How To Make Your Sales Team Perform at Its Best
Discipline, morale, technology, and company culture - they're all closely related in this invariably evolving market. They feed off one another and, if you are not careful, can quickly spiral out of control. For an intrinsically tough, quantification-demanding sales landscape, the profound connection of all these elements makes all the more sense. It is paramount to find an equilibrium in your sales team so that this equilibrium can consistently feed back into the rest of your organisation.
This is where the oft-used but highly relevant phrase "productivity" comes in. It is a notion that's synonymous with "sales" but is much wider than that. It translates into performance, efficiency, achievement, and progression. It's about being able to go faster and further. Being more competitive and aggressive in a productive sense doesn't just mean getting the job done - it means doing it in a way that makes the most of your resources, human and otherwise.
As someone managing a modern sales team, the role of an effective leader is to build an environment in which this productivity is promoted and encouraged. So what does that entail? It should begin with setting goals - concrete, quantifiable ones that will serve as markers for success and can be achieved by the team through working together. But more importantly, it should highlight what all diseases plague a sales team and lead to poor outcomes.
Let's explore these diseases in detail and carve out a path for a high-performing and competitive sales team.
Discipline is often confused with the notion of following orders or doing as one is told. But it is an expansive term that refers to the degree of compliance, perseverance, and discipline with which you pursue your goals. An undisciplined sales team falls prey to poor decision-making, lack of accountability, laziness, indifference, and disorganisation. They are the lifeblood of a poor outcome and are the first victims of poor morale.
How to combat this? Let's take an example from the world of army. In the army, regimentation is a necessary evil - and without it, there will be a complete collapse in both discipline and morale. The job of an officer is to ensure that these troops are organised and fairly allocated to the necessary tasks, taking into account the skills and abilities of each individual. Similarly, powerful sales leaders should set clear roles for their sales team members - and hold them accountable to the expectations and requirements they have set. The clearer the roles, the greater their clarity in managing a team.
It's noteworthy though that sales is a more open field - that's why the word "expansive" describes discipline here. So, along these lines, it's critical and relevant to allow your sales team freedom of thought and action and empower them with the necessary skill and autonomy to enable them to achieve their goals. This autonomy could be nurtured by building a team culture that's:
Focused and supportive of a growth mindset
Promotes effective internal and cross-department communication
A bit flexible in allowing for mishaps - but follows them with concrete, actionable feedback
Constantly looking for new ways to improve the sales process
Nurtures a love for innovation and novelty
A lack of discipline and the absence of accountability will produce a team that's short-sighted, uninspiring, and ineffective. In the world of sales, these are some of the main causes of poor morale. But they're not all. For example, in the current context, scenarios like "conducting frequent, non-actionable meetings" or "not compensating enough for a job well done" can have a detrimental effect on morale and, ultimately, productivity.
Sales leaders must understand that high morale stems from trust and respect, and the more they know their members, the better they will be able to deal with situations that threaten it. Here's how to go about addressing morale-related concerns:
Personalise the communication: Personalise the meetings by talking at length about the challenges that are grave, focusing on the project's immediate requirements, and outlining the specific role of each salesperson. After all, you can't expect the sales team not to beat around the bush when they have no idea how to tackle a project.
Be honest and transparent: There is no place for a dishonest leader. If you're not doing well, fess up and explain the reasons for it. If you've made a mistake, acknowledge it and accept responsibility for it. Demand the same from your team.
Build a sense of transparency and trust: Strengthen the team by encouraging interactions amongst its members. Get them out of their silos: ask to see their reports, give them a taste of other teams - that sort of thing.
Keep the team together: Even if the individuals have been performing semi-decent at best, together, they can still be a unified force to reckon with.
Reward and recognise: Take time to acknowledge the achievements of your team members. This will help them feel that they are in control of their success. But at the same time, keep the recognition fair - do not be partial and biased.
