Hints and tips to put you in the driving seat of a productive team.
It has always seemed odd to me that companies make sales people redundant as a part of a cost cutting program when reacting to an economic down-turn. As the only real antidote to such a down-turn is to redouble efforts to increase profitable revenue, reducing the size of the sales team is counter intuitive. Unless of course those sales people were not performing when the business was doing well and the pressure of the economic down-turn has forced the issue!
The role of sales people is to close deals which generate revenue and profit. Those deals may be the result of hunting for new business or farming existing customers’ for add-on business but, either way; the sales role is to generate business.
Making sure all members of the sales team perform and are fully productive at all times is essential if a business wants predictable revenue growth. Ensuring that sales people are fully productive is not difficult provided you follow a few simple principles:
- Set realistic, stretch targets based on business goals and territory potential. Ensure any commission schemes encourage the behaviours that deliver the business goals
- If appropriate to your market get your sales people to develop territory plans or customer account plans which you can also use to assess potential and monitor progress.
- Use objective tools such as qualification and quantification to understand the true state of each territory, customer relationship and sales opportunity. This will give you a more realistic view of the state of your sales forecast rather than one based on the subjective gut feel of the sales person.
- In order to monitor progress you need measures which inform you about outputs and desired outcomes from processes rather than just activity. For example, counting appointments attended is of little value whereas the conversion rate from appointments to bids and bids to wins is meaningful information. Conversion ratios are a simple and effective measuring tool.
- Set milestones so you can monitor progress regularly which means you can take remedial action quickly if a sales person is not performing as required. If your sales cycle is, for example, nine months long you need milestones at monthly intervals.
- Actively manage your sales team. Spend time with them as individuals and as a team. Coach them individually and train them together.
- Hold regular sales meetings, including a review of the pipeline, making sure they are motivational and constructive, even if there is some bad news to deliver as well.
When the time comes to recruit additional staff or replace underperforming people:
- Put in the effort to create a carefully thought through job specification. Decide what you need of your sales people and express it in terms that will be easy to measure and monitor.
- Only recruit people who accurately match your job description, don’t be tempted to just recruit the best of those that apply even if they don’t meet the spec. It is better to wait a little longer for the right person than to rush into the wrong decision.
- Induct new recruits thoroughly. They cannot be expected to guess what you want of them. Ensure they fully understand your company culture, goals, processes, products, proposition, market, customers and competitors.
- In the early weeks and months, actively manage your sales people using the job description as the baseline for measuring behaviour and performance. Once they are fully up to speed apply the points above as they are now a fully qualified member of the team.
Following these steps will dramatically increase the chance that most of your sales people will be successful. As a result, this will provide a degree of protection against a general economic down-turn and once times improve will enable you to quickly get back to growing ways while competitors are still spinning on the spot. Always be mindful that the cause of poor performance is just as likely to be found in your company and its systems as it is in the individual sales person.
The economy is slowly recovering and many businesses will be considering recruiting sales people so now is the time to make sure you have in place everything to ensure you end up with a high performance team where each individual performs well – no passengers, just drivers!