The sales process is a source of frustration for many. Salespeople commonly complain about their company’s inability to support their sales efforts. Management complains about the inability of sales staff to work the corporate plan and achieve goals. Customers complain about businesses and salespeople who deliver little more than empty promises.
My experience is that most businesses fail to manage their sales and marketing teams effectively and the impact on business growth is substantial. Many businesses fail to grow as a result, or severely limit their profitability, because they struggle with the high costs of failure.
I have witnessed many businesses, which over a twenty-year period have churned through salespeople, only managing to hang on to one or two, for any length of time, and whose performances are mediocre at best
This, however, doesn’t need to be the case. Some companies have positive and collaborative relationships with their sales teams and their customers. These are the companies that have stunning growth rates and consistently achieve their goals and overcome market challenges.
Let’s take this problem apart! Why do companies need salespeople in the first place?
Companies wanting to grow need to tell their story and convince others to pay for their products and services. The world is a competitive place and most companies face competition from others that provide equal or near to equal solutions. Companies need someone to go into the marketplace and tell their story and sell their solutions. Once the solution is sold, someone needs to build and deepen the relationship with the customer so that the company can be assured of a future with a predictable base of business.
This is the role of the salesperson. Simple!
Well, not so simple because the world is increasingly competitive and almost everyone with a budget to spend is inundated with suppliers wishing to capture a piece of that budget.
In the past, a peddler would get in his wagon and simply offer his wares and people would buy. Although this sales format has not really existed for sixty years, many businesses treat their salespeople as if the world has never changed.
Now, if you are selling iPhones or Rolling Stones tickets you may be able to sell your entire inventory without much effort, but most of the time we are not so lucky. In fact, selling today is a complicated process of trying to get the buyer’s attention, presenting our solutions to them in a way that separates us from the competition and then close the sale with the customer who may have many more pressing issues than finding a new supplier for paper towels, printing or whatever your product may be.
As a business, your salesperson should passionately represent your brand to the world. They should care as much about your company’s success as you do and should do everything within their ability to drive the success of your business. They should build a powerful profile for themselves and your business within your industry. They should work hard to know all the players in your industry and be certain that those players know them. Your salesperson should spend their time meeting people who can help them build their profile and their reputation and, most importantly, they should spend most of their time selling.
Selling is not easy! One way to make it easier and to grow business is to leverage everything in the business toward the sales effort. Bringing all the strengths of the business to assist the sales effort will increase your success rate. Salespeople who feel that they have their entire company behind them will sell more confidently and will approach their work with more enthusiasm.
Let’s start at the beginning – hiring the right sales person in the first place and for the salesperson, not wasting your career with the wrong opportunities.
When a salesperson fails, it is often for many reasons, but it all started when they were hired. Hire right and you are more than halfway there!
Selling is similar to a game, like football or chess. In order to win, you need to understand the rules of the game and you need to have a desire to win.
In sales, winning is getting the order. The desire to win is balance between need and ego. Some sales people will have a strong desire to win because they have a need such as wanting a bigger house or simply to pay their bills. Other salespeople don’t care so much for the reward but they really like to win. Wanting the sale to fill a need makes for a poor salesperson because as soon as their need is filled their desire to win will go away. The best salespeople are those who want and like to win. Of course, motives that drive successful salespeople are more complicated than this but paying attention to motives is crucial to hiring well.
The desire to win, however, still needs to be in balance with your industry. A Wall Street stockbroker may be able to use his huge ego to steamroll his way to sales but the same approach might be deadly, if you are selling to physicians, for example. Every industry is somewhat different but every successful salesperson has a balance between ego and empathy. The ego is the drive, and the desire to win and the empathy is an appreciation for the needs and concerns of the customer and others affected by the sale.
The first step to hiring a successful salesperson is being aware of the range of selling styles that suit the company. Hire wrong at the beginning and nothing else that you do will make it right. As a salesperson, you must be honest with yourself about what you really want and what work you are capable of doing. No amount of training will correct the wrong choice of personality or the wrong sales role. When I graduated from university I was interviewed by Xerox, famous at that time for the quality of their sales force. I was interviewed by no less than eight different people and didn’t even get the job! It was clear that I didn’t fit their profile, but it was also clear that they knew what they were looking for and were not about to accept less than their perfect fit.
Think about your company DNA. Would a prospective salesperson fit? Do not settle for less than a solid fit, because the salesperson is the public representative of the company. Your brand is too important! Going with less than perfect may seem like the right thing to do at the time because you have an immediate need, but it is more important to get it right. I am not talking about settling for an inferior salesperson. It is not about quality it is about the right kind of person to represent your company. It is important to be realistic about your company and the image of your business as well. Trying to hire better than suitable for your business will also frustrate.
Just like buying a pair of shoes. The pair you like may be on sale and may be your dream but if they don’t fit, you’re in for a lot of pain down the road.