Compensate adequately: Keep the compensation plan clear, transparent, and credible enough to motivate even the most lethargic of sales team members. At the end of the day, there's no denying that you're paying them for results - not for how hard they work on a day-to-day basis.
It's quite common to see when a "Gold rush" salesperson says that this month they will sell for millions, but the result is deplorable at the end of the month. Sadly, this trend also spreads to the customer-side interaction. For instance, customers often complain about how salespeople over-promised whereas the product or the service was not that great. This results in negative feedback and churn.
Of course, these are two different cases - but they are both rooted in an unhealthy sales culture. What's important to note here is that there is no point in setting goals without a set strategy to reach them. This strategy should align with the company's goals and be consistent with your sales process.
Consider this case; a sales lead joins your team, and they want to achieve sales targets of $10 million in six months. Is this going to happen? Maybe. If the sales lead has a clear understanding of the sales process and is committed to helping the team learn the required skills and steps to achieve these results.
But here's what actually happens. They set, or should I say, "overpromise" the results and fail to give concrete directions to the sales team. I remember an instance when this salesperson onboarded the team, scheduled a meeting, started with the great hook of the financial outcomes expected, and immediately after that asked - "So, how do you think we can do that?" Now, this person has burdened and confused people working for them and overpromised to the people in more strategic positions. The result if the plan doesn't work? Depleted credibility from the top and sales team, a drop in productivity and a sense of demoralisation, a drop in customer-side service levels, a drop in revenue. Do you see how big this disease can be?
So, how to treat it?
Start with a sales process audit: Conduct a review of your existing sales process. Then, identify what you do well, what you can improve, and the areas that are missing.
Prospect daily: One of the best ways to avoid building a culture where the gold rush is not acceptable and encouraged is by staying ahead of your prospecting. Put yourself out there, meet people, and get on first-name bases with them. Hold the salespeople accountable for their actions and ensure they can live up to their commitments.
Create accountability: Create an accountability system in your team based on the number of cases closed, the quality and quantity of leads produced, and the ability to meet targets.
Understand your prospect's needs: No matter how in demand your product or service is when you land a call, understand why they are calling you.
Train the sales team on providing insights to consumers: Rather than just pushing the product, teach your sales staff to provide insights that solve the consumers' problems. Provide training on getting to know the consumer, buying patterns, and consumer needs. Train them on ways to ask questions that dig deeper into the consumer's motivations and needs.
Repeat the best practices: Once again, the most important part about creating a sales process that works is the need to continuously improve it. You will not start out using all the best practices, so what you need to do is monitor and make adjustments as you go along.
Sometimes, whatever you do, your effort to get the sales team to work harder seems to fall flat. There are some employees who seem uninterested in what they do. Why? It could be that they're unmotivated, have no interest in their job, or perhaps they are just lazy.
This is a very well-recognised issue, and I've certainly seen it happening several times. When you've committed all the resources and efforts to adequately equipping the sales team and improving the sales outcomes, there's absolutely no reason to tolerate indolent people hindering the business's bottom line.
How to treat this? Employ a monitoring solution. Take the cue from Hawthorne's experiments - there's an increase in performance "of individuals who are noticed, watched, and paid attention to by researchers or supervisors."
An employee monitoring or control system can help you do just that. According to the KPIs and goals, you can understand who's performing well and who needs a nudge. For example, a control system can help visualise how productive each sales team member is and how effective their past performance has been pertaining to a specific product. Moreover, it will help craft a warning mechanism if a salesperson has fallen below the standard or is slacking - or is simply not performing up to their potential.
Such insights will enable you to take immediate action and get out of a bad situation before it gets worse.
The Bottom Line
Identifying the diseases, addressing them, and creating an environment that fosters good performance is not easy. But the competitive edge will always be on your side when you are prepared to operate with the constant review of your sales process - from case to case. The results will be well worth the effort. It's advisable to keep technology (like control systems) in the mix to help with every step of the way.