Improving Sales Performance: What Every Sales Manager Should Know

Lind Hanson

"Not making the sales numbers? There must be a problem in the sales department!" How often have you heard a statement like this? If orders are not closing does it mean salespeople don't know how to close or that they aren't working hard enough? Should something specific be changed? Perhaps it's time for sales training or a new incentive program or a better lead-generation campaign would help boost sales.  The fact is there are a hundred things that affect your sales people's ability to make their numbers.

The numbers don't lie and they are a good indicator of how well the company is doing financially. Finding out why sales numbers are falling and then identifying solutions to the problem is a challenge for any sales manager.  Sometimes it is necessary to step back and take a look from a macro level within the organization.  Those who are looking closely will delve into the realm of sales process analysis as a way to improve sales results and find overlooked opportunities.  At the very least, reviewing your sales processes helps convey the expected behaviors of salespeople and the sequence of events leading to closing sales.

While most sales managers have a sense that there may be something wrong with their sales processes, they often can't put a finger on what it is. The reason is that over the years, business processes tend to become fraught with inefficiencies; unnecessary work, redundancy and delays that have been incorporated into solutions to get the job done.  Unfortunately, over time, the solutions are rarely as good as they could be.   By assuming your sales process is the best solution for current times, you may not be discovering new opportunities to improve sales and build customer satisfaction.  To have a thorough understanding of processes you need two things:  detailed information and a tool for capturing and displaying the information. 

The detailed information is in the heads of the people doing the work and often each person goes about his work in a slight different way.  What sales managers need to understand is the accumulated experience specific to a process.  For example, your sales people know what happens in their part of the process better than anyone else because they do it every day.  The problem is that you, as the Sales Manager, often don't know the process and until you do, you don't know where it may be broken or need improvement.  

For example, process mapping may uncover that prospects are dragging their feet when making a final decision.  This allows you and your team to develop strategies to speed up closing sales. Ask the team the following questions. 

  • How can we get prospects who promised to call back to do so? 
  • How do we get prospects that keep changing the implementation date to choose a date and stick to it?  How do we manage these situations? 
  • If this is a normal part of our business what other types of sales do you need to fill in the gaps?

Try using the following four principles to yield powerful results to improve sales:

  • Identify your goals to organize your process map.  When you are finished mapping the current process you can refine the map showing what can be expected in how the goal is achieved. As individuals work toward consensus in the activity steps, they develop and entrench best practices for achieving the goals.
  • Identify how to create value for the customer throughout the process. Specifically identify areas such as prospecting, qualifying, selling and delivering.  For example, when selling to a customer, create value by ensuring you understand the customers' application requirements well enough so that you can credibly demonstrate that your solution is best for their needs.
  • Map tools, skills and performance metrics with the process.  As products and services move through their economic life cycles, sellers must change their marketing and qualifying strategies accordingly.  In addition, the Sales Manager can then identify bottlenecks or weak links, allowing resources to be allocated most effectively. For example, if you are not generating enough good prospects, adding salespeople or engaging expensive training services may not help. Instead, the process should be improved first, in order to create enough prospects or better prospects.  New sales personnel are only added after the processes have been improved and entrenched. It is a lot cheaper and productive to fix the processes before spending money on new staff or training. 
  • Engage your people in process mapping to define problems and solutions.   This approach also allows people to participate in setting their own goals by drilling into more detailed analyses and metrics to improve performance. To refine your sales process requires the hearts and minds of your people to create a common vision.

Mapping your sales process is an ideal tool when it is accomplished through team collaboration. With a clear focus on customer value at every stage, it is a power tool for removing roadblocks and constraints.  In summary, sales process mapping provides the following benefits to any organization because it:

  • enables the team to tap into the customer and trace a path to your business,
  • ensures that the team can pull together to create real value, so salespeople don't have to go outside the system, which sales people often do,
  • helps individuals understand and accept organizational changes across functions,
  • provides the framework for measuring performance goals, which people can set for themselves.

Process mapping brings huge potential for creating breakthroughs in organizational sales performance.   It's a proven low cost tool that provides demonstrative, productivity improvements in sales.  Until you do this, you can't really define what size your sales staff should be or how to help them improve their performance.

Linda Hanson, CMC, is a certified management consultant and author of 10 Steps to Marketing Success. She writes, speaks and consults on marketing, management and customer service issues and can be contacted at www.llhenterprises.com. Sign up for her free newsletter The Superior Performance Report.

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