Below is a guest blog by Gene Marks, a CPA, author, columnist, and owner of The Marks Group. Gene writes every day on small business for The Washington Post; twice a week for Forbes, and weekly for Inc, & Entrepreneur.
Because my firm sells customer relationship management systems, we naturally deal with lots and lots of salespeople. Although I run my own business and I’m a certified public accountant, I consider myself a salesperson at heart. And we salespeople are an interesting lot.
Some of us like technology, others don’t. Some can sell just about anything; others are more specific in what they sell. Some I know are super-technical, while others are just more instinctive about their products. I’ve met great salespeople who are affable and irritable. Sociable and unsociable. Hardworking and lazy. Positive and negative. There is no one recipe for being a great salesperson. So for a manager, how do you manage this crazy group? How do you kickstart them to maximize their potential? How do you get them to sell as much as they’re able?
To me, it comes down to three important tactics.
Today’s most successful business people know that the data is the driver behind their decisions. The more data, the better – as long it’s relevant. The same goes for salespeople. Before meeting with a prospect or calling up a lead we need information. Has this person ever contacted us before? Has this person been on our website and where? What products would be of interest? Who is our competition? What are the issues? Where are they located? Who am I speaking to? Of course, there’s more. You can never have enough information.
Which is why smart managers are not afraid to share information with their sales teams. They usually do this through their CRM systems. They are committed to collecting as much data as possible – and keeping it up to date and accurate. They’re focused on providing their salespeople with as much information as possible – and wherever possible – to make their jobs easier. They invest in systems that send reminders, alerts, and messages to their groups so that nothing falls through the cracks. They build workflows to help them build relationships and close deals faster. They ensure that information can be shared between sales, customer service, and marketing because they know that a salesperson needs to know what they know.
Having the best information – and then sharing it – is critical for kickstarting your sales team. It’s a continuous job because the information is always changing. So building the right processes to ensure that your data remains up to date and reliable will contribute to your team’s success. The next thing is creating an atmosphere of competition.
Create an atmosphere of competition.
Good salespeople are competitors. They’re always hungry. They’re never satisfied. They hate to be beat – whether by their competition or by another salesperson at the company. Competition can be fun. But more importantly it can be an extremely productive way to kickstart a salesperson.
I’ve worked with dozens of clients who know this. Their sales managers pit their salespeople against each other. They set quotas and goals that everyone is tasked with meeting. They publicly display each person’s numbers – month and year to date. They reward the ones with the most sales, the highest average sale, the most improvement, the most activity. They never call out or punish those that don’t perform – the numbers speak for themselves. They offer prizes – cash bonuses, dinners, gift cards, vacations – to the ones performing the best. These prizes are a nominal cost to their companies. But the paybacks are usually significant.
This isn’t new. In the 20 years that I’ve been running my company, I’ve seen this practice over and over. Which means that it works. Competition, particularly among salespeople who value it, works. Creating this atmosphere will work for you too, particularly if you include lots and lots of mentoring.
Be a mentor.
The days of annual employee evaluations are starting to wane. Growing organizations are realizing that their employees – particularly the 50 percent of them who are from the millennial generation – are asking for more continuous feedback about their work. It only makes sense. People want to know how they’re doing. They want to make sure that what they’re doing is appreciated. And they certainly want to make sure that if what they’re doing isn’t good there’s time to adjust.
That’s your job. As a manager, sharing great information and creating an atmosphere of competition will produce better results from your sales team. But the best way to maximize those results is for you to be closely involved. Sure, there are always going to be the superstars who can sell ice to an Eskimo in January. But they need feedback like everyone else. Everyone needs mentoring.
You are the coach and cheerleader. You’re the leader and the guide. You’re the muse and the mentor. You need to take those numbers, along with the sales person’s attitude and work ethic, and together create personalized goals. You should be there to answer questions and check in proactively. You can do this by email or text but it will always require a little face to face. The best executives I know are constantly mentoring their teams – both as a group and individually. All the data in the world can’t make up for this.
There is no such thing as the perfect salesperson, just like there’s no silver bullet for getting the most out of your sales group. But there are some tried and true methodologies that have worked for years. Sharing data, creating an atmosphere or competition, and being a mentor are – when combined – one of those. I’ve seen it work again and again. There are some things that time just cannot change.