Topic overview

Managing sales staff

Sales meeting discussing targets, agreeing strategy and supporting the team to make more sales.

Effective sales management helps you get the most out of your salespeople. Simply setting targets and expecting results is not enough, however. Perhaps more than in any other business area, sales people need hands-on support and guidance to help them succeed in what is a particularly challenging role.

Setting expectations for sales staff

Successful sales management starts by establishing what you want your sales team to achieve. Key activities typically include acquiring sales leads, pitching, negotiating, closing sales and managing customer relationships.

Your sales and marketing strategy should help you determine what the priorities are. For example, your goals might include building your presence in a new market or you might have shorter-term goals, such as pushing a new product after launch or generating quick sales to boost cashflow.

Whatever your sales strategy, it needs to be translated into specific objectives and communicated to your salespeople so that they know where to focus their efforts.

Create a sales story

Clarity is the key. Make sure every member of your team understands what the business offers and who the customer base is so that the sales story is consistent across the team. It's also important for your sales staff to know what their targets are and who is reviewing their progress.

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.

As the business owner or manager, you’ll also need to identify any sales tools, technologies or other resources that your salespeople need to support their efforts.

Sales staff recruitment and training

Knowing what you want your salespeople to achieve helps you decide what knowledge, skills and attitudes are required for the job. Key skills 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 and accompanying salespeople to sales meetings if necessary.

Incentive schemes for salespeople

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 reset priorities.

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