Pro­gram rol­led out in half the expec­ted time helps increa­se sales con­ver­si­on rates by 20 percent.


A direct-ser­vi­ce company’s com­mer­ci­al-busi­ness unit had to chan­ge the way its dis­per­sed sales team ope­ra­ted. With 20 area mana­gers, 200 sales mana­gers, and 2,000 sales repre­sen­ta­ti­ves spread across North Ame­ri­ca, the group was strug­gling with high staff tur­n­over and poor per­for­man­ce. Each year, for example, a third of the sales leads coming in through the call centre—roughly 100,000—received no fol­low-up, lar­ge­ly becau­se of weak mana­ge­ment tools and processes.

Com­pli­ca­ting mat­ters was the urg­en­cy felt by the client’s seni­or lea­ders to rai­se sales quick­ly. They cal­l­ed McK­in­sey to help devel­op and imple­ment the pro­ject in 6 months, even though a pro­ject like this ordi­na­ri­ly takes from 12 to 24 months.


We wor­ked with the client to review their recent his­to­ry of sales impro­ve­ment pro­grams. Most had had mixed suc­cess, and some employ­ees were under­stan­da­bly reluct­ant to attempt ano­ther com­plex chan­ge pro­gram. More­over, sim­ply pro­vi­ding the right tools for the job would for­ce nei­ther quick nor las­ting chan­ge in the way the client’s far-flung sales for­ce operated.

The key dis­co­ve­ry was that the requi­red beha­vi­o­ral chan­ges were so broad the­re was real­ly no way for the top cor­po­ra­te team to lead this effort, as one might ordi­na­ri­ly do. Instead, the client had to work direct­ly with the midd­le of the company’s sales hier­ar­chy by iden­ti­fying an approp­ri­a­te group of area mana­gers to take the lead in pro­mo­ting change.

The cri­ti­cal com­po­nent of this appro­ach was in hel­ping the client’s 20 area mana­gers, who had a pivo­tal role in the company’s sales hier­ar­chy, to beco­me effec­ti­ve and com­mit­ted lea­ders of chan­ge. We set up cen­tral “aca­de­mies” whe­re they lear­ned to use new tools and pro­ces­ses, inclu­ding standar­di­zed per­for­man­ce metrics, dia­gnos­tic reports, and a cus­tom-desig­ned tool to track and pro­mo­te accoun­ta­bi­li­ty for eve­ry sales lead that came in the door.

Once the mana­gers had “gra­du­a­ted” from the aca­de­my, each of them simul­ta­neous­ly rol­led the new tools and pro­ces­ses out, and hel­ped sales mana­gers and reps apply them. To ensu­re the chan­ges would end­ure, we wor­ked with the client to insti­tu­te recur­ring, struc­tu­red coa­ching ses­si­ons in which area mana­gers used the per­for­man­ce tools to eva­lu­a­te sales mana­gers and pin­point and address what was mis­sing the mark.


By wor­king inten­si­ve­ly with the approp­ri­a­te group of mana­gers dis­tri­bu­ted across the orga­ni­za­ti­on, the client mana­ged to trans­form its sales-for­ce within the tar­ge­ted time fra­me of 6 months. By the end of 12 months, the sales for­ce had increa­sed its lead-con­ver­si­on rates by 20 per­cent. The num­ber of self-gene­ra­ted leads, mean­w­hi­le, clim­bed 25 percent.