Part three of our series on applying key practices in learning and development to drive sales performance. Just like people and snowflakes, no two companies are alike. And by extension, no sales organization is identical. And before you ask, there is no magic bullet formula to set your sales organization on the right path or cure all ills. There are too many variables, both internal and external, to be considered.
So when asking the question, “What drives high-performing sales teams?” you can certainly expect different answers, or at least differing priorities, among a range of responses. However, there are best practices and principles to guide you on your way towards improving your salesforce. Following is a list of our top 10 areas that contribute to driving – and if done poorly, draining – sales performance.
Driving Sales Performance – 10 Best Practices for Managing a Sales Team
1) The Right Strategy
Know your company’s strategy as well as short- and long-term business objectives. What’s being sold to customers? What competitive advantage do you hold in the marketplace? (Be brutally honest when answering that – otherwise, you’ll be wasting your time.) Have your sales objectives changed? What do you need your salesforce to do differently (e.g., more of this, less of that) to support your company’s growth targets?
Consider now, at this high level, what performance is necessary to achieve those goals. Then reverse-engineer that process to break down the elements that will either make that possible or stand in your way.
2) The Right Processes and Tools
In sales, time is money. Processes and tools help to drive efficiency and productivity, ultimately helping to make sales more predictable and more replicable. Part of this will be driven by your corporate culture. Is yours nimble and results-driven, enabling sales to move fluidly towards a sale? Or is your culture very bureaucratic, slow to make decisions and cautious about going too fast? Focus on helping your sales teams to be most effective while still running an administratively smooth operation.
3) Skills and Behaviors
Don’t think about your people. Imagine you’re starting a new business and were going to hire the ideal sales force to sell your products and services. What skills would they have and behaviors would they exhibit when calling on prospects and serving customers? What core competencies will drive reps to peak performance?
4) The Right Talent
Now think about your people. There is often ambiguity in sales roles, but you must be crystal clear about the expectations for sales roles and the nuances of each. The more you can drill down and define each role the better off you’ll be. What does it take to be successful in that role? For example, a “hunter” role is very different than that of a “farmer.” The behavioral profile for each is very different, which requires you to assess your sales force to determine who possesses the innate competencies to fit the roles.
Who are your high performers? What makes them great and how can you get that performance from everyone else? Who doesn’t “get it” and will need extensive training or sales coaching, or to be sacrificed and replaced by someone with better potential?
5) Link Sales Training to Desired Performance Outcomes
Don’t just offer sales training for the sake of training, and don’t just do things the way you’ve always done them. Partner with your learning and development leaders to craft training that is meaningful to your reps’ bottom-line performance. Ensure that the skills and behaviors being taught will directly contribute to how they’re expected to perform. Identify any critical gaps in skills and behaviors and figure out how to close them – fast.
6) Technology Enablement
An earlier post in this series addressed the role of technology in sales training solutions. There are certainly benefits to leveraging technology throughout the sales process (including training and development opportunities). Technology can drive sales performance and help make your reps more efficient in researching prospects; help them connect with clients and prospects virtually before committing to costly and time-consuming travel; sift through mounds of data, and prepare cutting-edge presentations to “wow” potential buyers. However, for each benefit, there is a possible distraction if the whiz-bang effect is too over the top, or if the reps don’t know how to effectively incorporate the tech into their work and pitches.
7) Sales Management
Sales managers play such a pivotal role in the performance of their sales force. The goal is to have sales managers with both the skill and the will to reinforce and support any sort of change or developmental effort.
There’s a direct correlation between leadership engagement and sales training initiatives and results. There has been plenty written over the years about how employees more often leave their company because of a bad boss or manager, not because of pay. Encourage your sales managers to be more than numbers crunchers and schedule minders. The best sales managers coach their reps towards the desired performance.
8) Sales Incentive Program
As a direct follow up from the previous point, don’t assume that good managers mean you don’t need to pay well – money still talks. The critical concern is to make sure that you reward the desired behaviors and outcomes. A common disconnect occurs when you’ve changed your strategy and thus expectations for your sales reps, yet your incentive program goes untouched, thereby continuing to reward the old behaviors.
What does great sales performance look like in your utopian world? Provide very specific outcomes and drive sales performance towards very specific goals.
9) Metrics and Measurement
Identify sales performance metrics that allow you to measure and move the herd in the middle of your salesforce. In sales teams, we too often focus on trying to make great salespeople better and helping laggards to improve. Consider a performance bell curve of the bottom 20% (I don’t know if they are staying or not) and the top 20% (I really do not have to spend a lot of time with them – they are high performing). Focus on creating metrics for the middle 60%, which will allow for sustainable change within that “herd.” These metrics don’t have to be big numbers.
For example, out of 100 salespeople, you have 20 you are not sure about, 20 you are absolutely sure about, and 60 in the middle that you would like to be more sure about. If you can get 5% to 15% changes with your return on your training within that group of 60, that is going to give you the most momentous change in revenue. Organizations need to think about metrics that are attainable and achievable by targeting the vast majority of them, the middle of that bell curve of sales reps, and look for incremental change with the larger group, which really gets to a bigger number in sales.
10) Communication and Feedback
Astute observers have probably noted that products and promotions were excluded from this list. These certainly play a part in a salesforce’s success. But a salesperson’s biggest opportunity to influence these areas is in communication and feedback loops up the chain of command and with colleagues in product development and marketing. The better the relationships among these groups, the more synchronized their approach and receptivity to feedback (both good and bad), which can influence design modifications or emphasizing different promotional aspects of the products or services. The salesperson is usually in the best spot to collect input from customers (why they love it) and prospects (why they passed on your offering for a competitor’s). If the relationships are adversarial or nonexistent, then improvements will be slow coming, and sales performance will stall.