Q&A: Sharpen up your sales force

Contributor - Andy Preston

A sales team celebrate a big new contract sale

If you can increase sales without hiring more staff, you can do more to protect cash flow than most cost-cutting measures

Andy Preston (AP), director of sales performance training company Outstanding Results, explains how training can help improve the performance of your sales team.

What makes a good salesperson?

AP: "In my opinion attitude is more important than any perceived sales skills - a good salesperson needs to be confident, tenacious, passionate, motivated, able to take knock-backs and has a get-up-and-go approach."

What makes for an effective selling technique?

AP: "There's a misconception that if someone talks a lot they are going to make a good salesperson. The key thing to remember is that effective selling is about listening to what the customer needs."

But do sales skills differ in different sales environments?

AP: "Techniques differ hugely between low-end and high-end products, as the length of the sales cycle is different for a sports car and office supplies, for example. If you are looking to qualify a prospect and secure a meeting, your strategy will be different from selling a product or service over the phone."

So how do you create an effective sales training programme?

AP: "When it comes to training, it's important to take individual needs into account. A training needs analysis should be undertaken - either formally or informally. Most companies fail to do this, content to meander along in the hope that the individuals will somehow figure it out on their own.

"But there are many areas to assess, such as winning new business, tenacity, determination, relationship-building skills, flexibility, questioning, closing deals, confidence and self-motivation. Trainers need to know what the individual needs of the salespeople are so they can deliver techniques that can have a personal stamp put on them - it's important for salespeople to sell in a way that is in keeping with their personality."

Should you reinforce training with performance targets and incentive schemes?

AP: "If you're dealing with full-time salespeople then targets are important - otherwise they'll lose motivation. These have to be realistic, however, and it's important to involve the sales team in setting them.

"If you offer incentives, they have to be inclusive - a one-size-fits-all approach often doesn't work. A trip to Barbados for your most successful salesperson can actually demotivate other team members. It's better to set goals and decide incentives on an individual basis."

How else can you improve sales performance?

AP: "Focus on the motivation of individual team members through regular one-to-one sessions and a commitment to delivering training that inspires and motivates them. Whether internal or external, training is vital to keep the standard up - and it's important to find a trainer who is willing to do regular sessions rather than just a one-off, as this will deliver more effective results."

Expert profile picture


Andy Preston

Andy Preston is a leading expert on sales and selling. Originally a professional buyer, Andy became not only the top salesperson in his company, but one of the top salespeople in his industry, and draws on that expertise to help people with sales and difficulties with selling.

What does the * mean?

If a link has a * this means it is an affiliate link. To find out more, see our FAQs.