In this final post on Scaling a Sales Team, I turn to execution tips. Driving your sales team to operate at maximum effectiveness is a one of the most difficult operational issues you will ever face as a leader. From start-ups to $50m private companies to the IBM and Oracles, we are challenged to keep the momentum moving forward. This is where scaling is different from growing. I’ve listed 10 challenges you will face or are facing and solutions I’ve found by failing. It’s a long post but it’s such a vital subject!
10 Challenges with Solutions
- I like to think of all business processes in every department as having leakage. Really bad leakage can happen in one department and bring down another department. It’s certainly true of sales. So often we are brought in to address a flat lining situation and the problem lies outside of sales. For example your story being told in the market (by the marketing department) is weak, lacks a connection with the prospects or is just inconsistent. The marketing collateral therefore generates a low volume of leads or weak quality or both. Sales teams will struggle. So in scaling sales teams think through your plan for marketing. Align the type and volume of leads necessary to set your sales professional or team up for success. Set Marketing Targets for each campaign and relentlessly measure the ROI (margin or sales value divided by campaign cost), acquisition cost of leads, popularity of topics on blogs, and downloads. Which part of your story is working?
- I’m being commoditized in the market! Your newer sales team members will suffer from this factor unless you train them to reframe the agenda. Teaching a world-class sales process and really embedding it in your business is not an optional extra. The process will ensure, using specific techniques, that your sales team diagnose the real issues worth solving, the reasons why your company is best placed to solve those issues and the ROI achievable by investing in your technology/service/product. Much more of that here.
- Sales team members are fighting over a lucrative account and both claim they got there first. Over to you Mr. Sales Manager! Plan for success by getting ahead of the curve on account allocation. Devise a system in advance that allows allocation of leads and prospects to be done fairly. You could allocate NAICS sector codes to each sales professional, or specific products, or territories or market segment. The point being why allow mystery to fester in a sales team when you can deal with 99% of issues up front with an appropriate policy. As you expand you will also encounter the inter office rivalry between offices. Tokyo Vs. Boston Vs. London. If a product is sold in Boston but is being sent to London, is it a UK or a US sale? My general rule is that for commission purposes the deal is allocated to where the work is done and that usually means where the decision maker is based. The fact the product ends up in England or Mexico or China is irrelevant.
- It’s not fair, Frank and Tamsin of the sales team are close friends with Amanda the number 2 in marketing and they always get content published that helps them get ahead of anyone else. As you scale watch for marketing agendas being hijacked by very strong personalities in your sales teams. The marketing manager needs to ensure that campaigns help all sales team members not just Frank and Tamsin!
- Don’t underestimate the use of visual cues. White boards with key numbers motivate people. I like to see tables/graphs highlighting:
- Current month of closed business in $ by sales professional or for bigger businesses by sales teams.
- Names of live deals with $ your team are chasing this month.
- Quarterly forecast showing a comparison to target and last year.
- Show bar graphs of the monthly sales performance.
- Separately the Marketing white board should graph the performance of lead generation.
- As you scale your team you need to standardize your “onboarding” of new recruits. Build their training around 3 focus areas: markets/customers, technical product knowledge, sales process. Work out their first 6 weeks in detail as if it were a curriculmn at college.
- Setting targets is always a challenge but see my previous blog post in this series for some tips on ratios. As a general rule I like to see sales targets no lower than 7 times the “on target earnings” figure.
- Teaching product knowledge is clearly essential but specifically you need to teach how customers will use the product and the outcomes that can be expected from your product.
- Don’t confuse sales techniques with sales process. You need to teach both. Sales techniques are skills you can teach a sales team to optimize a performance. How to negotiate, how to listen better, how to diagnose issues, how to get prospects to prioritize, how to wrap an ROI around investments. But that alone will not generate a consistent performance. You need to embed a Sales Process. I use the Prime Process more here.
- Finally remember to share what is working in your sales teams. Of course you need to have processes, measurements and metrics in place to be able to analyze what’s working. Understand the stories behind the numbers to allow scaling to happen on the back of facts not guesses.