Keeping a sales team motivated, cohesive and goal oriented is an arduous task. One wrong statement is all that it takes to kill your team’s motivation.
A rule of thumb that I have always lived by – treat the team right and the team will, in return, treat the customer right.
If you’re managing a sales team, there’s a few things that you can never afford to say to any of your reps.
1) FORGET the competition, know your product well
Knowing your product well is certainly of paramount importance, even the best sales reps are under-equipped without great product knowledge, but, it does not end there.
Knowing your competition well is of immense importance too. Competitive analysis is a crucial step while planning every internal, or external move; a step that most companies, or teams, seem to overlook more often than not. Sales teams are no different.
And don’t ever say you don’t have competition. Quick: Try to name a successful business that doesn’t have competition. I bet you can’t do it. But I’m amazed at the number of business plans that claim there’s no competition for their new business idea. That normally means you either don’t understand your business or have a business nobody else wants. Neither option is good.
Why do sales reps need to understand the competition?
- They can learn from the competition’s mistakes. You’ll be amazed by the amount of information (including mistakes) that can be dug out, just by looking up a company online. Social media is a great place to search to see what people are saying about a company.
- They can learn from the model that works for others. It is important to look for strategies and marketing efforts that your competition is putting in place. Subscribing to their newsletter is a great way to start learning.
- They understand the marketplace dynamics well. It is important to determine what segment of the marketplace your competitor is targeting.
What steps should you take?
- Educate reps on competing product lines, their strengths, weaknesses, and USPs.
- Have them do their own research and present comparisons to the entire team; it’s a great exercise for the ones who are already well-versed with the competition.
- Help them identify differentiators, and understand how they impact product performance.
- Encourage them to role play a sales pitch – one that involves a competitive sell.
2) Here’s YOUR target
What’s better than an individual target? A team goal. Every single time.
A sales rep who is unclear of the team’s goals and the overarching vision can never be spurred enough to go the extra mile. They need to understand how the team’s performance will impact the larger scheme of things. They need to realise how their performance impacts the entire team, and the company. They’ve got to think beyond individual aspirations.
The other side of the story: a proactive manager is required to take the role of a leader very seriously. They should ensure that the sales reps understand what the company stands for, what its long term goals are, and what are the goals for the entire team.
Most sales teams can be clubbed under one of two umbrellas, below.
- The I team – the team meets once a week. Everyone is required to hit an individual target. They work independently, without sharing information. No one understands why they’ve been asked to chase the segment that they are after. Company vision – what is that?
- The WE team – the team meets once in the morning, and once in the evening, every day. The team has a collective goal, one that follows the overarching company vision. The team discusses, and understands the market segment well. The team shares information. The team works in collaboration.
The WE team is always the one which will be ready to go the extra mile. They work together, rather than competing with one another. A cohesive team where everyone is on-board with the company vision is the perfect sales team.
3) It’s OKAY, do better next time
Giving underperformers the benefit of the doubt is the bane of sales training. Why?
- It sends out a message that poor performance is acceptable.
- The message goes out to not only the underperformer, but the entire team. It spreads faster than wildfire.
How can this be fixed?
Underperformance is only the tip of the iceberg, there is always a deep-seated problem. Sit with the entire team and brainstorm; underperformance is best cured when there are no negative emotions involved, which can happen only if you act fast.
A few steps that a proactive manager should take:
- Clarify expectations well in advance, in terms of behavior, and result. Do not wait for a mistake to occur.
- Always point out what they’re doing right. A little pat on the back can go a long way in keeping the team motivated.
- Stop making hollow statements such as, ‘great day’, or ‘killer meeting’. Tell them why the day was great. Tell them that they managed to start a conversation with someone that the company was chasing for a long time. Tell them that the manner in which they explained the product advantages was impressive.
- Address a performance gap the moment it occurs. Do not wait for the review meeting. Tell your reps that you are trying to help them improve by being a proactive communicator, and that the process is more effective when they know this. Give the underperformer a chance to correct himself before his job falls on the line. A bad month can be tolerated, a bad year – NO!
4) Let’s see if YOU can sell this
It’s not a challenge.
Pushing the envelope might not deliver the best results when it comes to selling. Every rep has a certain level of expertise, and experience, and he should ONLY be asked to sell a product that falls within the purview of his capabilities.
New reps should always start with products that are quick and easy to sell, rather than start with the more complicated ones. Making a sale is the best confidence booster; these early, and quick sales will also help new reps establish relationships with customers.
The rule of thumb is – a new rep should not be asked to sell your most complicated product. A pro should not be asked to do an easy sell just because you want to hit a quarterly target.
Take, for example, a company that sells printer cartridges. They had been chasing an account to upgrade to the enterprise plan (their premium offering) for a long time, and the account did not look very excited to do so. That is when a new sales rep joins, and he’s from the same university as the account’s Purchase Head. Given the common fraternity, the new guy is sent to meet the Purchase Head, with the hopes of making a connection. The rep ends up quoting some wrong numbers when asked about the plan. The Purchase Head must have sensed something fishy, as he stopped doing business with them from the very next month.
5) YOU’RE the star!
It’s good to reward an outstanding sales rep, but there’s a certain degree of prudence that needs to accompany the process. You can NOT nickname your reps ‘superstar’, or ‘rockstar’. Teams require leaders, not cheerleaders!
So what’s wrong with calling one of your sales reps a rockstar?
- It makes him stand out, and he will soon start acting superior around his teammates.
- It goes against the cohesive vision of the team, the rockstar will never be truly a part of the team.
- The rest of the team starts putting in more individual, and less collective effort, everyone likes to be called a star!
- They stop sharing information about accounts. They stop networking.
- Team collaboration takes an irreparable hit.
Collective rewards should precede individual rewards. It’s in the best interest of the team, the vision, and the company.
Take, for example, a large media company that invested in an internal social-networking platform for the commercial organization. The goal was to help sales reps exchange information about complex accounts. In the few years since the system has been in place, cross-sales have increased, cycle times have declined, and conversion rates have gone up. In one account alone, the improvements have driven $3.5 million in incremental revenue.
Networking and collaboration would have taken a major hit, had there been a few ‘rockstars’ among many ‘averages’!
Abstaining from using the above statements with your sales team is a sure win in the long term. It will eventually lead to a more cohesive team, one that shares a common goal, one that works together, and one that helps your company grow.