Sales Acceleration Technology: Avoiding Failure

Recently I wrote a blog around business readiness, which I feel is at the root of why most business change projects fail. Why? At the end of it, all change comes down to people and poor people management through a transition will almost always spell failure. This blog talks more about avoiding failure.

There is no shortage of statistics around project failure rates.

A recent survey of business executives indicates that the percent of change programs that are a success today is… still 30% McKinsey and Company

Nearly 60 percent of projects aimed at achieving business change do not fully meet their objectives. IBM

The brutal fact is that about 70% of all change initiatives fail. Harvard Business Review

A new study by Towers Watson has found that only 25% of change management initiatives are successful over the long term. Forbes/Towers Watson

Change practitioners have some culpability for the atrocious 70% failure rate of change initiatives. Connor Partners

Many have challenged these figures, however, I think its safe to say that even if you give projects three rankings – successful, ok and failure – those that hit that first bucket are still probably around 30%.

The ROI that firms usually advertise with their glossy marketing material (‘our customers see a 50% cost reduction’) usually references those successful projects.  Those statements are absolutely true, for those successful stories, and likely replicable. And yet, we know projects fail. No one wants to fail as a project sponsor or manager. Worse, a failed initiative can make the organization as a whole more weary to invest and consider other important initiatives. How can you start to prevent failure to become a ROI hero at your company and poster child for a successful change initiative?

This blog was inspired by a few failed projects I’ve either seen or learned about recently. The common thread to all was that different audiences were perceiving the value of the project differently and ultimately those with the checkbook cancelled. They didn’t know or couldn’t measure what value their team was getting. How can you avoid buying a costly system you either don’t implement or cancel? How can you make sure your executive audience knows the value your end users may receive or are already receiving?


This first blog in the series will focus on some large failure points:

  1. Expectation Setting
    • Setting project KPIs
    • Gathering project expectations from all levels
    • Considering diverse audiences
  2. Staffing
    • Project management
    • Project participants

The blog series will continue to focus more specifically on how to maximise success in three sales acceleration projects with large ROIs – incentive compensation, CPQ (configure price quote) and call technology – using examples from some of the largest vendors.

Expectation Setting

Agree on project KPIs

Anyone in project management will tell you that KPIs and success metrics are key. Both buyers and vendors should insist on clear KPIs before selling or commencing a project. People don’t write cheques for nice to haves; they write cheques for things that materially improve their business.

So what KPIs are right for your initiative or business? Ideally I would start with some baseline measurement of productivity. There are a few ways to measure productivity. Some common methods include:

  • Time spent selling (or doing a certain task you are addressing)
  • Opportunity Win Rate (or yield rate for a certain stage you are looking at)
  • Average Deal Size
  • Sales Velocity (overall speed or certain stage you are looking at)
  • Cost of Sales – this should be anything that goes into sales (i.e. resources + tools + support staff) / revenue
  • Employee Satisfaction

If you are considering a sales acceleration project, ask the vendor for some ROI models. Some have some simple case studies you can drill into and may have interactive calculators you can populate. Many initiatives will not instantly effect the top or bottom line. What contributing metrics and levers can help you measure instantly? How long will it take to trickle down?

KPIs should be measured weekly from go-live. This is incredibly important to course correct if your project is not delivering the results you expected. This cadence also allows you to show that perhaps there was a dip through adoption but metrics are constantly improving.

 Gathering project expectations from all levels

The concept of assigning measurable KPIs seems pretty reasonable. People invest because they are expecting a result. However, when expectations are not aligned, this can be a major source of misalignment and frustration. The KPIs that senior management has for success may be quite different to expectations at a different level.

For example:

  • Senior Mgmt Expectation: The efficiency of tracking calls and activities will mean that reps can make 20% more calls in a day resulting in 20% more revenue
  • Sales Rep Expectation: My manager will be able to use call recording technology to provide me better coaching. Better coaching will make me more satisfied.

In this example, both expectations are tied to very justifiable and quantifiable metrics. Senior management is expecting revenue to suddenly jump 20%. However, if the rate of attrition is halved, the business will save significant training and recruiting costs. Both are improving productivity however its clear they are not aligned.

Different levels may expect different things and they may also just expect a different scale. Staging a roll-out has benefits however some users may feel its just a ‘double work’ burden until fully rolled out. This could lead to project failure as people fail to adopt something new as you haven’t given them enough to move their current processes.

  • Have you discussed the cadence of your rollout?
  • Have you discussed the scope and set the correct expectations?
  • Do you know the tipping point for different audiences?
  • What precautions do you have in place for avoiding failure?

Enabling a diverse audience

Corporate HQ

Most purchasing decisions are made at a corporate level,  ‘the ivory tower’ as many bemoan.  The corporate HQ is usually in the market where the largest and most established market presence is.  This is their primary source of feedback for how things are working ‘in the field.’ Because these teams are larger, it goes without saying that the level of support for these teams is usually the strongest. There is usually administrative support to keep the office running as well as basic support tasks.

Regional offices

In smaller satellite offices people have to wear a lot of hats to not only keep the office running, but their business as well. For example, in your largest market you likely have someone you can call on to help calculate commissions even if that is not their primary responsibility. In a satellite office where there is no sales support, let alone an office admin, it is probably the sales manager. Using expensive sales resources to do administrative work is a huge drain on productivity. The benefits of a commissions administration system will be felt much more profoundly by the smaller regional office.


Staffing includes both stakeholders as well as active project participants; both are critically important in avoiding failure.

Project Management

You will want to make sure you have strong project management with strong business readiness skills. Having someone project manage something, just for the sake of it, I have not found to be useful. Its very important to have a project manager that is familiar with both the audience (in this case, sales) and the problem.  Your project manager should at minimum be familiar with the process, with experience implementing a particular technology as a bonus.

A project manager with a strong relationship with stakeholders is best. If you are thinking about outsourcing the project management be sure this person has formal introductions to the executive stakeholders on this project.

Project Participants

Project participants are taking time out of their busy schedule to be part of a project, they are hardly ever fully staffed. Delays happen when people cannot make last minute meetings and requests because time commitments are not accurately projected.

For all project participants I think the following rules ensure a smooth running project:

  • Ensure the direct manager of any participant is both clear and supports the request for their resource to be part of the initiative
  • Always send advanced notice for any meeting requests or workshops
    • 1-2 weeks in advance is a good rule of thumb
  • Provide hourly estimates of their time commitments (by week)
    • Many project vary widely by week so saying 2 hours this week, 2 days next week helps a lot
    • Last min surprises and time asks will only serve to frustrate the business and degrade support for your project or initiative

Next Blog…

Next week this series will focus more specifically about avoiding failure in some of the most common sales operations business cases. I want to focus on three very common purchase areas with a typically high business ROI: Incentive Compensation, CPQ and Call Technology. I will provide tips for how to build a compelling business case as well as how to avoid the dreaded project failure.