Joe runs a company with 19 salespeople, a mix of veterans and newcomers. Sales have been flat for the past 18 months even though the economy has improved. He is constantly making futile attempts to get his team to prospect more. Joe tries to show them how to sell more effectively, but they continue to fall back into the same old habits.
Sound familiar? Entrepreneurial organizations often underperform because they haven't built their sales teams systematically. Follow these seven steps to turn an ineffectual sales crew into a high-performing championship team:
1. Evaluate the current strategy. Three key methods can increase sales: finding more prospects, placing larger sales and increasing closing ratios. Does the company's strategy addresses all three? Does it focus on selling to the ideal customer for the company?
Many companies try to sell to everyone. But the serious rewards come after focusing on hitting their sweet spot. In Joe's case, his salespeople are indiscriminately calling on any and every prospect they come across. He needs to clarify for his team exactly where they should focus their time and efforts so as to increase sales growth.
2. Assess the existing team. Know the sales team inside and out. How many A players, B players and C players are on staff? How do they feel about the organization? Figure out the best way to manage each salesperson according to his or strengths and weaknesses.
For example, Joe knows that he has only three A players and eight B players while the rest are C players or not there yet. He's spending most of his time trying to improve the latter group with little to show for his efforts. Instead, he should realistically evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of each team member and be willing to replace some underperformers with new recruits. Both online data-driven assessments and on-site evaluations can help him perform this analysis.
3. Develop a hiring process. Right now, Joe has no hiring process. He selects people based on his gut instinct during interviews. As a result, he has struggled with a number of mis-hires over the years. Mid-size companies like Joe’s rarely have a formal hiring process. Instead, when managers realize that they desperately need a new salesperson, they comb through some resumes, set up a few face-to-face interviews and eventually select the most adequate of the lot.
But hiring is the most critical part of developing a championship sales team. It’s critical to create a formal process that involves assessments, phone screening, consistent interview questions and role-playing.
4. Compensate for results. Because most companies are afraid to scare away potential hires, they offer a massive base salary with a small bonus or commission opportunity. But in providing a large salary and small commission, though, the organization limits the upside that a salesperson can really earn -- even if he (or she) well exceeds a sales goal. So this compensation plan appeal the most to B and C players since they'll still earn a healthy base salary even if they produce little.
The A player, however, will want a massive upside for hurtling past a sales goal. Yet Joe’s compensation plan repels top performers. He must revise his compensation structure to deemphasize base salary and promote high performance.
5. Train consistently. Providing a suggestion here and there does not count as consistent training. Invest a lot in training. Conducting regular trainings to reinforce the most critical selling concepts and ensure that every salesperson is on the same page concerning technique.
In Joe’s organization, each salesperson sells in his or her own way. They are all over the map in terms of effectiveness. Joe must either develop a selling system or bring in an outside one for everyone to follow.
6. Create accountability. Most mid-size organizations track only the sales numbers of staffers. But what about their day-to-day prospecting activities; the number of calls made, referrals asked for and meetings set up? In tracking daily prospecting activities, managers can anticipate what's in pipeline, the most important indicator of future sales.
Until now, Joe has reviewed sales numbers only at the end of each month. This leaves his sales team feeling frustrated and without a clear daily plan to help them aim for success. By laying out what he expects his staff to do each day, he can more effectively manage his team.
7. Reassess strategy regularly. Once companies find a strategy that seems to work, they may be reluctant to re-examine it. But markets are dynamic. The ideal client today may be entirely different in a year.
Thus, it’s critical for managers keep an eye on the market’s pulse and stay in constant communication with the sales team. Currently, Joe takes an occasional ride with hand-picked salespeople, but this is not enough. He must regularly engage in open discussions with his sales staff to learn what’s really going on.
He needs to regularly go on sales calls and develop lines of communication with customers. Throughout this process, if he and other managers believe the sales strategy needs to be adjusted, they should test any potential changes with a beta group. If the strategy proves optimal, they can then adopt it for the entire team.