Are You a Sales Manager or a Sales Leader?
 
November 1st, 2003

Energize your troops and build morale By Jim Pancero Nov-Dec 2003

Sales managers work hard directing all of their energies to reducing costs, improving operating efficiencies, and doing everything possible to keep the doors open. These are all critical responsibilities but they only work to maintain their environment. Sales leaders will do everything sales managers do…and will realize their most important responsibility has to be building and growing the business. Sales leaders realize that when their people are firmly stuck in the mud, they need to be pulled out.

How you, as a leader, handle your team will have a direct impact on your potential success or failure. Your people do not need a “Drill Sergeant” who tries to motivate the troops by yelling and threatening. You cannot hammer your people into change. The key is to lead by affirming and staying positive.

#1 – STABILIZE AND QUALIFY EXISTING CUSTOMERS

How many of your competitors do you think are already actively working to establish new business relationships with your current accounts? What are you doing to make sure your existing customers are protected from these attacks?

Now is a critical time to go back to your existing customers to affirm and stabilize your relationship with them. Consider making joint sales rep/sales manager calls on all of your most important accounts. Then, beginning with their largest accounts, send your reps out to interview and evaluate how your company is doing with the rest of their territory. Every customer needs to be asked:

- “How do you feel about the job we are currently doing for you and your company?” – “What can we do to improve the way we are supplying and supporting you?” – “What do you wish we were doing more of compared to what you see other companies doing for you?” – “Can we come back in and evaluate how you are using what you are buying from us to see if we can either reduce your costs or increase your efficiencies using what you are already buying from us?” – “Are there other areas, departments or locations within your company that we could work to help lower their costs, improve their efficiencies or in any other way to improve their business operations?”

Most sales organizations only go in asking these questions after they have lost the business … not before. Consider offering current customers additional discounts or volume incentives to make sure they feel you are interested and investing in them. The best way to keep your competitors away from your current business accounts is to make sure your existing customers feel they are important to you, getting lots of attention from you and are being treated to the same discounting you are offering your new prospects.

#2 – INITIATE AN AGGRESSIVE NEW BUSINESS PROSPECTING PROGRAM

As you work to insure your current accounts are happy and stable you also want to lead your team in an aggressive new business initiative. How much new business prospecting has your team initiated so far this year? How much business is being won by your competition at accounts your team has not even called on? As a sales leader you need to help guide your sales team through the following steps in order to initiate and implement a successful new business-prospecting program:

Step 1 – Identify who your best or core customers are. “Core” customers are the accounts that receive the most benefits and paybacks from buying your full line of products. These are the companies who you will most likely win in a competitive battle because you are the best fit for their business. Who are the best prospects (or industries) for you and your team to go after first?

Be aware that most managers feel this is a useless question and believe everyone in your company already knows the answer to this. Try asking your people to write down the top four types of companies or markets you have the best chance of winning. When they compare these lists, most organizations are surprised at how varied the answers are. Give your people this test and then coach them as a team as to where the best prospecting targets will be.

Step 2 – Identify your strongest initial selling message that will gain the most attention from a new prospect. The toughest question in selling is from the prospect who looks you in the eyes and asks “You’ re the fifth vendor I have talked to this week about this, why, based on all the competitive alternatives available to me do I want to buy from you?”

It is useless to send your sales team out hunting for prospects if you do not give them any ammunition. Hold a planning session with your team to discuss the best way they can answer a prospect asking this critical new business question.

Step 3 – Identify when, and how much time each sales rep will commit to new business prospecting over the next 30 days. The majority of your sales team will tell you how excited they are about your new business prospecting efforts, and then will not make any new business calls. New business prospecting remains one of the most distasteful parts of any sales job. Prospecting requires you to go to strangers and get rejected on a fairly high frequency. No normal person likes to spend the day being rejected by strangers! You need to get solid commitments for specific days and times they will prospect or else there will never be time for anyone to make new account calls.

In addition to their ongoing prospecting commitments also consider organizing special “Blitz Days” where you get your entire team to commit to one or two days a month where the entire day will be dedicated to making new business prospecting calls. Make it an event that either starts off with a breakfast or ends at a bar so this becomes a positive experience and an exciting and energizing break from their territory. Be aware that not following through on this “commitment of time and energy” step is one of the biggest reasons new account prospecting programs fail.

What can you do as their sales leader to make sure they are committed, equipped and actually working at building new business? Once your team has successfully completed this 30-day program consider renewing the program again for another 30 days and then finally integrate it as a permanent ongoing process to their territory management.

