Effective sales management helps you get the most out of your salesforce. Setting sales targets and sitting back is not a winning approach. Perhaps more than in any other business area, sales people need hands-on support and guidance to help them succeed in a particularly challenging role.
Your sales and marketing strategy should help you determine what the priorities are. For example, strategic goals might include building your presence in a new market and creating a sales funnel of new prospects. You might also have shorter-term goals, such as pushing a new product after launch or generating quick sales to boost cashflow.
Whatever your strategy, it needs to be translated into specific objectives and communicated to the salesforce so that they know where to focus their efforts.
Clarity is the key here - for you as a manager and for all members of your sales team.
You need to think clearly about your customer base and what your business offers them - get that sales story consistent across your teams. And your salesforce needs to clearly know what's expected of them, and by when. It's also important for your salesforce to have clarity about who's reviewing progress and targets, and when they're going to do it.
In many businesses, sales strategies flounder because there's a lack of clarity in some or all of these areas. If a salesperson doesn't fully understand their role, responsibility or target, they won't perform to the best of their ability. And if you're not providing clarity about what the offer should be and clearly measuring performance, you won't see where the gaps (and opportunities) are.
It's a good idea to regularly check across all aspects of your sales operation - have I thought clearly about the customer and the sales story? Are my sales team clear about what's required and when? And are there clear reporting structures that are being used and monitored to make the most of your team's talent?
You'll also want to identify what sales tools, technologies and other resources you need to help your salespeople be effective. Well-planned systems and policies can help boost effectiveness. Financial costs such as investment in new equipment and sales expenses will all feed into the sales budget along with your sales projections.
Knowing what you want your sales force to achieve helps you decide what sales people you need and what knowledge, skills and attitudes are required. Key skills typically include interpersonal skills as well as specific skills in sales techniques and negotiation.
A well-planned induction program can be an important element of getting new recruits up to speed. As well as helping a new salesperson settle in, induction should include basic information on the company and its key policies. Potential problem areas such as expenses should be clearly explained. Key issues such as standards of conduct and restrictions on poaching clients after leaving the company should be included in employment contracts.
As well as on-the-job sales training and formal sales training courses, the sales manager has a role in sales coaching: passing on his or her own experience, accompanying salespeople to sales meetings if necessary and so on. Sales team leaders may themselves benefit from sales management training.
Salespeople are most likely to perform well if they feel that sales targets are fair and achievable. It's important for the sales team to feel that customers have been allocated fairly. Sales targets should be agreed rather than imposed.
Wherever possible, sales targets and incentive schemes should be directly linked to company objectives. Indirect performance indicators such as number of sales calls made can encourage pointless activity.
Even direct sales targets need careful planning and management. Salespeople may be incentivised to skimp on other activities - such as customer care - in the pursuit of achieving sales targets and bonuses. Poorly planned targets can encourage undesirable outcomes: for example, high but unprofitable sales. Individual sales targets can prompt unhealthy conflict within the sales team.
Hands-on sales management is vital, including regular contact with each individual salesperson to motivate and support them. Regular sales team meetings can be used as an opportunity to review progress, share knowledge and fine tune priorities.
Find more articles, videos and tools in the Resources box.