Once you find the right person invest in their success by training them effectively. Have them spend a week or two inside following the order process to understand the flow and process of your business. Let them spend time in the factory to see how your goods are made, inventoried and shipped. Have them visit customers and competitors so they understand the needs and demands of the industry and who are the best and the weakest players.
Your new recruit should spend time shadowing your most successful salesperson. If this recruit is your first sales hire then they should spend time with the owner, a senior manager or ask an outside sales consultant to provide an introduction to the business.
The key is to make your sales person feel part of your business. You may ask why this is necessary. Are salespeople not supposed to be independent players who go out into the world and fearlessly knock on doors to uncover business?
The answer is no!
Salespeople have the same needs and concerns as any other employee. Even though they may have the ability to knock on a door cold and present your company, the better prepared they are, the better the tools they have, the better the training, and the more confidence they have, the higher their success rate will be. A skilled salesperson with the ability to fearlessly go into the world has a very strong sense of personal credibility. A professional salesperson knows that they are using their personal credibility to sell your company’s products and services and the more professional the salesperson, the more concerned they are about maintaining that credibility.
The closer the salesperson’s relationship to your company, the more they feel associated with the company’s brand image and goals and the more comfortable they will be putting their personal credibility on the line. If your salespeople lack confidence in your business, they may make the sales calls but will not give it their personal endorsement, which is an important part of sales success. The will sell with their words but not their spirit. Prospects will sense the uncertainty and the lack of commitment.
Selling is not reading a speech or handing out a brochure, selling is an expression of commitment and passion.
Take the time to make your sales staff completely part of your team and your chances of sales success will increase dramatically.
Selling by cold calling alone is a tough way to build a business and all but the toughest salespeople will lose interest. Marketing efforts should be combined with your sales efforts to leverage the work of your sales force. Newsletters, press releases, social media, networking, online sites like LinkedIn and paid advertising will support your sales team’s efforts by paving their way with brand awareness. Make certain that everyone on your team uses every tool available!
Another important part of sales development is the setting of goals. The stronger and more well defined the goals the better for everyone involved – goals provide clarity and focus efforts. Solid goals also help salespeople by helping them define the reason behind the actions!
A well thought out compensation plan will create a strong incentive for your sales team to go the extra mile to get business.
When developing your compensation program, it is important to be realistic about the goals and objectives that are being set. Starting off with smaller, achievable goals builds confidence. When unachievable goals are set, salespeople quickly get a sense of failure and lose confidence in their ability. Once this happens your sales program is bound to lose steam quickly.
A healthy sales compensation program for a salesperson should include an adequate base that allows them to work on building their territory without concern about how they will pay their mortgage or car payment. Automotive and sales expenses should be covered and all reasonable out-of-pocket expenses such as parking and entertainment should also be covered.
An important point here: it is critically important that allowable expenses be outlined specifically and in writing. What are “reasonable” expenses to one person may not necessarily be the same to someone else. To avoid potential conflict, tell your salespeople exactly what will be covered and give dollar specifics. Is your business okay with a salesperson spending three hundred dollars on a lunch? Outline in writing what will be covered and what will not be covered and the dollar range of acceptable expenses. When salespeople submit receipts for expenses, reimburse them promptly. It is not the role of a salesperson to extend credit to your business and slow reimbursement of expenses is a common annoyance for salespeople.
Please always keep in mind that in order for your salespeople to sell effectively, their confidence must be one hundred percent! Anything less will dramatically diminish selling effectiveness.
Sales plans should be devised together with your sales team. Encourage your sales team to stretch and reach for larger goals but do not impose the unachievable.
Commission and bonus programs should be clear and specific and you should be prepared to pay them. I have known companies that have set what they thought were unachievable goals and then tried to avoid paying the bonuses when goals were reached. Don’t play games with your salespeople. Play it straight. As a manager, are you comfortable with your sales team earning more than you? I have seen situations where top salespeople are paid more than the company president and the salesperson’s reward was losing their job because the president couldn’t accept the situation. Do not establish a program that you cannot honor!
I have also seen programs where commission rates decline as sales increase. Programs such as this will suck the life out of your sales force. In the commission world, it is pay for play and if you are not comfortable with that, then develop a salary program. Whatever your program, make sure that it is honest and straightforward. Also, know that your choice of compensation must fit your industry and the type of salesperson you wish to hire.
If you are hiring a salesperson to manage an established territory, you may choose a higher salary and lower commission rate. If you are selling stocks, property or vehicles that require aggressive selling and little on-going business then a high commission and lower (or no salary) may make sense. In the end, the compensation must make sense for everyone involved and must balance profit, staff turnover, recruitment and sales growth.
Take away – Get a clear and powerful vision and you can become a power to be reckoned with. This focus will allow you to professionally approach prospects and confidently pitch your products or services. Being clear and proud about who and what you are. Be certain of the value you deliver and the sales experience becomes much more rewarding to everyone.