Getting the most out of your sales team is an essential part of ensuring your business achieves its full potential.
Salespeople operate in a stressful environment where they are exposed to rejection and frustration. Along with ensuring your sales staff have the right skills, you need to organise and motivate them.
1. What you want
Use your sales strategy to define the type and number of salespeople you need
- For example, if you need to cold call prospective customers, you may prefer salespeople with telesales experience.
Look out for skills that reflect your business needs
- At least some experience of sales and sales negotiation is needed, particularly in newly-established businesses.
- You may need salespeople with existing contacts in your customer base.
- Decide how much knowledge about your product and market you want.
- Build on existing skills through training and development.
The key attribute for many sales people is attitude and enthusiasm
- Motivation is crucial. Demotivated sales team members make ineffective and reluctant salespeople.
Use appropriate channels to find potential recruits
- Advertise in publications such as the Daily Telegraph or the Guardian. The Grocer is also used by sales personnel from all industries.
- Use internet job sites such as Fish4jobs and Monster.
- Ask existing team members if they know of potential recruits.
- Network and get recommendations from your customers.
- Approach competitors’ sales representatives directly.
Choose your sales team carefully
- A poor salesperson has a disproportionate power to harm your business.
- Plan thoroughly before you interview.
- Involve existing team members in the recruitment process.
- Make sure team managers have the right skills for their roles.
Use an appropriate employment contract
- Many contracts include a clause that aims to limit an employee's ability to take customers away when they leave.
- Set out a code of conduct and define clearly what is unacceptable behaviour. For example, poaching customers from other salespeople or submitting creative expenses forms.
Use competitive remuneration to help attract and retain good salespeople
- The aim is to achieve an appropriate balance between basic and incentive pay.
- Low-basic, high-commission pay structures are often suitable for young firms, as they keep fixed costs down.
- Use basic pay to reflect the importance of sales activities that do not generate commission, such as customer care.
- If individual salespeople’s efforts have little effect on sales performance, you may offer higher basic pay. For example, the job may consist largely of order-taking rather than selling.
- If the pay package includes significant performance-related pay, you will need to convince salespeople that your company offers good sales potential.
- Consider other perks that salespeople may find attractive. For example, a company car.
- Be aware that high sales remuneration can cause conflict with other employees in less well-paid areas. Make sure pay packages can be justified.
Structure incentive pay to reflect your business objectives
- For example, do not pay commission based on sales volume if your aim is to increase the number of high-margin sales you make.
Use incentive pay structures that reflect the challenges of the sales environment
- Rates of commission should be linked to the selling price, and to the amount of effort needed to make the sale. It could range from 5%, if the product is easy to sell, to higher rates if a major effort is needed.
- Offer weekly or monthly bonuses for sales people working in competitive markets, such as advertising.
- Review incentive pay annually and adjust as necessary.
3. Training and development
New recruits will need a basic induction
- Give them information about your products, company and market.
- Brief new recruits on your company sales strategy and policy. Ensure they understand your standard terms and conditions of sale.
- Spell out all other relevant details. For example, your policy on dress code, travel expenses and entertainment costs.
Monitor and develop employees’ customer contact skills
- Many salespeople need to improve their listening skills and learn how to ask intelligent questions.
- Use rehearsal and role play to develop your team’s customer contact expertise.
- Develop salespeople’s negotiation skills.
- Set up relevant training courses and monitor their impact.
Use individual coaching to build confidence and expertise
- Accompany individual salespeople to key meetings so you can observe them in action and give useful feedback.
- Plan opportunities to meet and motivate employees, before and after sales calls.
- Work with salespeople individually to overcome problems, build strengths and provide opportunities for development.
Monitor progress by holding quarterly performance appraisals
- Be positive. Focus on opportunities to improve performance.
- Pay particular attention to those areas where employees may feel little incentive to perform. For example, keeping good sales records.
- Discuss with individuals whether underperformance is their own fault or a problem with some aspect of your sales strategy or sales support.
4. Team objectives
Work with your sales team to set sales targets
- Negotiation is essential to secure salespeople’s involvement.
- Be aware that salespeople are often keen to focus on customers who bring them short-term benefits.
