It’s easy enough to rally the troops with a pep talk: “Starting today, we’re going to boost sales by X percent over the next quarter.” But rousing speeches and motivational platitudes only go so far. What about removing barriers to performance? Or driving change from a proactive mode as opposed to a reactive one? What about all that paperwork and all those meetings that stand in the way?
While there’s no silver bullet to achieving sales effectiveness, there are several drivers that can help sales managers influence and enhance sales rep performance. Here are five keys to unlocking productivity within your sales team.
Enter your 1-on-1’s feeling prepared, so your reps leave with confidence (and drive higher revenue).
1. Stop playing “pretend team”
Most sales divisions are actually “pretend teams,” says Leonard Glick, an executive professor of management and organizational development at Northeastern University’s D’Amore-McKim School of Business. “If that’s the case, then the answers to productivity lie in individual motivational techniques and the corporate culture.” So ask yourself: What are the shared standards of excellence? How much collaboration is there as opposed to lone wolves working the field solo? How much joint problem solving is going on? The answers to these questions will reveal where you need to start in creating a unified sales culture.
2. Go to bat for your players
Too much motivation comes from telling teams how to behave—but how much comes from showing them you’re right there with them? “When a sales team knows that a sales manager is going to bat for them they will work harder—and ultimately sell more to show their appreciation,” says Brian Sullivan, vice president of global accounts with Sandler Training, a leading sales training organization. And what do you use that bat for, exactly? Squashing red tape, that’s what.
“The most effective teams have sales managers running interference on the endless administrative tasks, and talking with other functions about limiting the amount of administrative tasks in general.” Hmmm. Less paperwork equals more paper, as in sales invoices and dollars.
3. Trade in sales prize gimmicks for shared team goals
A sales prize may spur some short-term excitement and spark. But it also pits sales force players against each other. “Sales team leaders should not get distracted by all the gewgaws that surround sales: incentive awards, prizes, motivational programs,” says Rick Maurer (pictured), author of Why Don’t You Want What I Want?
“What is most important is the one single goal for that team. Once that’s set, ask the team what currently helps them move toward that goal and what gets in the way. Listen to what they say and try hard to take their advice.” Or try it Steve Ballmer’s way. At Microsoft, “stack ranking” created departments with winners and losers instead of a clear win or loss for the team proper. Some say stack ranking ruined Microsoft’s competitive edge … and turned once-happy teammates into backstabbing, paranoid survivalists.
4. Make individual targets cooperative
Maurer goes on to say that even the best teams can and should encourage individual goals. But what happens when those benchmarks aren’t met? A superior sales culture reframes this as a chance for teammates to help. In a team huddle, “Each person states his or her goal for the week and then explains in a sentence or two why they fell short or met their goal. They can then add: ‘And here’s the help I’d like from all of you.'” By the way, this meeting should be quick so everyone can get back to making things happen: “No criticism; no long discussions; get in and get out.”
5. Don’t wait for your ship to come in, swim out to meet it
This one comes from my father, who taught sales seminars nationwide and was in the business for close to four decades. He believed that teams excel when the vision and mission are bottom-up rather than top-down. Great leaders channel the genius in the room; they don’t bark out orders and call it a day. They also have to work like savvy football coaches, mixing motivation, encouragement and a steely-eyed fix on the grail that’s shared by all. Far from any sales quota, this framework stresses character, courage, and the stamina to press towards a mark that every player deeply believes is worth the pursuit, because they get to live it out.
Joseph Carlozo embodied that principle in sales and life until he passed away in May at age 85. He was a tireless mentor to sales professionals and his three sons, and this column is dedicated to his memory.