Advice for sales managers.
It is common for managers to encounter difficulty when attempting to change the behavior of their salespeople. It is also common for managers who are not getting the desired level of cooperation to become autocratic and threaten the salespeople with negative consequences if satisfactory action is not taken.
This approach almost never works, for the simple reason that your people will only do what you want them to do when they are motivated, in a positive manner, to do it. Trying to force your will on your subordinates is a recipe for failure. You get your people to sole a business problem by making the problem theirs, not just yours. The trick is to find a way to get them to take ownership for the problem so that they then can find a solution. How is this best accomplished?
Engage Employees’ Input When Planning a Course of Action
This is the most important step. If you allow employees the responsibility of producing a solution to the problem, they will almost always take ownership of it. Conversely, if you don’t, you’ll usually get no cooperation. Say, for example, management decrees that salespeople must develop new customers to replace lost business. Despite the salespeople being fully aware of the immediate need to develop new customers, their input was not solicited in how to address the issue. Instead, they were told, “This is your goal,” which made the goal someone else’s (management’s). Predictably, therefore, the sales team wasn’t on board with the need to take action.
Let the Sales Team Come Up With a Solution
Salespeople are running a business within their own market or territory. As such, they should be given responsibility to solve problems and make decisions. Managers are often afraid of losing too much control in taking this step, which is both unfortunate and unnecessary. Everyone knows that the boss retains the right of final approval. Besides, you’ll likely be surprised to find that the team’s solution us very close to, if not better than, what you would have decided to do anyway.
Require Measurable Results
When presenting a problem to the sales team, be clear in requiring a quantifiable outcome as part of the solution. For example, it is not sufficient to ask the sales force how they will gain new accounts. Have them commit to a specific minimum amount of new business, on a per-rep basis, as part of the solution. There are a number of ways to approach this including a minimum number of new accounts, a percentage increase in new account revenue, or a minimum profit amount from new customers. The term “minimum” here is very important. Minimum means, “Anything below this level is unacceptable.” It is a benchmark for satisfactory performance, and everyone must understand that those who fail to meet these minimum objectives are not meeting the company’s expectations of performance.
Make a Reward System Part of the Program
Too many sales organizations overlook the importance of positive reinforcement as a motivation tool. Sales contests that are tied to the company’s sales objectives are more than just a good idea. They make the challenge fun and should always be an integral part of the problem-solving scenario. Once again, let the salespeople tell you what they want for a prize, after giving them a budget for it. After all, who are you to determine what other people consider valuable as an award? Don’t make the mistake of dangling a carrot that nobody wants.
Negotiate to an Agreement
You may not completely agree with the solutions that your salespeople come up with, but you don’t have to. What’s needed is a solution that works, whether you would have come up with it or not. It is, therefore, important to be as cooperative as possible in arriving at a mutually acceptable plan of action. Once an agreement is reached, publish a written memo and circulate it to all salespeople for review. This serves as their opportunity to give final approval before the new directive is implemented.
Offer Resources and Support
Your first responsibility as a manager is to provide support and assistance to your direct reports in their selling efforts. Once the sales team establishes an objective to solve the problem and you agree with their recommendation, you may be asked to provide training, computer resources or other support mechanisms as they tackle the problem. Whenever possible, give them the tools that they request to get the job done. You have a responsibility to do so, and, by meeting your end of the “bargain,” you are in an enhanced position to hold them accountable to deliver.
Hold People Accountable for Goal Attainment
Of course, you may have people who do not keep their commitment. This is where your prior empowerment strategy begins to pay dividends. In such situations, the conversation will now be, “I’m confused. Why haven’t you done what you said you were going to do?” The accountability issue is where it belongs- with them, not with you- and the conversations about correcting the performance issue stay focused where they belong- in their court, not yours.
Ultimately, your objective is singular and simple: attaining results. Salespeople are entitled to their own opinions about how to get those results; you are not a babysitter. Your role in management is to provide support and assistance as they pursue their business goals. They can, and will, go about achieving it any way that they see fit. This is perfectly acceptable as long as they recognize that, regardless of the strategy employed, the bottom-line requirement for results attainment remains the same.
|Meet the Author
Landy Chase is a speaker on professional selling and sales management skills whose dynamic and unique ideas have earned him over 1,000 paid speaking engagements. He received a President’s Club award as a sales professional and platform experience as a National Sales Trainer for a national corporation. Mr. Chase is based in Charlotte, North Carolina, and on the Web at www.landychase.com.