The way that companies sell their products and services has changed dramatically with the advent of the Internet and other advances in telecommunications. So, what is the right approach to sales for your company?
Let’s review the obvious alternatives:
- No sales people, just rely on your website and word of mouth to bring prospective clients to you
- Inside inbound sales reps who respond to prospective clients who are encouraged by advertising or your website to make contact with you
- Inside outbound sales reps who rely on phone and email to actively make contact with prospective clients
- Outside sales reps (which kind?)
- Who focus on bringing in new clients? (Hunters)
- Who focus on generating additional business from existing clients? (Farmers)
- Who are also responsible for developing their own leads? (Lead Generator Hunters)
- Who have leads developed for them by a dedicated lead generation team? (Closers)
- Some combination of all of the above?
Most companies have a “love/hate” relationship with their sales reps. Although unfair in the general application, like all stereotypes, many sales reps earn their right to their stereotype honestly. As a result, they are a more complex management issue than many other employees.
Sales teams have a reputation of having a revolving door, with employee turnover typically much higher than other employee groups. This turnover can have roots on either the sales rep side or on the management side, but management can only control what it does.
Not all turnover is bad, since the objective is to achieve results, and if a particular rep is not performing and all other alternatives to improve their performance have failed, then a change has to be made. However, a careful review of the entire sales rep hiring, onboarding, training and ongoing management process from end to end may improve results and reduce turnover as well.
Perhaps it is time to challenge the acceptance of the “revolving door” mentality for sales reps. Maybe a different approach could improve sales and lower costs – wouldn’t that be a good thing?
Sales Reps Want to be Challenged
Sales reps are generally competitive by nature. Financial incentives are important, but even aside from financial rewards, most sales reps want to win just for the thrill of being at the top of whatever list or contest is currently underway. By tapping into that competitive streak, management can create a constantly refreshed set of challenges that can be both short-term and long-term so that a culture of both excitement and renewal is created.
Develop Your Sales Team
There are two sides to investing in any employee. The obvious one is that through training, educational assistance and encouraging employees to attend seminars and industry conferences, management is ensuring that employees have the skills and knowledge to do their jobs effectively and perhaps prepare for career advancement. The second side, and no less important, is that by investing in employees, management is making a statement that they are worth investing in. Many would argue that the appreciation employees have for organizations who are willing to invest in them has a positive impact on improving employee loyalty, reduced turnover and a strengthening employee engagement.
This is particularly true for sales reps who can benefit from not only product training but also training with respect to sales effectiveness including lead generation, organization skills, interpersonal skills, pipeline management and closing skills.
Ensure that the Incentive System is Appropriate for the Situation
Much has been written about compensation for sales reps including the ratio of salary to incentives and the structure of incentive programs. Without getting into detail here, what can be said is that the full effect of whatever program is selected should be carefully considered at the outset, including unintended consequences. Depending on the situation, you may or may not want to encourage sales reps to be aggressive in achieving their goals in order to maximize their compensation. If reaching their immediate short-term target is done at the expense of the organization’s long-term relationships with clients and potential clients, then that may not be a wise course of action. Also, by choosing a particular type of incentive system (or none) you are also defining the role in a particular way that will also attract or discourage certain sales rep personality types who are comfortable with your structure (or not).
Patience is Underrated
It takes time to establish a sales function in an organization that has not had one before. A full year is a conservative estimate, after which time a properly planned program, which has also been staffed by the right type of sales rep or reps, should then be performing effectively on a month-to-month basis. This, of course, will be after a year of no results gradually leading to weak results and then finally to modest and then perhaps quite acceptable results. Expecting a new sales function to produce great results month to month in less than a year is overly optimistic.
Similarly, new sales reps need time to get acclimatized. Depending on their level of experience in general and with your particular industry sector specifically, this might only be a couple of months. However, what can be measured almost immediately is the behaviours that will eventually lead to success. If the right behaviours are there, then success will eventually be achieved.
Firing an employee and replacing them is not cheap after considering the cost of hiring, onboarding, training, and eventually packaging out an employee. Instead, consideration should be given to working with a struggling sales rep with a focus on the behaviours that, if adopted successfully, must lead to successful outcomes.
Are Sales Reps Part of Your Strategy?
If your product or service is more complex and its adoption depends on relationship building and a person-to-person information exchange, then sales reps of some type should probably be an important part of building revenue. The selection of the type of sales organization and the type of compensation structure will determine the type of individuals who are most suited as sales reps for your situation. As with most plans, it is far better to take your time and do it right.
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