- Agree monthly targets based on your sales forecasts.
- Set targets for individual accounts, individual team members and different sales teams.
- Avoid setting targets too high. Failure to achieve unrealistic targets can demotivate your team.
- Avoid raising targets because of previous good performance. It is better to agree increases based on the company’s overall performance.
Agree key performance indicators
- Define what number of sales should come from which number of visits, calls or contacts - your sales conversion rate.
- Set out the sales and contribution required from each sales person.
- Assess levels of customer retention and repeat business.
- Beware of setting the wrong indicators. For example, measuring the number of telephone calls made might be appropriate for simple telesales but not for managing key accounts.
Monitor individual performance in weekly one-to-one meetings
- Base monitoring on the key performance indicators.
- Concentrate on assessing the profitability of sales activities, rather than volume.
- Understand the challenges of different accounts or territories that may be more difficult to sell to. It may be necessary to adjust your targets.
- Use individual performance monitoring to identify weak links.
- Use tracking software to help improve your understanding of salespeople’s performance, and your ability to develop them.
5. Organising the team
Plan your sales team’s activities using your sales strategy
- Clearly communicate your sales objectives. For example, in relation to new and existing businesses.
- Outline how you want to deal with different accounts.
- Agree how much time is to be allocated selling different products, to different types of customer, in different areas.
- Agree a sales budget. For example, for any promotional material or equipment the sales team require (see Using the right tools).
- Tell the team about sales margins and pricing.
- Set out your policy on incentive pay.
Allocate responsibility for different accounts, products or geographical territories
- Keep to a minimum the number of people handling each account. Many customers prefer a single account manager, even if other individuals are involved in selling particular products.
- Maximise your sales team’s productive time by using sales support and customer service employees.
- Put your best salespeople into new sales initiatives, letting you benchmark what can be achieved.
- Where different salespeople are handling the same account, set out how they will communicate.
- Be aware of the danger of creating conflict between team members. For example, if two people both feel they have contributed to making a sale, or both want to be allocated a profitable client.
Set clear ground rules for the level of responsibility and freedom salespeople have
- Outline how far salespeople can plan and carry out customer contacts independently. Agree whether they decide when to contact customers, or if they have to follow a set call plan.
- For example, telesales might follow a script, routine sales contacts would be handled independently, and key salespeople would plan (and attend) key meetings.
- Set out what budgets are available for travel and customer entertainment.
- Tell salespeople what freedom they have to negotiate discounts.
Organise and communicate information
- Get salespeople to complete weekly sales activities reports.
- Hold weekly team meetings, monthly for field-based employees. Share news and discuss problems.
- Get salespeople to report back on customer comments, enquiries and complaints.
- Agree priorities for the next week or month, including specific objectives.
- Allow salespeople to access sales information using software such as Salesforce.
Using the right tools
Provide appropriate sales materials
- Create a set of standard documents, such as call sheets, standard contracts and proposal forms.
- Provide promotional material. For example, brochures and price lists.
- Give support documentation, such as telesales scripts.
Give your sales team the equipment they need
- A good database is essential.
- Your sales team may need powerful contact management software if you have many high-value customers.
- Mobile phones and laptop computers are basic tools of the trade.
6. Motivating the team
The motivation and support of your sales team is a key factor in achieving your sales and business objectives.
Give salespeople the support they need
- This is particularly important for team members responsible for winning major contracts.
- Hold regular one-to-one meetings to discuss objectives, performance and problems. Watch out for signs of low morale or personal problems.
- Take every opportunity to praise, congratulate and motivate.
- Work to minimise stress levels among employees.
Improve team managers’ leadership skills
- As well as being good sales people, team leaders must also have strong organisational and administrative skills.
- Team leaders need to be a coach, listening to, supporting and developing each team member.
Work to build the team
- Keep a league table of team and individual achievements. For example, identify territories or customers where sales have been particularly successful and reward all those involved in that success, including support and customer service employees.
- Plan social events for the team to relax together.
"If you plan to introduce non-sales people into selling roles, you may need to overcome sales aversion. Gradually wean employees into the role, by inviting them to attend internal sales meetings and customer visits" - June Lonsdale, Anglo Recycling Technology Ltd