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Among the many constants in business is that of sales team performance. Whether selling to the consumer or B2B, without a competent sales team in place your business is going to struggle.
Most trend reports over the last five years reflect that more than half of all sales reps miss quotas. This, while expecting 80% of your sales team to meet their quotas can be daunting. But there is hope. With a solid leadership plan in place, the sales end of your business can thrive.
Sales management isn't just hiring the right sales representatives, it's creating a plan to drive them toward success. While HubSpot reports the average sales rep turnover in both direct and B2B sales is over 30%, you can still create a structure that ensures your sales team's success will help to beat that number.
There is no shortage of strategies for managing a successful sales team available for consumption. There is a reason we tend to repeat the same ones over and over: It's because they work.
The difference is how you implement these strategies with your team. Some variation of the following might be needed, but the themes remain the same.
So, here's some of the most successful strategies for managing your sales team that we found in our research.
And look out for more on this front in 2023 as Cirrus Insight launches our new “Surgical Selling” feature on this blog, written by our very own CEO, Phil Dixon.
There might be a little bit of perceived luck in the sales business, but 99% of sales is setting and meeting goals. To do that, you are going to need a plan. Within that overarching plan, you will need to specialize it based on the skills of your individual sales team member.
The best way to do this (and you may have heard this one before) is to set SMART goals. We certainly use this at Cirrus Insight, since we use SMART goals when doing our quarterly planning.
But if you’re not familiar: SMART means goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. And we can’t stress that last one enough because that’s where most teams mess up. If you don’t have a ticking clock on any goal that you set, it’s very easy for that goal to lose priority as different things come up throughout the quarter.
Think of it like this:
Specific goals create logical sales targets.
Measurable goals allow for tracking KPI progress.
Attainable goals will set realistic expectations for your sales team.
Relevant goals will keep everyone aligned with your company’s objectives and focused on the mission.
Timely goals create deadlines that can be met, instead of missed.
If you’re not familiar with Parkinson’s Law, it states that work will stretch itself out to whatever deadline you give it. So if you say a project is going to get done in December, and you’re doing your planning in October, the odds are really good you won’t finish the project until its deadline approaches.
That’s why the T in SMART goals is so important. If you’re not specific with the time to complete your goal, it’s probable you’ll miss it. So plan accordingly and keep the T as short as possible without creating a strain on your team members.
In sales, the details matter. From particular client proclivities, to how your sales team functions internally, paying attention, documenting, and then communicating those details clearly to each other will foster success within the team.
This can include information such as when the best time to call certain clients is, to who on your team is the best with Excel spreadsheets, to knowing every single detail about your product or service. If you think a detail is too small to note, you are wrong. Pay attention to everything.
Sales isn't just about selling something, it's about using those details you’ve taken note of to sell effectively.
From the best time of day to call, to the client’s preference for metric versus standard measurement systems, to the names of their pets, details will help your team build rapport and success with clients.
And not for nothing, knowing the details helps you come off as way less transactional and more approachable and friendly. Nobody likes salespeople who are just looking to close deals. They want someone who can listen and pay attention.
Is that you? We hope so. Because transactional salespeople give the rest of us, and the business, a bad name, making it harder for all of us to close deals and solve problems faced by our customers.
Often with sales teams there is a bad habit of grouping every team member together into one large, multi-armed sales person. While teamwork is important, it's even more impactful in leading your team to recognize that every sales team member is different. Not only as a person, but as a sales professional.
Each salesperson has a different personality, learning style and coaching preference. While one employee might be a strong cold caller, another might be great with generating leads. Creating a plan that clearly identifies roles based on individual personalities will streamline your team, more aligning skill sets with personality types.
If you’ve read Traction by Gino Wickman, you know that we’ve already referenced his work once in this article with SMART Goals, well, we’re going to do it one more time here: You want the right people in the right seat. That’s what successful, high performance organizations do, and you can do. But like we said above, the details of how each member of your team thinks and operates matter.
You might find that taking the members of your sales team and making sure they’re in the right role will unlock their potential to close more deals and build stronger relationships with your customers.
While every sales professional on your team might have a different role and responsibility, it's paramount that your team is cross trained as well. This helps to create redundancies so that if one team member leaves, another can pick up the slack until the new hire starts.
There is nothing worse than leaving a client in the dark because the salesperson assigned to them leaves the company. Your sales team should all be able to produce at least the most basic reports, just in case your sales analytics team has a hiccup. Nathan Phipps, the Knowledge Manager here at Cirrus Insight, had this to say about the importance of things like Confluence for maintaining a strong internal knowledge base: “These situations emphasize the need for a centralized location to share knowledge that's critical to the organization. Cirrus Insight utilizes Confluence as its internal wiki, empowering everyone in the company to find and share important answers and solutions.”
