You probably squeeze managing your sales force into an already tight schedule. After all, sales managers spend all day dealing with sales issues, while you have other departments to oversee. So, when you do set aside time to work with your sales team, you probably wonder which activities generate the most effective results and how success is to be measured.
Many of my time-challenged clients ask me these questions—and I understand their frustration. Plus, leading the sales effort might sit outside your comfort zone.
In order to increase revenue and provide direction for your sales force, I recommend implementing three high-value, low-cost, calendar-friendly activities:
- Holding one-on-one meetings
- Assembling best sales practices
- Establishing a sales forecast
Begin holding one-on-one meetings right away. As the other activities take longer to pull together, work on them gradually over a period of time. Add them to the meeting agenda as they gel.
Schedule recurring 20- to 30-minute meetings every other week with each of your sales representatives. To save time, develop a set agenda so salespeople always know what to expect. And reserve a few minutes at the end of each meeting for impromptu discussion.
Agenda items might include:
- Reviewing sales productivity reports (e.g., sales forecast)
- Discussing issues with various accounts
- Offering advice/coaching tips
- Sharing success stories
Salespeople, like most employees, behave differently in one-on-one meetings versus staff meetings with peers. Previously unmentioned thoughts about accounts, sales skills, company policies or coworkers may come to light. You also have an opportunity to hold them accountable in a way you wouldn’t publicly. For example, making a comment such as, “Sarah, I notice your prospecting numbers are down overall for the second week in a row … let’s talk about that.” becomes easier.
More importantly, these meetings provide an opportunity to recognize the salesperson’s efforts. With the entire staff, you focus on performance, announcing, “Sam closed the Price account today. Let’s have a round of applause.” Individual meetings allow you to point out the smaller, but no less important, victories in sales.
Praise can range from, “I heard you on the phone the other day and you sounded so confident. That’s great!” to “I understand that you were finally able to set up a meeting with Melissa Jones. Congratulations! How did you do it?”
To keep these meetings from turning into gripe fests, I advise my clients to take control from the very start. Hold firm to the allotted time, stay in line with the agenda, watch the clock and bring the meeting to a close at the appointed time.
If a subject comes to light that both parties agree warrants further discussion, schedule a separate time to revisit it right then and there. Give the salesperson some ownership of the issue by assigning them responsibility, or a “to do,” prior to the second meeting.
By handling the situation in this manner, trust builds between you and the rep. They regard you as a person of your word. You take what they have to say seriously, but hold to the integrity of the meeting as well.
Giving a salesperson your undivided attention boosts their morale, reinforces your investment in their career development and underscores your commitment to the overall success of the sales department. Can you think of a better way to spend 30 minutes twice a month?
Assemble best sales practices
One of your salespeople gives a killer product demo, while another handles customer objections with tremendous ease. Marketing routinely collects and updates competitive data.
Would a promising new hire benefit from downloading a video of another salesperson’s fantastic product demo? Might another rep, with a strong rival in his territory, gain from reading competitive information? You bet. Help your reps by centralizing the information and making it easily accessible to all.
Begin collecting the sales information that exists within your company today. A list of the various subjects may include:
- Sample introductions
- Qualifying questions
- Common objections
- Template e-mails
- Interview questions
- Product demo videos
- Sample closes
- Product fact sheets
- Competitive fact sheets
- Frequently asked questions
- Template proposals
- Company history/facts
Ask the reps with the best introduction to e-mail you a copy of what they say to prospects. Then, send out a list of the common objections, ask the sales staff to forward their responses and select the best from among them.
Work your way down the list, gathering all of the information available for each category. Put an administrative assistant or another organized employee in charge of assembling everything into a notebook and an online document.
Next, identify holes in the list. Perhaps you’ll discover that your organization lacks a good closing methodology, leading to lost deals. Each salesperson might send out their version of a proposal—some of which are much more professional and persuasive than others.
Over time, address the weaker areas. Brainstorm with the sales reps during staff meetings to fill in some of the missing information. Speak with employees in other departments and let them know what you need. Most executives find the particulars they’re looking for within the company.
This project provides a permanent record of your organization’s best practices. When a sales representative resigns, a copy of their fluid introduction or closing technique remains in the notebook. Rather than watch a rep get stumped by customer objections, you have the ability to supply them with a list of common objections and helpful responses.
By documenting best practices in the sales department, overall productivity will increase. New hires will use the best practices material to get up-to-speed more quickly and tenured reps will reference it when they struggle from time to time. Everyone wins.
Establish a sales forecast report
The content and accuracy of the information contained within the sales forecast report affects the entire organization. Unfortunately, in some companies, the sales forecast and the pipeline report often get treated as one in the same.
A sales pipeline report consists of all prospects actively pursued by a sales representative, separated by their appropriate phase in the sales cycle. A rep might have a meeting planned with a decision maker at one company, and a date set for a webinar with another. Both prospects would show up in a pipeline report.
Only those companies in the final stages of purchasing a product or service appear on the sales forecast. This report represents the salesperson’s best estimate of which sales will close in a 30-, 60- or 90-day time frame. Prospects in the sales forecast are not at various points in the sales cycle— they are nearing the end of it.
An effective sales forecast helps those running companies to:
- Understand the number of deals due to close each month;
- Hold salespeople accountable for deals they intend to close;
- Determine which deals need executive attention;
- Estimate revenue;
- Plan for post-sale product or service delivery.
Work with departments across your company as you create the sales forecast report. Insist that any potential sale meet certain pre-defined objective criteria to qualify for the sales forecast (e.g., the proposal has been reviewed with the decision maker, or the prospect has made a verbal commitment to buy). Require the sales reps to turn it in at the beginning of each month and submit a revision mid-month.
After utilizing this critical report for a full business quarter, you will develop a better understanding of the length of your company’s sales cycle and the strengths and weaknesses of the sales staff.
Once you begin to address those weaknesses in the one-on-one meetings, the average length of the sales cycle will decrease, sales revenue will increase as more deals close faster, and everyone in the organization benefits.
One step at a time
Implement each of these strategies one at a time. Begin with the individual meetings. Build up your confidence, aim for competence— not perfection—and get comfortable with a new process. Then, move on to the next.
One day, in the middle of reviewing a sales forecast during a one-on-one meeting, you’ll realize something: this rep struggles to follow up on the proposals he sends out. You know the sales notebook contains great recommendations for that tricky situation. The rep agrees to read that section, try the suggestions, and report back on his progress during the next one-on-one. Before he leaves, you remind him that he initially struggled with his introduction and now has one of the best in the company. Together, the two of you confidently address this problem. Now you’re really managing the sales force.