Are you an effective sales manager?

A client called to discuss with me that he’d not been getting the results he’d wanted from a salesperson. The salesperson’s reports had shown lots of active prospects and that sales from many of them were “just around the corner”.

However, when the client decided to examine what that meant a little closer, he found out that in most cases, the “corner” was months away. The impact on cash flow projections was significant to the point where the viability of the salesperson had to be questioned.

The salesperson was enjoying a base salary plus allowances to cover vehicle, phone, etc and had the added incentive of commission on sales. The base salary was enough to live on but was unsustainable for the employer without the revenue from sales.

The result was that the salesperson was, in effect, eating from profits before they were made. He was comfortable but at his employer’s expense and wellbeing.

He was faced with no option but offer the salesperson a “Commission only” package. Guess what happened when he did? That’s right, the salesperson fled.

My client then spent time backtracking over the salesperson’s work. What he found wasn’t pretty: leads that hadn’t been followed up, proposals that hadn’t been done and call reports that were not entirely accurate. He’d been given what the salesperson wanted him to see rather than the real story. The tragedy was that had the salesperson been honest with him (and he wasn’t honest with me, either), we could have done something about it.

This brings me to the subject line. I talk regularly with a number of business and life coaches – several of whom are also clients, and one common thread I hear is “If only I’d known…”

We’re only as good as the questions we ask allow us to be. When we learn to ask better questions, and listen to the answers, we’re better able to help ourselves and those we deal with.

My client hadn’t asked his salesperson the right questions about lead-time. In turn, he didn’t have accurate information about cash flow and as a result, we were unable to change things before it was too late.

Could this have been averted? Probably. What should have happened? The client should have explained the financial “facts of life” of his business more clearly to the salesperson and should have done it before he started. The client should have made the salesperson more accountable in his reporting and their prospect generation process undoubtedly should have been “cranked up” harder and faster – and sooner.

I guess the real truth is that nobody was prepared to ask the hard questions.

If you were to be brutally honest with yourself, what questions are you avoiding about what you do? If I were to call you up on the spur of the moment, what would you not want me to ask you?

Today is the day you need to ask them and, if you don’t know what they are, find someone who does. You only don’t know what you don’t know until you know it…

(c) James Yuille

Managing salespeople

Having spent close to 40 years working with, training and managing salespeople (and being one myself), I think I’ve earned the right to make a few observations about them. Here’s what I believe…

  • Not everyone is cut out to be a salesperson
  • Not every salesperson will succeed
  • Recruiting salespeople isn’t easy
  • Managing them can be very frustrating
  • Despite what they tell you, they hate cold-calling
  • Despite what they tell you, they’re replaceable
  • They hate filling out reports
  • They can, and often do, break your heart.

However, when all is said and done, if trained and managed correctly, they can be your greatest asset.

Why does someone become a salesperson? Frankly, it’s often because they couldn’t find anything else to do. Most careers have an entry path; try just becoming a dentist or a carpenter without doing some training first.

Yes, most salespeople enter the business because someone has told them, “You have the gift of the gab. You should try selling.” So, by fronting up for an interview and, because they can fog up a mirror, they get hired.

They’re given a pack of brochures, some business cards and a territory map and they’re off! Yes, this person whom you barely know is now charged with the financial future of your business. They are responsible for increasing your revenue, bringing new customers into the fold and managing your current customers.

You tell them you expect 20 calls per week; set them a target, maybe offer a bonus for achieving it and every day you watch and hope that something will happen.

Three months later, you’re facing the fact that they’re failing to produce the results you expected… lots of activity, many promises but not enough revenue.

What happens now?

Let’s take a timeout here and ask some questions…

  • What are they actually doing all day?
  • What are they actually saying to your prospects and customers?
  • How are you tracking your return on their wage?

You don’t know?

It’s interesting, isn’t it, that something like 80% of Companies that employ salespeople have no formal inductions or training process for them. What’s more, they have no way of testing their competency either before or during the recruitment process.

They just expect that this new recruit knows what to do, knows what to say and will just make sales.

Let me ask you this; what would you do if you bought a fork lift truck that didn’t lift, an accountant who left you with an unexpected tax liability, a lawyer who didn’t protect your trademark or a receptionist that couldn’t take a message?

Yet you hold on to salespeople who don’t meet targets, who give you false hope and cause you nightmares.

Why? (more…)