I have this sarcastic philosophy that people are generally unmanageable. We can put rules, policies, procedures and goals in place to establish company boundaries, but we can't manage — or better yet micro-manage — employees to grow them into independent thinkers that best represent the company's interests.
So what to do, especially with sales people who are not in a structured team environment like field workers from sun up to sun down?
We went into the field and interviewed several top performing sales people to understand from them what they feel they need from those positioned above them. Many of the conversations revealed some predictable facts, while we did uncover some interesting new nuggets as well.
First off, this message applies to sales people, not pure estimators or plan and spec. individuals who are simply project costing and putting a number out to municipalities or general contractors and winning with the "low bid" approach. There is typically very little selling involved in these situations except for some potential negotiating (getting beaten up) with the awarding party.
By the way, these team members can actually be more easily managed (ok, I said it, managed) because they spend most of their time in the office environment and more structure and oversight can be implemented.
True blooded sales people, on the other hand, have put in their own words some of the things they need:
- Mutual respect and trust
- Collaborative feedback
- Proper sales tools
- Updated product knowledge
- Understanding the pricing parameters
- Access to objective leaders when they are not sure what to do
Granted this is not an all-encompassing list, it reflects several leading sales people's spontaneous responses to the question of what is important to them in an organization with a good sales culture.
Owners and sales managers tend to spew sales numbers but not about how profitable each project turned out. They are monitoring contests and comparing this year to last year or next year which transfers worry and anxiety to the sales team. We want them to accurately predict how much work will come in. Sales people can find this approach stressful and discouraging.
The consensus is they need encouragement and support. One sales person expressed that he really likes his organization because he felt the upper echelon "had his back." Digging deeper, he explained that he liked being empowered in the field to make decisions without running most situations up the flag pole for approval.
We discussed the evolution of a sales team member when he or she is new to the organization and how the level of support needs to change. Sales people want fairness, but they expect that as their overall knowledge about the products, clients and organization increases they can have substantially more latitude. This evidently doesn't always happen.
Typically high performing sales people are "hungry" and money motivated; however, these overachievers expressed the need for time off to rejuvenate and support to do the trivial and mundane things in the field and the office so they could spend more time cultivating prospects and clients.
Are you doing these things for your sales team?
You want them to sell more, but what are you giving them in return? Do they have the tools and human capital resources to continually raise their numbers?
Most of the sales people I had discussions with were not concerned with what their counterparts were earning. There was a healthy competitive spirit for the most part and a willingness to help with team selling as long as it was kept to a reasonable time contribution.
If you have experienced a lot of turnover in your sales team, perhaps you should reflect on what this article suggests and determine how you can improve the sales culture. Better yet, sit down with each of them and have regular open discussions about what is going on with their career and personal lives.
Holding sales people accountable
So now that you have heard some of the most important priorities of this part of your organization the question is, how do you hold sales people accountable?
Here is the secret:
Carefully and explicitly explain all goals and expectations. Give them the right tools and training. Create a well-defined sales process and have them schedule time in a calendar so every step is covered weekly.
This means that they will create time for cultivating leads, doing field measurements, generating quotes, meeting clients face-to-face, doing the follow-ups and post completion walkthroughs. This is how we neatly tie in the sales process steps to personal time management that helps them achieve higher levels of success.
Now let them know that they are the first level of accountability for themselves!
The days of call sheets are obsolete. Modernization of marketing and sales gives us cloud-based programs like Salesforce, Infussionsoft and a plethora of other software choices to help manage your marketing campaigns, distribute leads and add a level of corporate and individual accountability with something called workflow automation.
Workflow automation again ties into the sales process. So if a new lead is not followed up in a predefined amount of time it sends a reminder to the sales person.
There are also customized settings to alert mangers that the sale cycle times are not being achieved.
In the above example this may be a result of one particular sales person being inundated with too many leads. Sometimes the system may identify other personnel issues that indicate time management skills or other training needs to be mastered.
Salespeople that continually have issues with meeting the predefined goals may need them recalibrated. Unfortunately, sometimes you just don't have the right fit and it is time to make a change to create a spot for a new person to make achievements.
Many of the sophisticated programs will generate quotes and keep track of sales matrices. Tracking averaged amount of dollars quoted and sold, quote to sold ratios, job profit estimated compared to actual are just a few that come to mind. You can pull many different types of reports once you determine what is most important to your organization. Sharing and dissecting these reports with sales people is meaningful. Be certain they understand the reports and why they are important to the company and individual goals.
It requires a delicate balance be maintained not to micromanage all the numbers with sales professionals. During implementation you will spend more time on the reports, but once they are clearly understood only touch on import prospects, clients, successes or where things are out of whack. Then when a sales person comes to you and points out a mistake in the report you know they are paying attention.
This works for experienced and mature sales people. We treat them like adults, and they understand the expectations. We then create performance goals and rewards as part of their compensation program. The topic of sales compensation is a sophisticated topic unto itself.
Part of keeping the sales team accountable is keeping them motivated; so ALWAYS do what you say you are going to do. Pay them accurately and on time! Do not play games or manipulate their pay.
You need to have mutual respect to keep them accountable. Remember this is something that they have identified that they feel is important! You may think you have the upper hand because you control the checkbook, but part of accountability is avoidance of sales people manipulating the system or acting in vindictive fashion. Once you go down this path and break mutual trust it is difficult to recover.
Ron and I have seen many good sales people leave an organization because they perceived they were being treated unfairly. Avoid this painful and costly mistake.
In my opinion, there is an absence of great sales people. They are not standing on a street corner waiting to be plucked out of the air. The hard and soft costs of hiring, training and having highly functional sales people are time consuming and expensive.
Some coaches advise to set realistic goals. Who are they realistic to? Let the sales team be involved in creating their goals. You will often find that their projections are above yours. When they are part of the goal they own it and do not feel you have imposed an unrealistic expectation on them. Sales people love to WIN, so give then the chance!
Oh and by the way, years ago Ron wrote one of my favorite newsletters focused on understanding the difference between Margin and Mark-up. Everyone in your organization needs to grasp these two terms and what they mean.
Help them understand their past, current and future objectives with results that make a difference. Sales people need to be shown how to focus on growing profits not just sales dollars.
Lastly, I have found that one of the best ways to keep sales people accountable is to celebrate successes with them and don't bash them for the little mistakes.
We hold them accountable by how we treat them. Treat them well.