TNTChanging the way we sell
To reignite growth, global delivery service provider TNT rolled out a sales acceleration programme across its global sales organisation. Changing the way we sell turned TNT’s top line around. Not by giving sales reps new tools and more training, but by changing the mindset and behaviour of their sales managers.
Companies typically look to sales to turn a downward spiralling revenue curve. The sales force is prepped for the latest sales approaches, their toolbox is equipped with new tools, and a substantial amount of resources are spent on training.
However, according to recent research, about two-thirds of these initiatives fail to deliver the expected results.1 To achieve top-line growth, companies need to look beyond toolboxes and training programmes. They need to redefine their approach to sales management.
TNT asked Implement to design a sales acceleration programme. Launched across the company’s European sales organisation, Changing the way we sell (CTWWS) transformed TNT’s approach to sales management. By building new competencies and introducing new platforms, the sales managers acquired the skills and routines they needed to accelerate performance in their teams.
The Courier, Express and Parcel (CEP) industry is notoriously tough. It is a traditional, hands-on kind of industry with a simple offering: getting goods and documents from one destination to the next – fast, cheap and on time. Doing this on a global scale – and better than the competition – calls for substantial investment in hardware and highways; a large fleet of vehicles and transport networks that allow for efficient operations.
But capacity and networks are not enough. Companies must respond to other factors too. New players entering the market from unexpected angles; new e-commerce channels with complex dynamics; and new customer needs such as predictability and convenience.
Then there is the ebb and flow of the global economy. During 2010 – 2014, the transport industry struggled with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4.5 per cent as a result of the recession. Such conditions put pressure on prices, and competition gets fiercer than ever.
In this difficult environment, TNT was losing ground to its key competitors.
The CEP sector has thousands of small local providers, but when it comes to global players, the market is dominated by four giants battling for supremacy: DHL, UPS, FedEx and TNT – also known as The Big Four. From 2010 to 2014, TNT’s sales figures had declined; the company’s market share had decreased as well. This sent TNT from second to fourth place among The Big Four in Europe. Clearly, the TNT engine was not running as well as it should.
Over a five-year period, no less than four different CEOs had sat in the driver’s seat, each defining a new route for the company. While the organisation was reeling from the succession of corporate initiatives, TNT received a takeover bid from UPS, sending the organisation into a state of suspended activity. In January 2013, the EU banned the acquisition on competitive grounds. This left TNT’s executive management with the serious task of getting the company back on track.
CEO Tex Gunning and his executive team took a close look at the business to identify company strengths and improvement potential. Building on the initiatives from a previous improvement programme, they launched the “Outlook” strategy in February 2014. This strategy singled out a number of priority areas: expanding TNT’s unique European Road Network; serving its core customer group – the SMEs – even better; improving end-to-end processes in operations to achieve the perfect transaction; and revitalising the TNT brand with the worldwide “The People Network” campaign.
But top-line growth will not come without a well-oiled sales organisation. While “checking under the bonnet”, the executive team found that the sales organisation was not performing as well as it should. The question was why?
In close collaboration with the TNT sales directors, Implement offered a diagnosis: The sales organisation was suffering from an autonomous approach to sales and a reverence for KPIs.
“Historically, TNT has been a decentralised organisation where local divisions enjoyed a high degree of autonomy,” says Implement Senior Partner and Head of the TNT project team, Christian Milner Nymand. “Each country or region had their own understanding of what they were selling, how to position this with the customers, and how to drive sales. That will not work in a global organisation that needs to deliver topline growth fast. Everyone has to pull in the same direction.”
The sales organisation was not only decentralised; it was also strongly KPIdriven. This meant that sales managers were scrutinising Excel sheets rather than coaching their teams. “When taking a look at the sales managers’ weekly routine,” Christian explains, “we saw that most of their time was spent on administration, reporting on whether or not targets had been met. That didn’t leave much time for skills building or performance feedback.”
And Christian points to another important factor: “When productivity-enhancing KPIs become your North Star, you’re looking at the number of sales meetings or calls per day rather than the quality. A strong KPI focus is retrospective – which means that the team looks at past performance rather than future goals. To accelerate sales, the conversation in the team needs to change – from ‘did you reach your target?’ to ‘what can we do to achieve our targets?’”
We needed to fundamentally rethink the way we drove sales in order to win more business.
Commenting on the challenges facing TNT’s sales organisation, Managing Director of the AMEA region, Jos Raaymakers remarks: "We needed to improve what we were selling and how we were selling it. But more importantly, we needed to fundamentally rethink the way we drove sales in order to win more business."
In June 2014, Implement began to “rethink” TNT’s approach to sales. As Christian explains: “TNT had been given six months to turn their top line around. We had to define the transformation that needed to take place in the sales organisation and make it happen. Fast.”
Research conducted by Implement’s partner, CEB – a best practice insights and technology company – shows that sales management is the most effective lever to pull when it comes to accelerating sales and creating revenue growth.2
“In the sales excellence projects, we have been involved in, the greatest impact on sales effectiveness has come by letting the sales managers drive change in their own teams,” says Christian. “They are the ones who need tools and training. Not in how to sell, but in how to coach, manage and motivate their teams.”
