clout and when they speak people listen. I thank the authors for elevating the sales effectiveness conversation into the board room where it belongs. Writing a book is a lot of work and I truly appreciate the author’s efforts.
But, unfortunately, they missed the mark.
The Research Method
The research methodology was flawed. McKinsey spent two years interviewing senior sales executives inside 100 global companies with a track record of outperforming their peers. The profile of the companies studied averaged $31 billion in revenues, 86,000 employees, across 10 industries. Two thirds were B2C companies.
The “five proven strategies” that emerged from this are:
- Get to growth opportunities before competitors.
- Use multiple channels.
- Use sales ops and technology.
- Balance the short and long term.
- Gain commitment from the organization.
These findings fall into the obvious category. You, the educated sales leader, will be upset you wasted three hours of your life reading 256 pages to receive such basic recommendations in return. This is what happens when the research is limited to interviews with primarily B2C executives. McKinsey would have been better served if they added a few of the following methods to their research approach:
- Sales Rep Ride Alongs- it is essential that the researcher gets in the field and makes sales calls with the sales reps to see what actually happens.
- Prospect Interviews- the researcher must always get “both sides of the story”. McKinsey only heard one side of the story, that of the seller. They did not talk to the buyers. Do the buyers value the five proven strategies?
- Competitor Mystery Shopping- the companies profiled in the book have outperformed their peer groups. Yet, McKinsey did not engage the peer group to understand their sales approach and how it differs.
- Metric Benchmarks- simply comparing top line revenue numbers to broad industry indexes is insufficient. Sales data analysis requires deep causality research.
Lastly, how many of you work inside $30 billion companies with 86,000 employees? It would have been a better read if the research had included companies of more modest scale.
The McKinsey authors have never led a B2B sales force. Thomas Baumgartner, has spent the last ten years as a consultant and prior to that was a university lecturer. Homayoun Hatami’s experience is as a member of the MIT board of trustees. Jon Vander Ark is a partner at McKinsey focused on B2C industries such as travel, consumer durables, and automotive.
I am sure the three authors are highly intelligent and capable. McKinsey only hires the best. However, unless you have had to make a number, quarter in and quarter out, you simply do not understand what it takes to be a successful sales leader.
Here are a couple of examples of their findings to give you a feel for the book:
- McKinsey advises you to look 10 quarters ahead. The focus of our work is to help the head of sales make the in-year revenue quota. The average tenure of the chief sales officer is 6 quarters. B2B sales leaders do not have the luxury of looking 10 quarters out.
- Find big growth in big data. Sales organizations today are getting dirty data from the field and have to battle untested assumptions from corporate. To suggest a sales leader can implement a big data strategy is irresponsible. This recommendation highlights the disconnect between academics and practitioners.
There are some sections worth reading. Pay attention to the sections on blending online and offline selling, engaging the customer early in the cycle, and brining your expertise to the table. Beware: there are so few practical recommendations for the B2B sales leader, it takes a lot of patience from you to find them.
If you are looking for a sales book to read, here are a few that are a better use of your time:
- Conversations That Win the Complex Sale: Using Power Messaging to Create More Opportunities, Differentiate your Solutions, and Close More Deals
Lastly, if reading a full length book is of no interest, here is an ebook we put together that can be read in 30 minutes.