Professional salespeople know that it's all about results. They know that it doesn't matter how much effort they put into generating leads and closing deals. They know that it doesn't matter how much time they invest or how many calls they make. They know that it doesn't matter how well it looks like they're doing. If, at the end of the day, there isn't money coming in the door, they aren't doing their jobs.
They know these things, but they are also human beings. They will make excuses. They will blame marketing for the quality of the leads. They will blame the customer for being too demanding. And, though they may not ever say it to your face, they will blame you for not giving them enough guidance and support. Well, I'm going to tell you something that may come as a bit of a shock. At least in this last matter, they are right.
Wait! What do I mean, "They're right?" They're salespeople. You are hiring them to sell. If they don't close any deals, they aren't doing their jobs. End of story, right? Well, yes and no. Yes, you do want to instill in your salespeople a sense of accountability. You want your salespeople to take responsibility for their failures and successes. You want your salespeople to own their outcomes.
On the other hand, just as you expect this level of maturity from your salespeople; you should also expect it from yourself. You are the leader. You set the bar for performance. When your people don't follow you, you can easily start looking for excuses. You can blame the economy. You can blame changes in the industry. You can blame your salespeople's lack of discipline. But, in the end, it all comes back on you. If you want to take credit for the successes of your company, you've got to take responsibility for its failures. Leaders don't blame salespeople for failing to generate results. Leaders own the outcomes.
If you truly want your sales team to become a results-generating machine over the years, you must create a culture that rewards and encourages professional growth and development. On every level, you must oversee that progress in your sales team. Whether you oversee the development yourself, you have someone else in your company do it, or you hire an outside contractor to help you sales team grow, you've got to have your hands in the process every step of the way.
There are four different levels of sales leadership that salespeople need from you in order to perform better in their roles and grow professionally throughout their careers. They are: Managing, Training, Consulting and Coaching. You need to take ownership of each of these levels. Let's take a look at each of these levels in turn.
Managing is the most detached form of professional development for salespeople. Chances are, either you or someone on your team will be responsible for managing your sales team's performance. The management function is where you set the quotas, measure the results, and either reward or punish the salespeople for how well they perform. There really is no instruction or guidance at this level. It is pure mechanics and raw numbers. You set expectations, monitor how well those expectations are met, and compensate your salespeople accordingly. Divorced from the deeper levels of sales leadership, performing the function of management will make the salespeople feel like you don't care about them as human beings and you aren't really interested in their professional development. If you are only a manager, salespeople will come to believe that you see them as pawns in your game—a mere means to an end. However, as you get your hands into deeper levels of sales leadership, it is absolutely essential that you have your hands on managing the results. You are, after all, running a business. You have both a right and a responsibility to generate results. At the end of the day, you are an irresponsible leader if your sales team isn't contributing to the bottom line—regardless of how well they like you and sense that you care about them. If the numbers aren't there, you aren't doing your job. You must be able to look at the market, examine the industry, and weigh these things against your salespeople's present capabilities. Then, you must be able to use this information to set reasonable, yet challenging, goals for your sales team. You must oversee the monitoring of how well your salespeople are doing at reaching these goals. Then, you must be willing to provide rewards and/or punishments that are consistent with your original expectations. If your salespeople fail to generate results, it ultimately comes back on you. That's what it means to be a leader.
Training is a slightly more intimate level of sales leadership. When you train your sales team, you aren't simply mandating your expectations. You are showing them how to meet those expectations. Training is teaching. For this function, you may want to hire an outside sales trainer or firm that specializes in sales training. In an article titled “How to Pick a Sales Trainer or Sales Training Program,” sales trainer Tom Freese (author of the best-selling Secrets of Question-Based Selling) offers eight suggestions when selecting a sales training program:
1) Ask yourself what specific problem in yours sales team you are trying to solve;
2) Ask yourself whether your team needs a strategic trainer or a motivation speaker;
3) Hire a sales training firm whose sales philosophy is similar to yours and whose unique selling proposition you believe truly sets it apart;
4) Hire only sales trainers who are willing to offer a money-back guarantee;
5) Look for programs that are customized for your specific industry and tailored to your specific company;
6) Seek out programs that emphasize long-term development rather than short-term gains;
7) Be open to change when trainers make suggestions about your leadership practices; and
8) Hire trainers who encourage your salespeople to take responsibility for their actions and own their outcomes.
Whether you decide to go with an outside trainer or to do the teaching yourself, these are great guidelines to go by in choosing a program and style for teaching your team how to sell effectively.
Consulting takes training one level deeper. It makes the leap from instruction to interaction. When you act as a consultant (or hire a consultant) for your sales team, you are having a conversation. You are starting, not with your solution, but with their problems. Consulting is more about learning than it is about teaching. You are finding out what your sales team is dealing with on an everyday basis. You are meeting them where they are and attempting to guide through their problems from a ground-up point-of-view. When you hire an outside sales consultant, therefore, it is going to be someone you are doing business with for the long-term. Great consulting cannot be done in a single session. So, if you plan on doing consulting with your sales team, make sure you are willing to commit.
Coaching is like consulting but scaled down to the level of one-on-one. A sales coach works with individuals on developing their sales techniques and attitudes. Coaching is all about feedback. It's about trial and error. The salesperson receives guidance, applies it, and then reevaluates the strategy with the coach. It's individualized; it's tailored; it's focused. Hiring a sales coach is probably the most expensive form of sales leadership, because it is a direct investment into each individual salesperson. However, it also has the greatest return because the coach can focus on the problems and challenges of each individual salesperson. Coaching should only be done by organizations whose salespeople are committed to the company and are not very likely to leave. By the same measure, investing in coaching for your salespeople is a powerful tool for making them more likely to stay and commit to your organization.
Like many other decisions in business, you will encounter the "make or buy" dilemma in deciding how you will go about developing your sales team. Should you handle all of the salespeople yourself--managing, training, consulting, and coaching them to greater performance? Or, rather, should you outsource pieces of your sales teams' development to people or organizations that specialize in improving the performance of salespeople? In the end, only you can make that decision for your business. In either case, the more focused (consulting and coaching) the development, the more expensive and yet more beneficial the development will be and the less focused (training and managing), the less expensive and yet less beneficial the development will be. As with anything else, it all depends on how much you are willing to risk.
The important thing is that you are doing something for your salespeople. Yes, of course, they should be held accountable for their own performance. But you are the leader. In the end, it always falls back on the leader. If you don't take responsibility for your sales teams' performance, it's on you. So, do something. Start today, and take the necessary steps toward developing your sales team into an unstoppable force.
David Lykken is president of mortgage strategies and managing partner with Mortgage Banking Solutions. He has more than 35 years of industry experience and has garnered a national reputation, and has become a frequent guest on FOX Business News with Neil Cavuto, Stuart Varney, Liz Claman and Dave Asman with additional guest appearances on the CBS Evening News, Bloomberg TV and radio. He may be reached by phone at (512) 977-9900, ext. 10, or e-mail [email protected]
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