Now, I don’t pretend for a minute to say that CEOs and/or business owners are deliberately sabotaging themselves.
But, nonetheless, their actions contribute to persistent underperformance of the salesforce.
Following are the actions that I’ve seen that contribute to this, as well as a recommendation to cure them.
- Hiring: It all starts with hiring. If you hire wrong, you will have poor or no sales results. CEOs and entrepreneurs frequently hire based on the “likeability” of the salesperson. Make sure that any man/woman that you hire is not only likeable but, even more important, successful selling in the form and fashion that your market requires. Don’t hire someone who has sold produce to sell software, for instance, regardless of how likeable they may be.
- Creating factions within the company: The CEO that allows any member of the team to disrespect other members of the team (regardless of their position) is allowing a very negative environment to surface and, tragically, flourish. Sales is a team sport. When the CEO treats sales like a team sport, productivity blossoms. Don’t make the mistake of letting a salesperson bully a non-salesperson and/or vice versa.
- Top-level criticism: I’ve seen many CEOs express their frustration/anger with the sales results produced, in public. This same CEO frequently makes a habit of criticizing a salesperson. One of the first management rules is praise in public and criticize in private. Violating this rule reduces morale and inadvertently causes management to overpay for continued underperformance. Without the overpayment, attrition would be higher than acceptable.
- Allowing inconsistent demand-generation activities: Someone on the team, other than the salesperson, should be involved with demand-generation activities (a.k.a. prospecting). In today’s market, gaining access to decision-makers is extraordinarily time-consuming and it reduces the productivity of an outside salesperson dramatically. If you make your salespeople prospect, they will underperform relative to optimum standards.
- Measuring against history: This is a common business problem. When I hear statements like, “Sales are up 15% versus last year”, I obviously congratulate the entrepreneur but I always wonder if they could be better. If so, what will it take to be better? One of the benchmarks of a world-class salesforce is the fact that they have a huge database (literally, everyone in the demographic sweet spot) and they touch that database frequently with educational messages.
- Unequal treatment: Many small salesforces have a “favorite salesperson”. This person is similar to the teacher’s pet which irritated all of us at one point in our education. If you have a teacher’s pet in your business, make sure he/she performs in the same form and fashion as everyone else. Maintaining a teacher’s pet damages the morale of everyone else and reduces their productivity.
- Inconsistent policies: There’s nothing worse than the entrepreneur changing his/her mind regularly. This causes the entire team to wait for the next change of mind. Consequently, the team waits and management fumes because sales results aren’t forthcoming. Set a course and stick with it long enough to know that you have to change. If change is required, let your team know why you’re changing, how you’re changing and, most importantly, help them understand what’s in it for them to work with you as you go through this process of change.
- Don’t conduct sales training: The entrepreneur that doesn’t conduct sales training / practice is the entrepreneur who has no idea what his/her salespeople are doing in the field. This entrepreneur assumes that their comp plan will motivate salespeople to perform at levels that are significantly higher than the salesperson may want to perform at.
- Misaligned compensation: Remember, you can’t make an adult want to make more money than they want to make. Having a comp plan that rewards handsomely in an environment where the salespeople don’t want to earn more money is a waste of time and energy.
I could go on with this list, but I hope you’re getting the drift.
Compare your behavior as the owner/entrepreneur of a business to the behaviors described above.
If some or all of them match you, you can get tremendous improvements from your sales team, as well as a reduction in your personal stress, by embracing the possibility of changing some or all of the ways that you recruit, hire, train, deploy, coach and de-hire, from time to time, your sales team.