The success of a sales team is linked to the team’s management strategies. Sales managers tend to be vocal when talking about underperformance, but they don’t always reflect on their own contribution to their team’s shortcomings. As a manager, you have the power to influence your team’s performance through compensation, and tools and practices. The team’s success or failure ultimately is your responsibility. In my work with sales teams, I’ve discovered some secrets to managing motivation.
1. Reward and punish the appropriate behaviors with your commission structure.
When I started my sales career, I worked for a midsize telecom company. The company provided comfortable base salaries and a horrible sales commission structure. Because it took no effort to collect the base salary and because hard work barely paid off, a few executives used company time to operate their entirely separate businesses—operations that provided each his primary income! Now this is an extreme example, but I’ve found many companies compensation structures to ineffectually motivate. If you lack control over your team’s payment structure, you must at least be able to identify and terminate freeloaders.
Compensation manifests in many forms and must be designed to incentivize salespeople. Make sure the structure serves to reward desired behaviors and punish undesired ones. Promote an energetic environment by instituting contests and games which create healthy competition. Here’s an example: Choose a company you would love to land as a client but have been unsuccessful at engaging and offer a reward of $100 cash to the first rep to hold a meeting with one of their C-level executives. Compensation includes even the very littlest of things. Make it a point to compliment your salespeople in front of customers, colleagues and fellow team members. Sales executives crave recognition, so public pats on the back can go a long way.
2. Offer productive feedback.
Managers can have a wacky way of rationalizing their style. I once had a manager who criticized harshly, yelled frequently and never offered praise. I learned he rationalized this approach by assuming it would keep me tough. Even in his words he was “testing” me. While that approach may have worked for the wrestlers he coached, it is generally ineffective in motivating sales professionals.
Great sales managers know when to stay out of the way, and how to be helpful when needed. Bad sales managers seem to have a talent for the opposite, interfering when things are going well and running for the hills as soon as their own contribution can be measured.
3. Provide your team with effective sales tools.
I was working with a foreign airline experiencing revenue production issues stemming from an unsuccessful sales team. The team targeted primarily wealthy, high-level business executives. When I asked for a sample of their current brochure, I received a flimsy, discolored trifold with crowded language and numerous misspellings. A piece like this undermines the value of the represented company and contributes to the demise of the sale. A marketing piece must assist a company’s sales process by acting as a persuasive device that speaks directly to its target market. I have encountered many companies claiming to work with high-end clients while distributing materials that look, well, less than high-end. If your marketing materials don’t support your pitch, how can low sales possibly surprise you?
Having the right tools is critical in the selling process for high-yielding teams, and marketing materials are but one example. Another important tool is your Client Relationship Manager (CRM). A well-administered CRM is indispensable for sales forecasting and allows your sales professionals to keep track of prospect information and tasks required to move the sale forward.
4. Train with a road map, not just by shadowing.
Shadowing is a great training method, but only when combined with a more formal, standardized process. One larger company I’ve worked with deals in commercial and government contracts. It attributes its casual style in training and management to its entrepreneurial company culture and the rejection of all things bureaucratic. New hires are typically on board weeks after they are needed and are thrown into the fire immediately. Now, the company has hundreds of new hires all representing the company with different sales pitches. If you stop any one of the sales executives hired in the past year, you will get different, incomplete and usually inaccurate answers with regards to the company history, capabilities and practice areas.
In the above scenario, the sales hires are expected to hit goals but are provided no road map. Every person is “reinventing the wheel” with his or her personal technique. There is no brand consistency, company-wide service expectation or proficient method of sharing information.
5. Keep your word and follow your own rules.
I know a few managers who make a practice of arriving late to meetings or rescheduling them 30 minutes before they are supposed to begin. If you as a manager walk in late to a client meeting, how can your team take you seriously?
Actions speak louder than words, and management behavior serves as a model to encourage or discourage good sales practices. You don’t have to be in the office all the time, but you have to be present through communication and hold true to your commitments. Lead by example.
Curious if you or someone you know is a bad manager? You can usually find your answer by looking at rate of employee retention. It always surprises me how companies can be so blasé about high turnover. If the economy is so horrible and people can’t get jobs, AND STILL they are choosing to leave yours…My friend, you are probably doing something wrong. What is it? Well, it’s your responsibility to sniff it out, assess the situation and rework your management strategy.
This post was adapted from an article that originally appeared in Executive Travel Magazine.