Implement presented these insights to TNT’s top management and got the go-ahead to design a customised sales acceleration programme for the global sales organisation. The Changing the way we sell programme was based on the interaction of three elements – cadence, coaching and the so-called “win rooms”.
Regular team meetings with a set agenda are important in a sales acceleration framework, but are often neglected. They allow the sales manager to get a complete overview, discuss ongoing activities with the team and make sure that everyone is on the same page.
In TNT’s sales teams, meetings typically took place on an ad hoc basis with a semi-improvised agenda. The CTWWS programme introduced the concept of “cadence” – a regular rhythm of team meetings with agendas that all sales managers had to commit to. “The fact that team meetings were fixed in the sales manager’s weekly schedule – and governed by an agenda – ensured regularity and focus in the team,” explains Christian. “Each manager was free to define their own rhythm of meetings and the specifics of the agenda. But everyone had to commit to minimum frequency and apply the general framework. Since this activity had been endorsed by top management, the managers found the time to do it.”
Spending face time with sales reps is essential if performance is to increase in the team.
According to Christian, a sales manager has four key roles: “He or she is a performance manager – setting targets and checking that they are met; a sales mentor – providing advice and being a role model for the team; a change agent – translating the corporate strategy into action in the field; and a sales coach – asking relevant questions and guiding the sales reps to finding their own solutions to challenges. Out of these four roles, the latter is by far the most important when it comes to increasing the sales team’s performance.”
A recent survey documents that sales goal attainment is 19 per cent higher among sales reps who have been coached compared to those who had not.3 Moreover, sales reps say that regular coaching is one of the reasons why they choose to stay with a company. Because they feel it supports them in their development.
In TNT’s case, coaching was also the key to changing the conversation between the sales manager and sales rep – from one of control and inspection to one of guidance and support.
Coaching is not an easy skill. In surveys, sales managers often rate themselves as good coaches. But when their reps are asked to rate their managers, the scores are often not as high.4 Typically , managers think they are coaching when they are in fact “telling” or “controlling”. In order to build their coaching skills, sales managers were trained in different types of coaching, and they were shown how to adapt their coaching to different personalities.
To stimulate more dialogue and create greater transparency in the sales teams, Implement added a third and final element to the CTWWS programme: the “win room” – a physical framework for constructive conversations about performance, pipelines and sales opportunities.
“As the name suggests, the win room is where you go to find out how to win in the market,” explains Christian. “It’s a physical space in the local sales organisation reserved for the sales manager and his team. This is where one-to-one coaching sessions take place, and where the whole team meets to share ideas, give each other feedback on challenges and agree on what action to take to create strong pipelines and win more business.”
And he continues: “The win room is a dynamic and creative space where the sales team comes together to motivate and inspire each other. The conversations going on there are proactive and forward-looking; they are about how we win more sales and create success – individually and as a team.”
To stimulate discussions and guide activities, the win room has three working walls equipped with different types of posters to guide discussions and ensure that the team covers key issues, tracks progress and makes decisions on next steps:
“Visualising the activity in the sales team – as we do with the win-room concept – has a huge impact on team culture and performance,“ says Christian. “Everyone can see what’s going on, and problems can be quickly identified. To see your own performance on a poster may seem scary at first. But once people get used to it, they find it incredibly motivating. That’s because the conversation in a win room is open and constructive, with colleagues working together as a team and helping each other to perform better.”
The CTTWS platform trained the sales managers in:
The CTWWS programme was introduced through a three-phrase process: top management endorsement, sales manager mobilisation and effective local implementation.
To gain buy-in for the programme from senior management, TNT’s sales directors were invited to a series of sessions in June 2014, where the Implement consultant team worked with them to define the objectives of the programme and customise each of the three key elements to TNT.
In September 2014, 13 sales directors and 250 sales managers from 36 countries were invited to a grand-scale kick-off event in Ronda, Spain. The beautiful Andalusian surroundings set the scene for the CTWWS transformation. For three intense days, the sales managers worked together in national teams familiarising themselves with cadence, coaching and win rooms – the concepts that they would be implementing in their own teams.
“Ronda was all about winning hearts and minds,” Christian explains. “Creating a shared understanding among the sales managers of what CTWWS was all about, why it was necessary, and what it had to achieve.”
Moreover, the scale of the Ronda event and the way it was organised – with high intensity and high-involvement activities – made change very tangible. It sent a clear signal to the sales managers that this was not just another programme. Change had to happen, and they were the ones who had to own and drive it.
The sales managers responded to the challenge. As Ailsa Webb, former Global Sales Director recalls: “Ronda was a fantastic experience. This was the first time ever that TNT sales managers were gathered, and the passion and energy from everyone was amazing. Everywhere I looked, people were discussing what they’d learnt and what to do when they got home. And the level of ambition was really high. With all the changes that have been going on in TNT over the last years, it was impressive to see that people were really committed to take on a new way of working with sales.”
