As someone who has been in various management roles for almost 25 years, I understand the multitude of challenges sales leaders face when struggling to drive sales. There are things you can influence and things you have absolutely no control over like market conditions, awareness of your brand, competition, the importance of your product or service with buyers and channels, and indirect sales channels.
On the surface, many leaders may say, “Don’t worry about what you can’t control.” However, these “uncontrollables” may determine how you address some of the common things you do control, and while you may not have direct influence over certain things, understanding the impact allows for greater success.
Recruiting and Hiring the Right Individuals
The hiring process can be overwhelming and time-consuming, but rushing the process can lead to high turnover rates and a waste of time. Building useful talent profiles up front and appropriately screening candidates are critical components to making the right hiring choices. Taking the time to complete the necessary steps will greatly improve your success rate.
I once worked with a software start-up inside a large corporation. They were ready to attack the market more broadly and wanted to hire field sellers to hit the street. Their budget allowed them to employ mid-tier sellers. However, as we discussed their product and how it was presently sold, I learned that it was typically an early adopter sale. The start-up’s president primarily sold to chief medical officers, who required quite a bit of education. So, there was no way mid-tier sellers were going to be successful at this type of selling. This would be a failure right out of the gate.
You must be realistic about what it will take to sell your product and what types of sales skills are required. Different types of selling (transactional, consultative, strong closing, indirect sales, etc.) require different sets of skills and the talent profile should reflect those to ensure you come out of the gate with a solid talent foundation.
Training, Developing, and Coaching
Many organizations believe that if they hire employees with the right skills for the job and follow that up with a bit of preparation and knowledge regarding what they are selling, these new employees should be ready to hit the ground running and experience great success. They don’t invest much in training, development, tools, or resources. But, even talented sales folks need help improving their skills and methods, especially in a field that is constantly changing. It is not unusual for the disciplines they employ for success to erode over time.
Regular reinforcement is important, and honing the sales craft should be a critical part of your operation—beginning with sales skills training that aligns with the talent profile. For example, you can’t use direct sales training to prepare staff for indirect sales channels. You will lose salespeople immediately, because they don’t identify with the curriculum.
Sales leaders must also utilize coaching whenever interacting with sales staff. One way to do this is to leverage a simple scorecard you can verbally review prior to a sales call, which contains essential sales attributes you expect to see exhibited.
Managing Sales Rep Performance
Diagnosing the performance problems your sales reps are having can be quite difficult. If the performance issue is widespread, revisit the “uncontrollables” and ensure your sales strategy, talent profile, and training plans are still in alignment.
Remember that sales attainment is an outcome. There are many activities and incremental outcomes that lead to the sale. Knowing these leading indicators are helpful when it comes to identifying where gaps may be in discipline or skillset. Use your insights as well as the behaviors of your top sellers to develop these leading indicators (sales calls made, meetings set up, letters of intent, agreement for discovery, etc.), then leverage them when diagnosing individual performance.
Enabling Sales with the Right Tools
Given the impact of digital in selling, sales leaders often find it difficult to keep up with an ever-increasing technology stack.
It’s easy to get distracted by all the technology bells and whistles. Make sure you understand your buyers’ journey and how your salespeople are supporting it. Create a solid foundation of core attributes for effective selling, and then employ a technology stack that complements and assists in establishing a competitive advantage.