Winning ways



In sports, the players on the team must consistently contribute results or they will quickly be replaced. It’s straightforward: Everyone knows what they must achieve to deliver a winning season.


In selling, the same is true: If a salesperson isn’t contributing results for the company, he/she may have to be released as well. Although not as straightforward, a salesperson’s contribution is usually measured in sales or profit dollars. And for the company to have a winning season, each and every player must play their part.


If there is a player on your team who isn’t making the ‘cut’ then start by looking at yourself and asking the question: Do they know what is expected of them? Now you may think that is simple and the answer is obvious to you, however, as the coach/sales manager, you must make sure it is crystal clear to your players.


A ten-year research study completed by Bruce Tulgan at suggests that the best managers are "regularly spelling out expectations and setting concrete goals and deadlines with clear parameters". He believes they "offer specific feedback and direction about ongoing work on a daily, weekly or even monthly basis".


So before you start ‘cutting players’ make sure that each and every one of them knows what is expected.


Big question


When dealing with the question of quality or quantity the answer is both!


Let’s start out with quality. Qualitative competencies for salespeople are highly important. However, they are undoubtedly difficult to measure and are highly subjective. Qualitative measures are the skills and abilities that a salesperson must possess to carry out the steps of the sales process. Questioning, presenting, negotiating, time management, self-confidence, and professionalism are all examples. Determining the effectiveness of a salesperson’s ability to perform these competencies is not simple. In fact, I would challenge that it is nearly impossible to accurately and completely measure a salesperson’s qualitative competencies.


Yet I have seen example after example of performance appraisal forms that expect a sales manager to rank or rate their salesperson in a variety of qualitative competencies such as attitude, questioning skills or negotiation abilities. In some cases, a manager that has very little ‘ride-along’ time with the salesperson and without that on-the-job observation is attempting to make these appraisal judgements.


Another consideration regarding performance appraisals is that in many cases neither the person delivering the appraisal nor the person receiving it gains any value from the process. Qualitative competency performance appraisal reviews are one of the deadly diseases of business.


Does this mean that a sales leader shouldn’t place importance in the qualitative aspects of a salesperson’s job? Absolutely not! Instead of agonising over how you will rate your salesperson on skills such as how well they negotiate or ask questions, ask him/her to rate themselves.


In reality, the salesperson will be better able to determine which competencies they need to improve upon. And believe it or not, most salespeople will be honest about their personal rating. In fact, they may be harder on themselves than you would be.


After the salesperson has ranked themselves on their qualitative skills you should meet with them and help them put together a development plan for improvement. At this point your job as a sales manager becomes that of a supporter and resource rather than the person who is ‘judging’ their abilities.


Quantitative measures


Quantitative measures fall into two categories: Activities and results. Proper sales activities will generally lead to sales results. Examples of sales activities are (the number of):


• Prospecting attempts


• First appointments


• Proposals to new prospects


• New customers


• Sales calls on current customers.


In sales, activities are the starting point when determining why a player isn’t getting results. You need to know first off: Are they making the sales calls? Are they doing the work that leads to sales results?


Really it’s not that different from a sports team. When I was coaching our local club’s U-18 soccer team, we went through a period of time when the boys were struggling with putting balls into the back of net. So instead of focusing on why we weren’t scoring we changed to measuring shots on goal. I told my boys that I didn’t care if we scored, I just wanted them to take good shots on goal and that the goals would follow. Now in reality, I did care about the score, however, I wanted the players to shift their focus onto performing the activity that would lead to the result.


In selling the same is true. I am working with a dealer who has two salespeople who have been struggling to grow their sales over the last couple of years. In analysing their situation, I determined that they were not performing the adequate amount of activities to accomplish their goal. So instead of focusing on making sales, I am having them start out by measuring certain sales activities; specifically the number of first appointments they have with new prospects. Obviously, a critical activity in selling is getting that first appointment. By having the salesperson focus on this specific activity it will most likely lead to sales results.


However, where the ‘rubber really meets the road’ is in sales results: Activities don’t pay the bills. Results are when the ball does go into the back of the net. When you are measuring quantitative sales results there is no debate – the salesperson either made the call or made the sale or they didn’t; there is no personal subjectivity.


Here are some examples of business product dealer quantitative results:


• Sales volume


• Gross margin percentage


• Gross margin dollars


• Average order size


• Sales penetration percentage of key accounts


• Product mix penetration


• First year customer sales dollars


If the salesperson is completing the activities but not getting the results then it points to the issue that they are not effective in carrying out the steps of the sales process. Now is the time for you as a sales manager to put on your coaching hat and start helping them with the qualitative skills that will drive their results.


Performance issues


Unfortunately, too often sales managers will avoid dealing with an ineffective player. After all, it’s not easy to talk with someone about their lack of results. The sales manager will put off the discussion hoping that the problem will solve itself, which it almost never does. It’s best to have the conversation sooner rather than later.


Here are some basic steps you can follow when holding a performance discussion with a salesperson:


1. Identify the problem and address it immediately. Don’t wait in the hope that things will work out on their own.


2. Discuss the problem with the salesperson.


• Be professional, calm and even-tempered


• Focus on the job and the performance, not on the person


• Point out where they are not meeting the performance standards


• Discuss a plan for improvement


• If for some reason, they do not agree to improving, explain the consequences of their non-compliance.


3. Agree to a follow-up plan.


4. Follow-through and monitor results.


When discussing the performance problem with the salesperson be careful of referring to non-quantifiable characteristics or making subjective comments.


The responsibility for sales results ultimately lies with the sales manager


Your job as a sales leader is to constantly raise the effectiveness of the players on your team. If they improve, sales will improve. If sales improve, everyone is happy!