From my early days at Xerox (just under a million years ago) to our current experience with many organizations in many industries, we see daily examples of what does and what doesn’t work for recruiting and managing a sales force. At Kathbern Management, a Toronto-based recruiting firm, we help organizations to recruit people for a wide variety of management and non-management roles but probably nothing can have as significant an effect as getting the sales function working well.
Here are a few ideas that we have recognized as being important. I would say (other experts, please weigh in on this opinion!) that these ideas are well implemented in less than 10% of organizations. No wonder business is difficult!
Have a Structured Approach
Be organized. Clearly define the rules governing compensation, territories, and account allocation. Write the rules down and distribute them to the sales force. Have objectives in the hands of the reps before the start of the year. It’s absolutely ridiculous how many times we see organizations and reps that don’t even know what their targets are for the year until the year is well underway. This is nuts.
Find Out What Motivates
Not everyone walks to the same drummer. You can’t have tailor-made compensation plans for each individual, but some sales reps will respond to subtle encouragement where others need an outright challenge. Some want independence, whereas others need a coach. This is called Situational Management and the sales leader has to be capable of managing the different individuals on the team differently, even if their overall compensation scheme is the same.
Create Incentive Plans Carefully
Ensure that the incentive plan aligns the goals of the sales rep with those of the organization. Make objectives achievable with a modest reward for a near miss and substantial acceleration in reward for over-achievement. Too many incentive plans are badly constructed and done in a hurry. These are critical to getting the most out of the sales force and therefore critical to maximizing revenue for the organization.
Stats must be up to date. There is no clear picture of the future if there is not a solid base of historical facts to work from. Incentive systems must be measurable and the data to compare actuals to targets must be available on a timely basis to enable a timely payment, otherwise, the incentive value is completely lost.
One thing that I will always remember from my early days at Xerox was the ability of that organization to create excitement. Everything was measured, reported on and rewarded. Even non-sales personnel had competitions and rewards (not necessarily financial). The accounts payable people from each branch across the country were measured monthly on which branch made the fewest errors. These people would kill to be in first place and there was no direct financial incentive involved at all!
As for the sales reps, in addition to their regular commission and bonuses, there was always a competition to be among the top 3 reps for monthly sales. Stats were posted daily. The prizes were often trivial – a Cross pen, a case of wine, some kind of sports gear – it didn’t matter – they would all kill to win the prize and win the recognition.
Ensure that everyone in the sales organization has a clear understanding of what their responsibility is. “Who’s Got the Monkey?” is a classic Harvard Business Review article that outlines the importance of this. Sales management has to accept responsibility for revenue generation without whining about external factors. S**t will always happen – the targets are the same. Similarly, sales reps are responsible for their territories and their accounts. Problems will come up and they need to learn to deal with them. The organization isn’t getting a waiver for external problems so the internal team had better buckle down and make their targets regardless of the difficult challenges that the big bad world throws at them.
Choose Sales Leaders Who are Mentors
The best sales leaders are teachers. They are very organized and will hold reps accountable for their goals and their KPI’s. They follow a training protocol for joint sales calls that are:
1) I do, you watch
2) We do together
3) You do, I watch
4) You do on your own
Sales leaders are hopefully in their roles because they were successful sales reps. They need to also be able to communicate and transfer those skills to their team, although some successful sales reps are not able to make this transition to leader.
You have a team of sales reps with varying degrees of sales experience in general and varying degrees of experience in your industry. No matter how experienced any rep is, training should be constant. A good part of the benefit to the organization in making an investment in any training (sales or otherwise) has nothing to do with the content of the training. Training is seen by employees as the organization making an investment in them and therefore it is very motivational and tends to build a bond with the organization and reduce turnover.
Sales training can come in many forms and can be rotated to focus on different themes. Many qualified sales trainers can provide ongoing programs tailored to your needs.
Give them what they need and stay out of their way.
Coach them to make them stars.
- Struggling & Newbies
Coach them constantly with the basics.
Kathbern Management is a Toronto-based executive recruiter focused on working with organizations who are seeking to find and hire the key people who are critical for their success.
Contact us today for a free consultation about your key person search.