By Joseph C. Ellers
Effective sales organizations deploy a series of tools. When I go into companies that are not as effective as they want to be, normally one or more of these tools is either missing or some of the messages are in direct conflict with each other.
Let’s take them alphabetically:
Budgets. Almost all organizations have sales budgets for their team. Often, however, the budgets lack some of the detail required to drive sales success. For example, does your sales team know how much of their budget is supposed to come from new customers? Are they clear on their gross margin targets? Do they know which products/services they need to focus on? If your answers are in the “I’m not sure” range, this is something that you want to fix.
Calendars. You can’t be a salesperson without a calendar. You also can’t manage a sales team without calendar visibility. (This is where I normally get accused of micro-management, but I can stand it). Based on our simple discussion above about budgets, you really want to see if the calls the team is making in any way resembles the goals you established in the Budgets—before the calls are made, not after. For this reason, good sales management requires at least some random “forward looks” at what is planned for the upcoming week.
Compensation. The rule is to “pay for what you want.” You want to take a hard look at the way you pay your team. Do you pay the same for sales to new customers as to existing? If so, you are (subtly) telling the team not to sell new customers. Do you pay the same for everything your company sells? Do you pay the same commission percentage on 20% GP sales as you do for 30% GP sales? Compensation is not a substitute for the other elements of sales management, but it should line up with the objectives that you established in the Budgets.
Joint Calls. There are different reasons for making joint calls. These can be vendor ride-alongs or calls where management goes to solve a problem or help book an order—all valuable. The focus of this discussion, however, is the joint calls sales management makes with their team to look at what actually happens in the field. These are the calls you make without any purpose other than observation and coaching. You can look at Calendars and even results and still not know what is really happening. The only way that you know how to help each team member is to watch them work. This requires patience and if you’re not doing it, there will (again) be charges of micro-management. Help the team to see the value…your best salespeople will welcome the feedback because they are always trying to get better.
Opportunity Tracking. As a manager, you are concerned about the 3 Bs: Bookings, Billings and Backlog. You need a fourth B—Opportunity Backlog. Opportunity Tracking is not a Quote Log, although your tracking system should include quotes. You are really seeking to understand the following:
Are the sales calls producing opportunities?
Are the opportunities the “right” ones? (Meaning that they represent the correct percentage for the right accounts, new accounts, focus products and services…)
Are the opportunities moving forward?
Are there enough of them?
How effective are we at closing opportunities? Are there any significant variables, by salesperson or by product?
You know that if we are not working enough (of the right) opportunities, we will not get enough (of the right) orders.
The opportunity tracker also allows you to see the correlations on effort. If you were looking at a calendar for Salesperson A and they made 10 calls in a month to present a certain product and they generated no opportunities for that product, there might be a problem right? This scenario might even make you want to make a Joint Call with that salesperson to see how they present the product. (Are they presenting to the right people, at the right accounts and targeting the right applications?) As you can see by this example, every tool ties together.
Sales Meetings. While not always regarded as a management tool, your sales meetings can be a powerful prod in the right direction, if the meetings are consistent with the goals outlined in the Budgets. For example, if the sales meeting includes product training, is the training for focus products? These meetings also provide great forums for public accountability. (Once again, some salespeople do not like this form of accountability, but this attitude generally flows from individuals who are not getting the right results or doing the right things. If you are calling on the right customers/prospects, presenting the right products/services to right customers and working at a threshold level of quality, you will be at or near your results targets and you won’t mind having that pointed out).
The goal of the sales meeting is not to punish but to develop—and accountability is an important part of development.
Target Lists. The final tool is directly tied to the following: Budgets, Calendars and Opportunity Tracking. Effective sales organizations translate their clearly defined budgets into clearly defined lists of existing customers and prospects. Think about the following:
Are there some customers where we need to ensure that sales provide a high level of service to maintain their current business?
Are there some customers where there is significant upside potential and we need to focus sales efforts there?
Are there some prospects where we really want to focus sales efforts?
Assuming that the answers to these questions are “yes,” each salesperson needs a list at the beginning of the year that they will work. You can also see that it would be pretty easy to look at Calendars and the Target List and look for agreement. You can also work with the team to help them see the bridge between the Target List and the Opportunities they are working.
The goal is for every team member to clearly understand what is expected of them—and to have a clear direction on where you need to intervene as a manager. The use of these tools will help you and it will also help the team to be more effective.