Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Sales development - where to begin?

Many new sales managers often struggle with the diversity of their sales team.
Group meetings, group coachings and trainings seem to miss their target audience by 70% of their content - yet on different parts of that content: too far ahead for newbies, too basic for seniors, and too superficial for the mediors.

What to do?

Well... what works for you might not work for someone else and vice versa.
Leadership is based on more factors than insight or content alone.
However, there are some basic steps that can be followed to gain insight in your team's individual members and provide some basic structure for you and your team to start the development process.

Through my recent involvement with Talentenacademie ( I have learned a great deal about professional athletes' development. Even if a professional athlete is an undisputed talent, the difference between 1st and 4th place is mainly based on the athlete's mental state of mind. And more importantly, that state of mind is not static. In fact, it changes all the time. So it must be managed actively and consciously.

Obviously, we're all humans, and the above must be true for sales professionals also. In other words: it is not only the skill set that determines the outcome. Although some basic skills and logic are obviously required.

If you know that you (sales manager) will have little time (or budget) for hands-on coaching and participating in client meetings or listening in on calls, hiring rookie salesmen - even when extremely motivated - might not be a wise decision. When you do have the time, make sure to plan those activities in your calendar, so that they get the attention they deserve.

In fact, it all starts with individual attention, and an individual plan for development.
Obviously, many books about this subject are available, and various profound theories exist. I don't claim to know better, or overrule these theories, but when time is lacking and you simply need a quick start to get going the below steps may prove helpful.

Step 1: What drives the individual?
Find out what drives and motivates each of your sales professionals.
Also try to find out what will demotivate him or her.
- What dreams does your professional have (and express to his environment)?
- Can this dream be quantified in money? Not all dreams are materialistic (such as buying a ferrari or so), but many can be quantified. Big home, safety net for the family, college fund for the kids, vacation in the Maldives, etc. Once quantified in the big picture, you can make it concrete by breaking the big picture down into smaller steps that can be achieved on a daily, weekly, monthly basis. Aligning the dream with the potential of the job will ensure long-term motivation and commitment. (or you might find out the individual is not somehow motivated by money - even if derived from a less materialistic goal. Maybe not a good basis for a sales position then...)
- Is your team member encouraged by appreciation or self-fulfillment? Does he need a pat on the back and public recognition or does he need some help in determining his milestones, so that he knows he is on the right track?

Question yourself:
- If the team member needs external appreciation and appreciation is lacking, what happens?
- If the team member is motivated by self-fulfillment and he doesn't reach his goals because they're unrealistic, what happens?

In other words, what can you do to make milestones SMART (specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, and timely) for your sales professional so that he can visibly pursue and achieve his goals?
Specify your expectations for the first 4-8 weeks, adjust upward and specify for months 3-6, adjust upward and specify for 6-12 months. Make sure to recognize if recognition is important and appropriate. However, make sure to address concerns if lack of proactivity, lack of openness to learn and lack of action are evident obstructors to success.

Step 2: What professional strengths and weaknesses does your sales professional have?
- What professional aspects need further attention, coaching or training?
- Are these aspects tied to sales skills, product knowledge, consultative selling advise, daily structure, discipline etc?
- Can you appoint seniors or mentors to alleviate your task and ensure information transfer on appropriate subjects? (consider this: Should/can the senior be rewarded for this task? Perhaps the senior can be motivated by giving him a % of the commission for his help and mentorship)
- Can you group your team into segments of relative need/interest, so that you can train/coach in efficient subgroups and raise effectivity to 80-90%?

Step 3: Does the team culture support ACTION?
- If the team is quiet and makes little to no noise (calls) or is passive, group behavior theory suggests that it is likely your new team members will eventually adjust to the group culture.
- If the example is passive, don't expect major changes
- Is activity, creativity and internal entrepreneurship rewarded or frowned upon?
- Observe the team dynamic and you will be able to predict the outcome to a large extent.

Step 4: Does the compensation plan incentivize the desired behavior? 
- If the company needs new customers, does a salesmen benefit when indeed bringing that new client in?
- If you're concerned about customer retention, is your sales force empowered and motivated (rewarded) for account management and customer service activity?
- If you need to push a new product line or enter a new market, what reward can be attributed specifically to attaining those goals?
- If your sales team is motivated by money, does extra work or smart work and more clients and eventually more sales lead to significantly more income? (in other words: what is the balance between fixed and variable income?)

Remember: it's not easy - but also remember: you're not the first to run into these challenges.
If you're overwhelmed by the magnitude of these challenges, you can join a sales management group on LinkedIn or offline, so that you don't have to re-invent the wheel. Online or offline groups allow you to discuss your challenges in further detail with someone that can give you an objective insight or advise - from experience. In closure: common sense goes a long way. If the designated hunters aren't making more than 3 calls a day, you know something's going on and it is time to step up.
You can even email your company's top clients to ask them for feedback about the company, the products/services, and their sales representative. Chances are your customers will provide you with the best possible overview of your team's performance.

Much success!!

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