By: Landy Chase
The Pareto Principle, or 80/20 Rule is an accurate and useful tool for explaining why so few sales managers attain high levels of success in managing their reps. This principle, as it applies here, suggests that 20% of the sales people produce 80% of the sales. I have always found this to be an accurate benchmark when working with sales teams, including when you hire top sales people. Unfortunately, that also means that 80% of sales people do not succeed. Who is to blame for this situation: the sales person or the manager?
That depends largely on your employee selection process. If you have a tendency to hire sales people based on experience, you are probably doing so to side-step the hard work of developing and training your staff properly. Unfortunately, most employee motivation problems are found with experienced reps who have lost the desire to be truly successful. Instead, all they really want is the ability to get by, make a decent living, and pay the bills. While there is nothing wrong with wanting to be mediocre, you are never going to be a superstar sales recruiter by hiring from this pool of candidates.
Your other option -- and the one that I strongly recommend in your employee recruitment -- is to hire hungry, motivated people who may lack practical experience but have a burning desire to be successful in sales. While you cannot teach an unmotivated candidate to be motivated, you can have great success in teaching an untrained, motivated person how to be successful. The catch, of course, is that you have to be willing to put the time in to develop their potential. The best method for accomplishing this is comprised of five steps:
1. You must have an established, replicable, step-by-step process for managing the sales cycle. This does two things for your organization: it provides a blueprint for your new sales people to follow, and it establishes benchmarks for measuring skill execution within each step in the process. Without it, you lack the basic infrastructure for training sales employees. Your group will degenerate into a confederacy of independent mavericks who each have their own ways of doing things, and you will find that this is an environment in which is virtually impossible to measure real progress.
2. You must recognize that your primary job function -- and the sole determinant of your job performance -- is coaching your sales people in the field. It never ceases to amaze me how many sales managers rank their priorities in exactly the reverse order of what they should when it comes to this issue. The typical approach to coaching is, “I’ll get out in the field with my reps if I can find the time to do so”. They then allow meetings, paperwork and putting out fires -- all activities which have virtually no value in determining a sales manager’s job performance -- to interfere with the task at hand, which is to grow sales by developing your people. If you aren’t spending at least 30% of your time each week in the field with your reps, you are not going to be able to significantly affect their sales performance.
3. You must be willing to be the leader. Leadership in the sales management function is simple and straightforward: to have the respect of your sales people, you must be willing to do the things that you ask them to do, and, more importantly, you must be better at doing them than the reps are. Some examples of this would include: making prospecting phone calls while the reps observe you, leading sales calls while the reps watch, negotiating deals while they take notes, and generally teaching by example.
4. You must be fair and impartial. Too many sales managers let the line blur between supervisor and subordinate. They become “buddies” with their direct reports, and then run into difficulty when dealing with performance problems or personnel issues. Sales managers who have an overpowering need to be popular run into this problem on a regular basis – it’s in their genes from their selling days, but it also means that they will have difficulty in their role as the supervisor.
5. You must hold people accountable for results. Without being a taskmaster, you need to be comfortable in clearly communicating what minimal expectations are in the job, and that there are consequences for failure to meet these expectations. This does not mean that you routinely fire people. It does mean that reps who do not meeting minimum sales expectations can expect to be put on probation, with eventual employee termination a possibility if reasonable improvements are not achieved in short order. If this is handled properly, your sales people will not view this aspect of their work as a negative consequence. Rather, they will respect you for your impartiality and your commitment to goal attainment. The art of building a winning sales team is to be part friend, part leader, and part taskmaster. By working as a mentor with your people, providing necessary training, and holding people accountable in employee performance reviews, you can reap great rewards as the team leader.
Landy Chase, MBA, CSP is an expert who specializes in speaking to corporations and associations on professional selling and sales management topics. His new book, Competitive Selling, is now available at all major bookstores. To book Landy for your next sales meeting, visit his website at www.landychase.com or call (800) 370-8026.