Most sales managers I know are responsible for bringing sales revenue to their companies and they do this by remote control through salespeople. I say remote control because most sales managers don’t have much direct control over their salespeople (don’t we wish!).
The problems start when the sales and revenue aren’t coming in. There are a number of potential reasons for this drop in sales. One reason might be general market conditions. Certainly in the past couple of years, as we slowly recover from 2009, many industries have seen a downturn in sales that has nothing to do with their products, services, or the selling abilities of their salespeople.
If there are no real market reasons for your let-up in sales, the next thing to do is to look inside the company at your people. If selling in a tight market is a challenge for them, you may have a skills problem and perhaps they need some advanced sales training. Or maybe they’ve gotten complacent and need a refresher to bring them back up to speed. If training is the issue, it’s a good idea to conduct a pre-training readiness test to assess whether or not your environment will support a training program.
If, on the other hand, they already do know how to sell but aren’t doing it, you may have an attitude or management problem and you need to spend more time providing hands-on management to the team. Attitude problems can often be helped with team building and other motivational events. The old adage that the beatings will continue until the morale improves rarely works, unless you’ve hired a group of masochists.
This leaves managing them more effectively. Managing salespeople is a bit like pushing a string, difficult but not impossible to do. It’s sort of like herding cats. If you don’t keep an eye on them, they get into trouble.
Start by determining if your people are making enough sales calls, either by telephone or face-to-face. If a salesperson is making enough calls but the sales just aren’t there, then it’s time to see and hear what’s actually going on during the calls.
This may be the time to get out from behind your desk and start riding with your people (if you’re not already doing it). See what they’re doing right and uncover those areas where they might need help or a bit of fine-tuning.
If your people are making the required number of calls to make the sales but no sales are coming, check to see that they are calling on the right people. Some salespeople like to make what are called comfort calls. They will call on people they like and who like them. This can be particularly prevalent when they have their sales manager tagging along. They’re trying to impress you with what a great rapport they have with their customers. I’m all for a great rapport but it’s sales that we’re really looking for. People don’t have to like someone in order to buy from him or her, although being liked can really help, particularly in a tough competitive situation.
As soon as you catch on that you’re being taken to selected accounts, put a stop to it. Ask in advance what the salesperson wants to accomplish on the next call. Who is being called on and why? What’s the purpose of the call? What does the salesperson want to happen, or what does the salesperson want the prospect to do as a result of the call? If you’re not getting good answers, you’ve got a problem and just asking these questions will help you solve it by getting the salesperson to put his mind in gear before he opens the door. You’ll also want to consider introducing a formal call planner to your team. We have one called PAIN DOC and its bullet proof. You can ensure that your reps are prepared for each call they make by asking to see a copy of this planner before you head into the call.
Address any problems as soon as possible. I suggest you do it in the quiet of your vehicle just as soon as you’re finished the call and before you turn on the ignition. Review the situation pointing out any positive aspects of the call and then focus on those things that need attention. If possible, use the very next call as an opportunity to see if your correction has taken hold. Now you’re managing your people.
You’re the seasoned pro, the coach, the person responsible for helping the people who work with you get the sales you need to keep the others off your back. This is one of the keys that separates leaders from managers.
Authored by Brian Jeffrey, co-founder of SalesForce Training.
SalesForce Training & Consulting is a professional services firm and Salesforce.com training firm based in Toronto, with training centers in Boston and Chicago, helping sales teams develop and use the right tools for the job at hand.