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Joe runs a company with 19 salespeople—a mix of veterans and newcomers. Sales have been flat for the past 18 months even though the economy has improved. Joe is constantly making futile attempts to get his team to prospect more. He tries to show them how to sell more effectively, but they continue to fall back into the same old habits.
Sound familiar? I'm willing to bet it does.
Joe's is one of the most common situations I encounter as a sales strategist. Entrepreneurial organizations often underperform because they haven't built their sales teams systematically. But it doesn't have to be that way.
Follow these seven steps to turn your ineffectual sales crew into a high-performing championship team:
1. Evaluate your current strategy
There are three key ways to increase sales: Find more prospects, make larger sales and increase your closing ratios. Do you have a strategy that addresses all three? More importantly, are you focused on selling to your ideal customer? Companies often try to sell to everyone, but all of the serious rewards come when they focus on hitting their sweet spot. In Joe's case, his salespeople are indiscriminately calling on any and every prospect they come across. He needs to clarify for his team exactly where they should be focusing their time and efforts in order to increase all areas of sales growth.
2. Assess the existing team
It's critical that you know your sales team inside and out. How many A-players, B-players and C-players do you have? How does your existing team feel about the organization? How should you manage each salesperson according to his strengths and weaknesses? For example, Joe knows that he has only three A-players and eight B-players while the rest are C-players or worse. He's spending most of his time trying to improve the latter group with little to show for the effort. Instead, he should realistically evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of each team member and be willing to replace some of his underperformers with new recruits. Both online data-driven assessments and on-site evaluations can help him conduct this analysis.
3. Develop a hiring process
Right now, Joe has no hiring process and employs people based on his gut in interviews. As a result, he has struggled with a number of mis-hires over the years. Mid-sized companies like Joe’s rarely have a formal hiring process. Instead, when they realize they desperately need a new salesperson, they use a throwaway method, culling through some resumes, setting up a few face-to-face interviews and eventually selecting the most adequate of the lot. But hiring is the most critical part of developing a championship sales team! It’s time to create a formal process that involves assessments, phone screens, consistent interview questions and role-plays.
4. Compensate for results
Because most companies are afraid to scare away potential hires, they offer a massive base salary with a small bonus or commission opportunity. However, when you have a large salary and small commission, you limit the upside that a salesperson can really earn—even if he well exceeds his sales goals. Therefore, this type of compensation plan will be most appealing to B- and C-players since they'll still earn their healthy base salary even if they produce little. The A-player, however, wants massive upside when he hurtles past his sales goal. Because Joe’s compensation plan is a base salary with a small bonus, he's not only attracting underperformers, but actually repelling top performers. He must revise his compensation structure to deemphasize base salary and promote high performance.
5. Train consistently
A suggestion here and there doesn't count as consistent training. In order to develop a championship sales team, it's critical that you invest a lot into training. This means conducting regular trainings to reinforce the most critical selling concepts and ensure that every salesperson is on the same page technique-wise. In Joe’s organization, each salesperson sells in his or her own way. They're all over the map in terms of effectiveness. Joe must either develop or bring in an outside selling system for everyone in the organization to follow.
6. Create accountability
Most mid-sized organizations only track their salespeople’s sales numbers. But what about their day-to-day prospecting activities? How many calls are made, referrals asked for and meetings set up? By holding your salespeople accountable for their daily prospecting activities, you can predict what their pipeline will be, which is the most important indicator of future sales. Up until now, Joe has only reviewed sales numbers at the end of each month. This leaves his sales team feeling frustrated and without a clear daily plan to find success. By laying out what he expects his salespeople to do each day, Joe can more effectively manage his team.
7. Reassess strategy regularly
Once companies find a strategy that seems to work, they're often fearful of reassessing. The problem with sticking to one strategy for an extended period of time is that markets and ideal customers are dynamic and elusive. Your ideal client today may be entirely different in a year. Thus, it’s critical for management to keep its finger on the market’s pulse by staying in constant communication with the sales team. Currently, Joe does the occasional ride-along with hand-picked salespeople, but this is not enough. He must regularly engage in open discussion with his salespeople to learn what’s really going on. He needs to go on sales calls frequently and develop lines of communication with customers. Throughout this process, if he and his management team believe the sales strategy needs to be altered, they must test the changes with a beta group. If the strategy proves to be optimal, they must then implement it throughout the entire team.
Following these seven steps can take organizations from haphazardly managing their people to developing a championship sales team. In the case of Joe’s organization—with the right strategy, more A-players, a results-based compensation structure and a better-trained sales team that's held more accountable—the company has the potential to break the inertia of old habits within his team and ultimately increase sales.
This process does not happen overnight, but can lead to massive growth if implemented. By breaking the process down into seven steps, an organization can focus on one area at a time in order to build a well-oiled championship sales team.
Marc Wayshak is the author of two books on sales and leadership, Game Plan Selling and Breaking All Barriers, as well as a regular contributor for Entrepreneur Magazine and the Huffington Post Business section. He may be reached by phone at (617) 203-2171, e-mail Info@MarcWayshak.com or visit MarcWayshak.com.
This article originally appeared in the April 2016 print edition of National Mortgage Professional Magazine.