I first worked with the client back in 2011 when they were a fledgling firm with only a handful of salespeople. They took the plunge to expand and up-scale their operation during 2013 and 2014, and I received the call from them last week.
“Help us please Paul, we’re struggling to maintain momentum, our revenue is falling, and our incoming calls are down, can you come in and help us to make calls to our existing client base to boost our revenue and help the guys hit their targets?”
“Of course I can, let me swing by later this week and we’ll talk it through.”
After an hour or so talking and chatting everything through, it became very clear to me that providing some training, so the salespeople could phone orphan clients, in order to generate some new business was clearly not going to work. The initial reason was that they would find the rejection of making these semi cold calls unbearable, and as soon as the phone started to ring again, they would again stop being proactive.
“How are you measuring them?” I asked. “They each have revenue targets of £7,000 per month,” he responded. “Good, what are their KPIs (Key Performance Indicators)?” I continued. “That’s it – £7,000 per month and we display it on a Z Graph up here on the wall”.
Clearly they were being targeted and pushed around the final numbers – the revenue per month. It was on the wall and you could clearly see who was doing well and who was struggling.
I continued with my questions. “What do you talk about in your sales meetings?” “We have them each Monday, and we talk about their targets, and their performance, and what they’re going to do to improve. We go around the room and ask each seller what they’re going to do to hit target that week.”
By the way, this is a classic error in sales management. Focussing just on the targets and the final numbers does nothing to help the salesperson to perform better. It just piles on the pressure, but many sales managers only measure this way, and harass their people to perform.
I continued. “How else do you manage your team?” “It’s difficult to do much else as we don’t have time, that’s why we want you to deliver some training”.
And at that point it was crystal clear to me what had evolved. My client had organically grown his business over the previous few years, had recruited some new salespeople, and now had a team of around 10 sellers. However, my client, who was the CEO, continued to sell to the higher net worth clients they had been dealing with for years, so had little time to do anything else apart from pursue them when they were short on targets.
Do you recognise this? Seen it all before?
In a busy marketplace, when your marketing machine is generating lots of new leads, and the phone keeps ringing, you can get away with it. But when things turn against you, for example, a quiet period, marketing failing to bring in leads, the competition raining on your parade, or a recession… you really do need to tighten up your performance sales management regimen. My client had not taken any of the actions recommended above. They had an effective marketing engine, albeit seasonal. They had a booming marketplace with an economy growing at a 3% increase in GDP year after year. They had little competition of note. Their issue was expansion. They wanted to grow their business, had recruited new sales people, and leased new office space with shiny new equipment and software.
They had grown up and matured, and I realised they needed some effective performance sales management. Allow me to explain what is needed to help them achieve their goals and stay in business, because right now, they’re haemorrhaging money.
The Performance Cycle
Let’s take a look at each area of the cycle and examine what the sales manager needs to do to complete the whole cycle. That’s the first point to make. This growing company needs a sales manager, someone who can provide the guidance and determination to see it through. To manage a team of 12 sellers, could easily keep a full time person busy. And they do need managing; my client had neglected this because they were so busy.
Strategy and Objectives
Evolve your purpose, values, culture, and overall aim of the business. Value proposition comes in here once you’re clear as to what you’re all about, your marketplace, and the offering you bring to the market.
Decide your route to market, how you can continue to bring in new customers, sell to these customers, and maintain a relationship with the same customers, so they come back to you when they need you again.
Engineer how and what this process looks like. We call this the sales process, it’s vital to have one, and you decide how detailed it is. Be careful of falling into the trap of letting your salespeople free wheel through the sales activities. Naturally they need to bring their personality, skills, and verve into the sale, but they must follow the pattern or process that you lay out.
Next comes your KPIs. Naturally you’ll have sales revenue targets, of course you will. These are known in the trade as outputs, lag indicators, or just plain and simple – the numbers. Have these, but spend more attention on other KPIs which will drive performance. Take a long look at your sales process, and decide what activities need to happen in order to achieve success and hit your targets. Prospecting calls, first meetings, written proposals, etc. You can make these KPIs and focus on the quantity of them if you wish, but better still, consider how you can measure the quality of them.
For example, appointment making calls. You can have a KPI of 10 per week if you wish. I would also want the quality to be measured, i.e. for every 3 calls, 1 appointment is made. This 3:1 ratio becomes a KPI in its own right.
