A good sailor knows he needs to continually scan the horizon for changes in conditions that may require course corrections. Similarly, companies need to look ahead for changes in their industry and learn to adapt.

One organization that needed to take a different sales tack was NICE Systems, founded in 1986 as Neptune Intelligence Computer Engineering (NICE) by seven Israeli ex-army colleagues. The company initially focused on developing solutions for security and defense applications, but soon looked to the horizon.

A decision was made to refocus the company’s efforts on civilian applications, mainly for contact center, financial services, and business intelligence markets. This continually scanning the horizon eventually helped the company reach the $1 billion in revenues milestone in 2013.

Along the way Chris Wooten, the general manager, and I were able to bring a smooth selling system to NICE Systems. Wooten, a career corporate level sales executive with communication technology products, including Motorola, brought me in as a senior sales director for North America. When we took the helm we decided the organization needed to come about and take a new selling direction.

With a few maneuvers NICE Systems achieved smooth selling. Together our team increased the sales pipeline by 332 percent (to $35.8 million) over a three-year period.

Here is the different tack Wooten and I took. NICE Systems had a sales organization that was selling direct to the end user and also supporting a channel of wholesale resellers. Our sales people were being asked to be all things to all people. The problem is direct sales people are hunters and channel support people are farmers.

The underlying issue is hunters are closers, not mentors. Hunters are ego driven and want to control the sale. To support a reseller channel, the sales people need to subordinate their egos and coach the channel so they can close sales on their own. Farmers get satisfaction from helping others succeed.

Hunters need to be measured on the sales they close, while farmers are partially gauged on how well they prepare their reseller channels to sell with little to no assistance from them. In fishing parlance, farmers teach others to fish and hunters go fishing to catch fish.

Unfortunately, many people at NICE Systems did not fit either role of hunter or farmer. As part of a sales reorganization we had to bring in new people that fit the roles. On top of that we kept the roles distinct and did not make a sales person try to be both hunter and farmer.

Then we segmented the market so the direct sales hunters could focus their efforts on bigger opportunities that the reseller channel did not have a chance of penetrating. Our farmers helped the resellers focus on the mid-market, which was where the better opportunities were for them.

As a result, our direct sales team was no longer competing with the reseller channel for business. In the past there was conflict and each group thought the other was stealing their opportunities. After the reorganization there was a noticeable improvement in relationships and lines of communication.

Each quarter we monitored the progress and the strategy. Over the course of the three years we were able to increase annual sales from $4.7 million to $23.1 million, while boosting sales productivity by 65 percent. The key was not just to put in a smooth selling system, but to make the adjustments to keep the selling going smoothly.

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