After working with sales teams for over six years, one of the struggles I hear about most is that sales team members don’t feel valued or supported by management.
It’s this struggle that can lead to poor performance, low employee engagement and turnover.
If you’re a sales leader, you’re probably wondering how you got such a bad rap. Don’t worry, you’re not alone – and this job isn’t easy. But it is possible. We’ve put together some do’s and don’ts to help you steer clear of some of the unique sales management pitfalls that many leaders fall victim to.
1. Do: Hire the right person.
It’s hard to overcome a bad hire. When seeking a sales professional, be sure that you’re clear about the role and that candidates understand what their day to day job entails. If they're going to be expected to conduct cold calls and attend weekend street festivals, say so. Outline the role's expectations and then create your competency profile with the required skills, experience, character traits and anything else you want candidates to have coming in.
Can you hire a diamond in the rough? Absolutely. But remember, a diamond can’t realize its full potential until it’s sorted, cut and polished. Every candidate is going to need some level of support and coaching from you, so it’s important that you’re on the same page with what they’ll need and how much you’re able (and willing) to give.
2. Do: Set clear goals.
Once hired, be careful not to push fledgling team members into the post-hiring abyss. Set a thorough training and onboarding schedule that begins on Day One and goes at least 90 days. Begin with clear training plans of how you will help them get fully up to speed with tools, resources and timelines. If you’re expecting them to be fulling operational in the first month with your organization, it’s extremely likely that you’ll both be disappointed.
A strong onboarding plan includes learning opportunities about your culture, offerings, tools and processes, sales goals, and specific sales skills. All of this takes time, even for seasoned professionals. Be sure that you devote enough time to your new team members so that you set them up for success and help them build the confidence to represent your brand. Be flexible in adjusting your onboarding time and content to meet your individual salesperson’s needs.
When it comes to actual sales goals – clarity and buy-in are the answer. Work together with your new team member to establish goals and discuss the potential in their role. Show them how you arrived at the sales targets and discuss how they plan to achieve them and what obstacles they foresee.
Just like in every other area of the business, the more approachable and receptive to feedback you are, the easier managing a dedicated sales team member should be. And that can’t happen if your new team member thinks your sales goals are absurd.
3. Don’t: Get mired in the sales activity details.
Do I measure sales activity or sales success? This is a question that’s often harder to answer than the chicken and the egg question. If you have agreed upon sales targets that are being met or exceeded and your salesperson forgets to log an action in your CRM or takes a little extra time tracking numbers, should you berate them for not doing their job?
Success leaves clues, and if they’re doing the right activities, the success is going to show up in contracts and bookings. That’s not to say that those administrative tasks aren’t important, but try to avoid managing by spreadsheet. Focus on the big picture and use activity data to troubleshoot issues when close ratios fall or sales targets start slipping. And when you coach, keep in mind that some things are mountains while others are molehills. A motivated, successful salesperson is going to get unmotivated really quickly if all you ever do is harp on small details. Choose wisely when deciding what type of coach you want to be.
4. Do: Provide personalized coaching.
Every team member is different, and a great leader provides coaching and management in the areas that team members need them most.
Your activities data will help you identify areas where team members could be struggling. If team members are missing their sales targets and you notice they aren’t making enough contacts, you could begin asking questions to uncover outbound time barriers or time management struggles to help them improve in those areas. When you notice they’re making enough contacts but their close ratio has dipped, perhaps it’s time to provide some coaching on discovery questions, overcoming objections or listening to sales conversations to troubleshoot problem areas.
There are literally thousands of books, podcasts, blog articles and videos that can help team members improve upon weaknesses. In a recent sales management training with the BPAA Bowling University School of Entertainment Center Management, we shared new insights on the top components of the most effective sales coaching according to a study by CSO Insights. Did you know that “when [a manager's] sales coaching skills exceed expectations, 94.8% of reps meet quota vs. 84.5% when coaching needs improvement?”
The best sales coaching is:
- Individualized and evolving
- Meant to reinforce or correct behavior
- Focused on skills & techniques vs. (only) numbers
- A necessary routine daily and/or weekly
- A means to allow and encourage self-discovery
5. Don’t: Get competitive.
Salespeople are known for being hungry, competitive individuals and if you are a sales manager or owner, you’ve likely had to do a lot of the sales for your business. One of the challenges you might face is the notion that no one sells better than you. That may be true, but remember: you hire a sales team because you don’t have time or don’t want to do all the sales for your business, so it’s essential that you don’t get competitive with the people you’re supposed to be coaching.
You are all a team and your business can’t be successful if you’re fostering an adversarial relationship. Unhealthy competition can look like:
Keeping all the big incoming deals for yourself and handing the smaller deals over to salespeople.
You might be tempted to think that the deal wouldn’t have come in if you weren’t the business owner or that it would have come in regardless of their efforts. This kind of thinking is risky and while it might save you from paying commission in the moment, know that your sales team member may see this as you robbing them of an opportunity. If it happens more than once, it’s likely they’ll either quit or stop putting forth their best effort, which costs more in the long run.
In fact, many organizations set up unnecessary competition up from the start by attaching a quota to a sales manager. Attaching a number to your sales manager works best if there is a clear line between the types of deals being worked by individual members of the group. It’s important that you don’t have your sales manager and your sales team fighting over the same leads or you risk having a team that’s only out for themselves and doesn’t leverage the unique strengths that each team member brings to the table.
Comparing their performance to how you would have done it (better, faster, more effectively.)
Remember there is more than one way to storm a castle. You’re better off encouraging self-discovery so that team members feel empowered to improve for next time in any areas where they may have struggled.
Taking credit for a salesperson’s success (even if you helped them win the deal).
A sales manager’s job is to build up a powerful workforce. That means you give time, energy, advice and support. You are the quintessential wingman helping your teammate win because when they win, so do you, your business and your bottom line. Minimizing someone else’s success to make sure you get credit demotivates even the most positive team members. Try not to swoop in and save the day, but rather help your teammate gain the tools and techniques to win the deal and earn the accolades.
6. Do: Pay on-time.
Nothing demotivates a hungry salesperson more than not getting paid on time. This is one process that you don’t want to get wrong. If you’re just starting out with a dedicated sales program, it’s critical to be clear on how deals are tracked and how and when commissions or bonuses will be paid – and then keep tight to that schedule. Keep in mind that the best way to reinforce behavior is to reward team members as close to the behavior as possible. Paying out monthly for the previous month’s events can be a good place to start.
I always get asked how much salespeople should be paid and the answer really depends on your total facility revenue, how profitable your events are and your job market. In the past you could pay a very small base plus commissions or bonuses, but with the current job market, top notch salespeople require a higher base pay, evidence of your commitment to them if you will. My best advice is to pay good people what you can afford and understand that if you’re paying a lot in salary and commissions, you should be bringing in a lot more business, increasing revenue, walk-in traffic and gaining loyal customers. That should lead to more money for increases and bonuses for them, and for the rest of team who make the magic happen.
7. Do: Celebrate their success.
Finally, understand that your team will hear a lot of “no’s” and get the door slammed in their faces a whole lot in a sales role. So, it’s important that in addition to being a wingman, you perform the role as coach or cheerleader. Let them talk excitedly about prospects and potential. Laugh with them when they relay stories and conversations and always let them know you’re on their side. Sales is a job that looks a whole lot easier than it actually is, so they need you to have their back. And at the end of the day, a win for them is going to be a win for everyone.
Have a great story about a sales leader who made a difference for you? Share them in the comments or on Twitter. Learn more about how CenterEdge analytics and Advantage Groups can help you manage your event sales program.