So, as you can see, we’re pretty big fans of Confluence and rely on it heavily. You don’t need to use that specific tool (although we recommend it). Any tool that allows you to easily share information with your team is fine. The important thing is that everyone uses it once you’ve implemented it, and that takes patience and time. Especially on the part of a sales manager. A fun trick: For the first two weeks that you implement a new system, have everyone check in and use it at the same time every day, and offer tips and lessons on how to get the most out of your documentation software. Doing so will build a habit among the team.
If you just throw new software at your team and say, “Here you go!” They’re just not going to use it in the way that allows for the kind of collaboration and knowledge sharing that you need to be successful.
And hey, during this two-week period? There’s another benefit here that we haven’t mentioned: Mentorship. Training new employees on all aspects of the sales process will naturally create a mentorship hierarchy, leading to stronger employee retention. You can take the opportunity to reinforce and teach what is needed to be successful in your organization as you build out your new knowledge management solution.
Honestly, it’s hard to believe any sales team exists in 2023 that isn’t tracking KPIs and other performance metrics, but it does indeed happen.
We don’t have much to add to this one other than stating what should be obvious: Running a successful sales team cannot be achieved without tracking your team's successes and failures.
But how do you do this well, and track the metrics that are most important?
The best way to do this is through building a robust reporting system. Adding a sales analyst to your team will help to build out visible analytic trends to help you visualize your sales team's performance. McKinsey & Company's Big Data report highlights how data-driven strategies are leading to higher levels of innovation and productivity across all industries.
Still not sure where to get started or what metrics to track? Well, our friends at Salesforce have nine metrics they recommend, which are:
There are two types of feedback you can give your sales team. One shows your lack of commitment to growth, the other actually helps.
If you have been in sales long enough, I’m sure you can think of plenty of examples where the advice you were given was… Less than helpful.
One example: Empty feedback is the basic pat-on-the-back platitudes that do nothing but show you are at least in the office as a sales team manager.
This can easily be a factor in higher turnover. Nobody wants to feel like their time is being wasted. Not your customers. And not your sales reps. So, if you’re going to offer feedback and suggestions to your team, make sure it’s tailored and specific to each of them. And, as Dale Carnegie once said, never condemn or complain. Be “lavish in your approbation and hearty in your praise.”
That means using helpful feedback. This is a more personalized style of feedback that is more one-on-one and focuses on individual strengths and goals. A prime example of helpful feedback is complimenting an employee on their successful sales presentation meeting, while still pointing out areas of success as well as bits that might need more work.
(And if you have to give someone a bad review, or other address a problem, it’s best to approach with questions rather than accusations so you can, together, identify the root cause of the problem and brainstorm solutions to it.)
Use KPIs to identify trends and areas of improvement. Sales people are in a goal-oriented business, so they are always looking for specific feedback that they can digest into actionable sales.
If we’re being honest: Sometimes the problem with a sales team isn’t the team, but the manager.
There are some managers out there (not you, since you’re taking the time to read this we assume you’re one of the good ones) who just sit by idle as their team racks up win after win.
And when that happens? Your team will most definitely move from a company that doesn't celebrate wins to one that does.
One of the best ways to motivate a sales team is also one of the easiest: Recognizing their wins.
If, as a sales leader, you've put in place a goal system and reasonable expectations then why not highlight wins?
Recognizing wins is not just a pizza party for meeting lofty sales targets (though everyone loves pizza and we strongly recommend feeding it to your team at every opportunity), it's making the effort to meet with your sales reps to figure out where the win came from and carrying those strategies forward.
Leadership comes from the top sounds like an obvious thing to say, but it’s often lost in translation. If the sales manager has a bad attitude, it’ll kill your team and their ability to close deals.
As the Sales Manager, you’re the pace setter. If you come in and you’re praising people and feeding them pizza (can you tell we were hungry when we wrote this?) and otherwise celebrating the success of your team and coaching them when times are tough, your team will incorporate your leadership into their approach. This can only bring you success, not failure.
So don’t be an absentee sales manager.
It's your sales team. You are the sales leader, manager, guru, whatever term fosters the best work environment.
It's up to you how you implement these tips within your sales environment. If you are comfortable in your leadership methods then it may be time for a change. Taking an active role, leading through data and training through personalities can only result in successful sales numbers
Running a factory setting that burns out employees quicker than you can replace them, well, you know the end of that story.