To sustain the momentum from the Ronda kick-off event – and to show that tomorrow would not be the same as yesterday – every sales team received a parcel from Implement on the following Monday morning with all the material they needed to set up their win rooms. The message was clear: It’s all there. You know what to do. Now go do it.
Win rooms were set up in more than 100 locations across Europe in the following weeks. Each team received two to three follow-up visits from the same Implement consultant that they had worked with in Ronda. During their visits, the consultants reviewed the change happening on the ground and offered to support the individual managers in tackling local challenges.
But it was the sales managers – not the consultants – who were in charge of implementation.
During 2014, results began to materialise. Sales managers began to see improved consistency in sales execution, sales meeting preparation skills and qualification of opportunities among their sales reps. And the sales directors watched sales figures go up as a result. Within the first six months of the CTWWS programme, revenue grew by an average of 5 per cent in the Territory Sales Management channel across Europe.
TNT Turkey became the best practice example for successful implementation. They measured a real boost of 22 per cent growth across all sales channels. One reason for their extraordinary success was the strong and immediate buy-in from the entire sales management team. The sales directors from all seven Turkish regions were present at the kick-off meeting in Ronda. The presence of top management created a unique team spirit, and high involvement and engagement cascaded down through the Turkish sales organisation – a total of 155 people.
Reflecting on the impact of the CTWWS programme across TNT’s sales organisations, Jos Raaymakers says: “Implement consultants are masters in change management. Their approach went a lot deeper than a simple training programme. The support they provided locally and the tailor-made toolbox for sales managers changed the sales managers’ day-to-day life in a very practical way.”
Towards the end of 2014, Implement conducted an internal impact measurement track whether the core elements – cadence, coaching, ‘win rooms’ – were having an effect. When asked how helpful each of these three elements had been in driving better sales performance, the sales managers in the TNT Europe region gave ‘cadence’ a rating of 4.2; skills coaching tools received the same score, and win rooms got a 3.9.
But implementing a change programme on this scale is not all plain sailing. CTWWS generated a number of challenges. Some were specific to TNT, but most are typical of this type of organisational change:
Given that the differences among TNT’s sales teams were quite significant, the readiness and competence to take on a transformation of this nature varied greatly. Christian points to localisation as the solution to this problem: “Once you acknowledge such ‘baseline differences’, you can accommodate them by allowing for a high degree of localisation and different levels of ambition in the way you implement.”
Asking people to change their way of working will generate a certain amount of resistance. For a group of people accustomed to KPI focus, the mindset and behaviour that CTWWS introduced was quite a leap.
“For example, the visual and interactive elements of the CTWWS programme – with win rooms and poster equipment – struck some of the more experienced sales managers as somewhat silly at first,” Christian recalls. “The only way to overcome this was to put these elements to the test. Convince managers to try them out in their teams and let them experience the effect for themselves.”
Implementation across a sales organisation the size of TNT is never as synchronic or smooth as the project plan may suggest. Reality can get in the way. Some of TNT’s sales teams did not manage to pick up the momentum from Ronda; consequently, local implementation was delayed; others took a selective approach to the platform, implementing the elements that they felt most comfortable with. In both instances, prompting from top management and guidance from Implement consultants helped the sales managers get things off the ground.
Implementation also threw up the challenge of measuring impact. You need to establish a number of KPIs to track whether the programme is having the desired effect. “In TNT’s case, the challenge was to bring the KPIs down to a workable level. We didn’t want the organisation to drown in measurements, so it had the right amount of indicators to give a clear indication of performance,“ explains Christian.
Given the series of changes that the TNT organisation had been through prior to CTWWS, the programme was met with a certain degree of apprehension. To address concerns and “change fatigue”, the senior management had to take action. In Germany, for example, the director of sales and the head of territory sales went on the road, visiting each German sales team to explain how the programme supported the journey that TNT was already on, and how it would help boost TNT’s market position. Managers and reps got the opportunity to ask questions, and the management could tell the full story, correct misconceptions and demonstrate that they cared about the concerns out there.
In 2014, the outlook for TNT was fairly bleak. Within a year, the company had managed to create revenue growth. Simply by changing their approach to sales management.
“TNT had a complex task on their hands, but the solution we offered was simple,” Christian concludes. “We believe that a lot can be achieved with a few effective tools.”
In the case of the CTWWS platform, the tools were indeed few, low-tech and very hands-on. A combination of regular sales team meetings with fixed agendas, coaching to cultivate sales rep skills and win rooms to create transparency and stimulate dialogue in the team. These three elements were wrapped up in an implementation concept based on high intensity and high involvement – to deliver fast and effective impact.
1 McKinsey Quarterly Transformation Executive Study, 2008.
2 Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson (of CEB): The Challenger Sale. How to take control of the customer conversation, Penguin, 2011.
3 Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson (of CEB): The Challenger Sale. How to take control of the customer conversation, Penguin, 2011.
4 Analyses conducted by Harvard Business Review at Fortune 500 companies. Implement’s experience from numerous sales excellence projects supports these findings.
Implement Consulting Group