Step 4 – Monitor the new business efforts of your team to insure they are making their calls, delivering a solid message, and continuing their calling efforts. It has been proven that for the vast majority of sales teams, the new business prospecting program will become less and less of a focus and ultimately fail unless you continue to monitor their prospecting efforts on a regular and consistent basis.

#3 – BEGIN SOME TYPE OF SALES TRAINING TO ENERGIZE AND FOCUS YOUR TEAM

Energizing and focusing your sales team are two major contributors to changing your sales team’s behaviors and selling direction. A slow market in a down economy is one of the best times to conduct sales training. Unfortunately, this is also the time you can least afford to spend any money on training. It has been proven that training on new ideas to improve the selling skills of your staff is one of the best ways to improve the attitudes and to re-energize a sales force. This is a critical time to begin or expand any sales training you have available. Product or technical training tends to have no impact on the morale or energy of your sales force. They need to feel they are improving how they can reach and sell additional business.

If you cannot afford an outside trainer consider a sales training video package that can be facilitated by you, their manager. These tend to have a relatively low cost while still achieving a high level of new ideas. Or, visit your local bookstore and pick out a few books on selling you feel could help your team. Assign the books to one or more of your people and then ask them to lead your team in a discussion of the relative ideas outlined in the book as well as what types of actions your team can implement. The goal is to get them thinking and talking about new ways they can sell. The bottom line is you need your team to apply more energy, creativity, effort and intelligence to their selling efforts. What can you do to get your people to look at their job and territory with a fresh and renewed view?

Suggestions To Start Your Process Of Change Some suggestions to help you begin this exciting process of change, increased work efforts and rebuilding of the morale and energy level of your entire team:

Suggestion #1 – Have your entire team read this article and then lead them through a discussion about the ideas covered. Consider asking them:

Question #1 – How relevant is this article to what we are facing as a sales team? Question #2 – Based on the suggestions outlined in this article, what do you think we need to do next that could have the greatest impact? Question #3 – How committed are you to personally working to change and improve the way you sell? Question #4 – Will you allow me as your manager to help you and the rest of our sales team through this process and to be your coach?

Suggestion #2 – Hold a one-day retreat as soon as possible to focus, brainstorm and plan a new course of action. You will have a higher probability of success if you have them work as a team. A shared experience of change tends to generate more energy than someone working alone. Also remember to keep this meeting positive and moving forward. This is not the time to reflect on what went wrong, but to plan and strategize on how you can move forward.

Suggestion #3 – Increase your “one on one” and team management communications with your reps. If you want to generate change within your team then you as their manager and leader need to have more face time discussing, coaching and leading. Spend more “ride-with” time with each of your reps. Talk to them daily to ask how it’s going and how are they feeling about all of this. Again, make sure to keep your message and energy positive. Remember, you are coaching and leading them into positive change, not whipping them into submission.

UTILIZING THE “STEPS OF CHANGE”

To keep your energy and communications positive consider working through the “steps of change.” It is impossible for you to announce a new business prospecting program and then immediately start looking for, and measuring results. Any change takes time. Your people will need to work through the four steps of change measurement.

The first step of change is attitude. This is something you can immediately measure. Do they have the right attitude about what you are attempting to do to help the team and your organization?

The second step of change is effort. Are they actually implementing what you are asking or suggesting? They do not have to be doing it right…as long as they are attempting to do something different.

The third step of change is progress. Are they starting to make thing happen? They do not have to have actually sold anything yet, but do they have prospects who are progressing through the selling process?

The fourth and final step is results. Only after you work your people on their attitudes, their efforts and their progress can you finally look for and measure their results. Working through each of these sequential four steps as a coach and leader allows you to immediately manage, measure and encourage your team through their entire process of change.

#4 – ONCE YOU HAVE A NEW MOMENTUM CONTINUE TO COACH AND LEAD YOUR TEAM TO MAINTAIN THEIR ENERGY AND ATTENTION TO THESE NEW SELLING EFFORTS

Following these four suggestions can provide a way to lead your team through this challenging economy. But any change will disappear in a matter of days or weeks unless you, as their manager and leader, continue to work daily to maintain their focus and new selling efforts. You are the most critical component to the long-term success of changing and improving your sales force.

SO NOW WHAT?

I am sure you have already been doing a number of the ideas suggested in this article. The question is not what you have already done…but to ask what can you do differently to improve and build a stronger sales team in this challenging economy. You might want to continue to ask yourself and your sales team…

“We know you’re good…the question is are you good enough to get better?”

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