Plan for action



Every profession requires a specific set of steps – or process – to be successful. For example, detectives collect clues to solve crimes, scientists use experiments to develop new medicines, and treasure hunters use maps to find hidden fortunes. Similarly, sales supervisors need a process to help them successfully lead their team to the pinnacle of the sales performance mountain.


Last month I explained that sales managers are the ‘coaches’ of a company’s sales team. In turn, sales representatives are the players and customers are the referees. In order to be effective coaches, it is paramount that every sales manager designs a customised ‘playbook’ or set of strategies to help his or her sales representatives at any given point throughout the course of a sale.


Let’s face it, the sales process can be lengthy, therefore a sales coach’s playbook must be updated constantly so that it is useful for any situation. The best way that you can keep your playbook up-to-date and help your sales team be successful is to develop a specific plan of action, follow a set procedure, and define your role as a sales manager.


Identify key customers


The first thing to do when developing a plan of action is make a list of your current practices. The list should include the names of your current sales team members as well as the names of your sales representatives’ best customers and target prospects. The list should include larger customers as well as those with significant potential. Take a few moments to look over your calendar for the last 90 days, to find out how much time you’ve spent with your salespeople and their customer base.


Next, write down the names of the decision-makers at each of those key customers. Perhaps you don’t know many of their names. The first time that you write a list of current practices it will be normal – not acceptable, but normal – not to know the individual names of each and every one of your sales representatives’ key customers and prospects. Likewise, you will not be alone if you find that you spend several hours each day in meetings discussing your salespeople, but you spend only a handful of hours each year working directly with them.


I coached a sales manager, Jim, who was having trouble holding onto a valuable customer. During our first meeting I asked Jim to recap some of the account’s history. Jim told me that his top performing salesman had been in charge of the account for more than five years. The rep unexpectedly left Jim’s company and a few months later the customer’s purchase totals began to taper off even though Jim had re-assigned the account to another high-performing rep. The account never regained its leading status.


I looked Jim in the eyes and I told him that he was the reason the account was failing. Even though Jim had assigned a competent salesman to the account, Jim himself had never made a point of personally meeting the customer. He admitted that he rarely accompanied his reps on sales calls. Jim worried that going on sales calls with his reps would be taken as meddlesome and intrusive.


What is the best way to get to know someone? Spend time together! How can you learn about a salesperson’s strengths and shortcomings unless you are out in the field calling on customers and prospects with them?


Spending one-on-one face time with your sales team and with your customers is the best thing you, the sales manager, can do to ensure success for your company, your reps and yourself. However, before you set up your first meeting you must set a procedure that you will always follow for one-on-one work with your reps.


There are two approaches to individual face-to-face work with your sales force: tactical supervision and strategic supervision. Both methods afford you an opportunity to work alongside your sales reps and both require you to set goals for your meetings. In turn, you will get to know your salespeople, their customers, their prospects, their selling style, their strengths, and their weaknesses. You will be armed with the knowledge necessary to strengthen your team.


The first type of supervision, tactical, requires you to go out onto ‘the pitch’ with your sales reps. In some cases ‘the pitch’ will be a conference room at the office, and in other instances, it will be the sales person’s car as you travel to an appointment. Whatever pitch you and your rep choose does not matter; what matters is that you are together and working towards a common goal. Tactical supervision is a non-threatening way for you to observe a sales representative in action.


Set a goal to spend at least 12 to 48 days per year tactically supervising each of your sales reps. Twelve days out of 247 (taking into account weekends, a few bank holidays, and a well-earned two-week break) is not much time to get to know a salesman, his customers and prospects, strengths and weaknesses. Obviously, top performers have reached their status by working hard and building strong relationships with their customers; therefore, the 12-day end of the spectrum may be reserved for them. The opposite, 48-day, end of the spectrum, then, should be dedicated to helping new and under-performing sales representatives to grow their business.


Salespeople are the face of your company. Almost all of the salespeople that I know work more than 40 hours a week. Don’t you want to know, firsthand, how your sales team is representing you and your company?


The second type of supervision, strategic, is best called into action after you have spent a substantial amount of time working directly with your reps. Before you can strategically supervise, you must know the challenges that your sales team faces when making cold-calls, when prospecting, when presenting solutions to customers, and when negotiating with buyers. Once you make some field notes, you can begin to put together an individualised winning strategy for your sales representatives. You will become a part of the selling process. Knowing and understanding the challenges and triumphs of your team will unlock a plethora of opportunities for you and for them.


As soon as you commit yourself to spending between 12 and 48 days per year with each member of your sales team, you can begin to define your role as sales manager by setting a course for each meeting. Talk to each rep and agree upon a fixed day and time for your tactical meetings. Again, it is unlikely that your top performers will need to meet with you as frequently as new and under-performing salespeople; nevertheless, don’t forget that they will need some of your quality time.


Step up as a leader and set a directional agenda for your first meeting so that you give each of your sales representatives a starting point and a target. For example, supply each salesperson with a list of customers and prospects you would like to meet. Try to give your reps at least a week’s notice so that they have ample time to set up organised meetings.


After a few weeks, turn the tables and ask your sales reps to begin setting the agenda (again give them ample time to plan a course of action). Give your reps a chance to show you that they can lead. A key phrase for introducing the reverse agenda is, "Where do you need me- Remember, once you ask the question you must listen to the responses of your reps. Some of your people might not come straight out and tell you where they need you, but they will likely show you where they need help if you give them a chance to set the agenda. You will empower the members of your team when you show them that they have a voice and their voice is being heard.


Salespeople have a difficult job: they have to maintain a strong customer base and, at the same time, grow new business. They have to create solutions that relieve the unique problems of unique companies, and they have to report to a sales manager who may or may not remember the pressures of selling. Now, however, you have the tools necessary to show your team that you remember the life of a salesperson. You have the tools to develop a specific plan of action for working with your sales force. You know how to follow a set procedure for tactically and strategically supervising your reps and you understand how important it is to define your role as a sales manager.


Every day sales reps have to prove their worth. Every day sales reps have to define themselves. With a little help and guidance from you, your sales team will learn how to grow their business and better serve their current customers. The more time you spend, face-to-face, with your sales force, the more you will be respected as a team player.