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Getting the most out of your sales team

Do your teams really know how much resource they are allocating where? Often the answer is no.

As I sat and listened to an acceptance speech at a large corporate awards night last week, I found myself very interested in the recipient(s) – not so much by the speeches they made, but more by the award itself. Most big sales organisations award individual “brilliance” and success – rep of the year, sales manager of the year, you know the drill. But what I found interesting, is that this award was for the sales tam of the year – not as common… and of course challenging for small business that only have one team!

What was interesting though, is that not one of the “team” won the individual awards. Over the course of the night, my anecdotal discussions with the managers in the audience suggested that this group of individuals had impacted the business in a big way. Of course, they made a massive impact on their key measures – sales, market share and growth, but perhaps more importantly, this team had achieved several other successes – some argued just as importantly. They had changed performance measurement, they had made the business rethink headcount deployment and resourcing, they had insisted on investment in their development as sales professionals – and now all of the business was benefiting.

What makes a great sales team?

So I thought with that in mind, I would look back at the best sales teams I have lead or worked with, both big and small, to see if there were any standout attributes from which businesses can learn. What I found was not only consistent, but more importantly, not out of the reach of even the smallest sales organisation.

The first was a clear set of “accountabilities”.  One old school manager said to me “I don’t care what they do as long as the sales come in”. This is fine when times are good, but just watch the wheels fall off when it gets a little tough. Obviously, the need to build accountability for their sales speaks for itself, be it versus a target, market share, and growth. But just as importantly, those organisations that get the most from their teams have accountabilities that support these goals. Activity, prospecting targets, networking, promotional events/meetings – whatever suits the business. All members of the team are aware of them, work towards them and track them as part of the performance plan. Ask yourself if an external consultant was to come in and ask one of your team “how are you tracking against your deliverables?” would they be able to answer?

The second key point was that the best teams I have worked with had both collective and individual measures. Everyone knew where they stood as part of the overall. I spent time in field recently with an account manager, who was very frustrated. He was doing very well on his patch, but knew damn well that members of his team in other states were not working as hard. Why did this concern him? Well, the team were recognized and measured on an overall national result. Doesn’t make a lot of sense and directly affected this high performer’s motivation to get out there and do that little bit extra! Effectively he was being dragged down by the team.

Where are resources being spent?

How do your team know or calculate the value of a client? How does your team measure, find or record their activity against your clients? How do they prioritise their time? How do others in the team know where they are planning to be? The best teams use and commit to an effective ETMS (effective territory management system) that supports these very questions. The best teams could all articulate immediately who their high value clients were, their plans for them, investment figures and current performance – all maintained and managed through some type of effective territory management system. I hasten to add, that they don’t have to be fancy or even electronic (although I would be going that way if it were me!). Some organisations spend millions on programs that actually force reps out of field, as they are so input heavy and unreliable. Unreal.

Support your teams to work to some basics principles. They are well known because they work! Pareto’s law for instance  (the old 80/20 rule). So many sales people spend time and dollars on accounts, clients and activities that will never change their business. The best teams could all justify what they were doing, for who and why. Account management principles in practice. Do your teams really know how much resource they are allocating where? So often the answer is no. And don’t forget – the sales team’s time and travel costs are the biggest resource you have and is often left out of calculations.

People buy from other people

Speaking of basic principles, always remember people buy from people. The best teams are supported to be in field, with their customers, as often as they possibly can. They are not burdened by copious admin tasks, meetings or off territory time without good reason.

Train and coach your team. Whilst I admit a vested interest here, the best sales teams without prompting all quote an underpinning sales process that they work to, are coached to and developed on. With the “people” principle in mind, try to invest in a program that recognises that communication is the key to sales success. A great product only goes so far. People buy on emotion and justify then with the facts, so supporting your team to be part of this emotional attachment to your product or brand is half the battle. Just as importantly, make this language and ethos live and breathe in all you do. Coach the team, develop them and provide them with the opportunity to get better at what they do. By contrast, those teams I have been asked to help “fix” have none of the above!

If possible with constraints of geography and business, operate as a team, not a working group of individuals. Encourage the greater good (whilst not dodging personal accountability) and develop a team charter of how you do things. This encourages sharing of best practice, team accountability and personal performance commitment. Team dynamic and expectation is a powerful way of bringing weaker team members up to an expected level of performance. It also recognises that not all successful sales professionals do things exactly the same way – people are different, so diversity of your team is important.

Don’t carry poor performers

Speaking of performance, it also became clear in all of my discussions that the successful businesses act decisively and early to manage poor performers. For some sales team managers, this is not easy as a poor month does not always equate to a poor performer and for some businesses, good sales does not always directly correlate to great sales people. This is what makes those accountabilities we spoke of earlier so important – they allow secondary reflections on individual performance that can be addressed and managed. What is clear is that eventually, poor performance will result in shrinking sales and just as importantly, carrying a known team member that is not delivering as expected of the rest of the team, will have a huge impact on the motivation and commitment of your wider group.

Last but not least, learn what motivates each individual member of your sales team. Not everyone responds to dollar-based incentives and fancy award ceremonies. Work hard to find out what makes each of them tick and what drives them to get out of bed in the morning. It could be just a quiet word of appreciation, a group recognition or simple small act of generosity (one manager I talked to paid a high performers parking fine that came across his desk) – you should have seen the email he got back from his team member. The rep would have crawled across hot coals for him after that.

The best teams celebrate their success. And I don’t mean waiting for the once-a-year awards night. Simple praise, emails of recognition for a job well done, team drinks to toast a big tender – whatever it is – let your team know you appreciate, respect and reward a job well done.

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Cameron Read

Cameron Read

Cameron Read is a director at Front and Centre Training.

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