These are known as activities, and lead indicators. What gets measured gets done, as the phrase goes. Strive for less focus on the targets and revenue numbers, and more focus on the myriad of activity KPIs that will bring success. So long as the activities are carried out with the pre-requisite skills, then the numbers will fall out at the other end.
It’s a brave decision to focus on these and not the sales numbers, but if you do, you’re well on your way to performance success in the cycle.
Communicate Your Objectives and Plans
Whenever I’m asked by clients to help with re-engineering sales processes and KPIs, I always start with the concept of “ownership”. The people who want to buy into all of this are members of your sales team, so ask them to create the sales process, and to determine the various KPIs they need to achieve success. The concept and the process are simple and very effective.
Communicate the objectives annually, quarterly, and monthly. Gain buy in to the objectives and finesse this by creating a motivational environment for them to operate in. Motivation is intrinsic, it comes from within. For salespeople, it’s about recognition, the chance to fulfil their potential, challenging and exciting work, and constant development. It’s not about reward. Reward will stimulate them, but they expect this, and more of it won’t necessarily provide a motivational environment for them to excel.
Rewards are bunched up with other “hygiene” factors such as working conditions, style of management, and relations with others. You have to get these right first before you can really motivate your team to perform.
I’m going to mention training here. If any of the performance objectives are not going to be achieved due to a lack of skill or knowledge, then announce to the sellers that you have organised a programme of training throughout the year to help them achieve these objectives. This is very motivational, will allow you to ensure success, and the cost of the training can be counterbalanced by the revenue that you’ll be getting when the objectives and targets are met.
Measure and Monitor
My client had a giant whiteboard on the wall which measured the sales results, day by day, and also a moving annual total as a Z Graph. Granted, this is very illuminating, satisfying for the manager, and quite stressful for the sellers who saw this only as a way to drive their performance.
Your CRM system will form the foundation of any measurements, so build into this your activities based KPIs and measure them. Keep an eye on the KPIs and share these with your sellers. Put them on a whiteboard, if you want, or on your “dashboard” contained in your CRM system. These are indicators and won’t tell you the whole story. Remember I mentioned that if your sellers do these KPIs and bring in the required level of skill, then they will hit their numbers. It’s the required level of skill you want to monitor. And that’s where coaching comes in.
Field visits are the answer where you observe, give feedback, and coach. Observe these against the sales process and create some form of observation aid which you can also use in new recruit training.
Collect forecasts from your salespeople to help measure and put together milestone objectives which measure revenue or targets over a shorter period.
Carry out regular one to ones with your salespeople to discover how they’re doing, and to identify any problems, or issues that you can help with. Include feedback on their KPIs and other activities that you’re measuring.
The previous activity was essentially observing and monitoring; now we want to review performance. It’s very easy to say they’re not achieving target, but this is merely focussing on the output which is too late, that’s why we call it a lag indicator. Performance against activities need to be reviewed here, as well as the KPIs that determine the amount or quantity and the quality of the KPIs.
Naturally, if performance is good or exceptional I wouldn’t correct it but I would applaud it. Remember sales people thrive on recognition, so make sure you offer it. I’m going to go against the grain now and say that this praise needs to be also done in private not in public – it’s just too embarrassing for the salesperson involved and just winds everyone else up. Therefore, make it private.
It’s also in private that you should provide feedback on a negative performance, that’s why we have performance review meetings at least monthly.
Jointly decide what you can both do to improve on performance, here’s a list to remind you:
- Training in all its guises – shadowing, job rotation, workshops, reading, videos, and podcasts.
- Counselling if the reason for the performance drop is Inner Game
- FISH to find out the cause of the performance drop
- SPELL it out if they don’t see it themselves. Particularly if the issue is attitude not skill.
- Inject something new into the motivational environment you provide.
- Bring someone else in
My final ingredient is the sales meeting. I’ve not mentioned it before because most are badly run. A true sales meeting should be all about helping the team to hit its numbers. The role of the sales manager, their core reason to be, is to achieve the sales objectives of the business through the team at their disposal. So the sales meeting should have activities which include training, coaching, role-playing, idea generating, and sharing best practices. It is not a place for checking sales results and asking them what they’re going to do to improve.
That’s just counterproductive and de-motivational.
This is my blueprint for what a successful sales manager needs to do. My client needs to do all of these things and he’ll see his business results improve, and become consistent. He can then safely upscale his operation, since he now appreciates the value and true role of the sales manager.