The Unprecedented Sales Management Challenge
Sales managers are tasked with the daunting challenge of leading their sales teams during turbulent times.As a sales manager, for years, you’ve had Human Resources preaching to you about the importance of work-life balance for your sales team. They reminded you that studies showed that productivity increased when employees had balance between their work life and their personal one. They told you that the team needed time to recharge their batteries so they could sell more for the company.
Some still talk about work-life balance, but the truth of the matter is that this is a yesterday issue. Work-life implies that “work” is a stressful world and “life” is a place of solace. Those days are gone with the way our economy has evolved. Your sales team is getting it from both sides now. They have unprecedented, high levels of stress at work and at home. The former life of solace is now filled with concerns of mounting debt, drastic drops in home values, a real fear of job loss, and disgust over their investment portfolio.
When your sales team arrives to start the day at 8am, the reality is that their day is already over. They began their day by watching the morning news. “Unemployment is at a record high! Housing values continues to fall! Consumer confidence is non-existent!” What a great way to start a productive sales day!
Imagine a boxer who gets beaten up before he enters the ring…What chance does he have of being successful in the match? ZERO! Today, your sales team is faced with the same challenges as that boxer. The media is defeating them before their day even begins. They arrive at work to begin their day, but the truth of the matter is that they are already finished. They’ve already lost.
Despite all of these woes, the company is relying on the sales team to pull the company out of the painful downward spiral driven by the economic mess. Logic would tell you that with the present state of affairs, the sales team is more focused than ever on generating sales. Every minute of the business day, they are either on the phone with a prospect or meeting with one. All they can think of is… Make a sale!
Unfortunately, logic does not come into play here. All of the external noise is leading your sales team in the complete opposite direction. They are checking the market hourly, their 401k every 15 minutes, and checking the job boards. It’s as if there is total sales paralysis. Sales productivity is probably at an all time low, at a time when the company needs them most. As the sales manager, this all falls in your lap. You are the face of the sales organization. The company needs you to change your hat from manager to leader to help focus the troops on the task at hand.
Since this is a relatively new issue, most sales managers have not been trained how to help their team regain their focus to drive productivity (a.k.a. sales). As a sales manager, what can you do to regain the reigns of the team and lead them to sales success?
- Communicate, even…over communicate. Open and honest discussion about the present state of affairs helps to relieve the angst that the team is experiencing. As a manager, you may be in a leadership chain, but the team looks to their direct leader for guidance and support.
- Hold the team accountable. While empathetic and understanding, the sales leader needs to remind the team of the task at hand. Direction provided to the team should be clear and team members should be held accountable for performance.
- Coach them. Little things can help your team regain their sales edge. Suggest that they not start their day by watching the morning news. Have them read the news online so they have total control over which news to become informed. They control the information saturation point, not the television media. (This is a prudent thing for you to do as well.)
- Lead by example. While challenging, put on your game face and show confidence. Keep the conversation on the task at hand, not external influences. Smile! If you walk around showing stress, your sales team will mirror your behavior. They will think something is wrong and sales paralysis enters.
- Be visible! When the number of closed door meetings increases, sales people speculate that something is wrong. While a productive meeting may be taking place inside, on the other side of the door, your entire sales team is talking about what you may be discussing in your meeting. In the absence of direct knowledge, your sales team will guess the meeting is about gloom and doom. Limit your closed door meetings. Be visible with your sales team. Join them on sales calls. Meet with clients.
Other industry experts have also weighed in on this issue. If they were talking to a sales manager about how to focus their sales team and drive productivity, they suggest…
“Sales managers must remember the behavior of sales people is driven by the desire to avoid pain or gain pleasure. The more powerful of these two drivers is the desire to gain pleasure. Smart sales managers recognize that achievement and recognition of that achievement are the two most powerful motivators in sales. So instead of cracking the whip, they are whipping up contests, games, spiffs, and awards that keep their sales professionals focused, happy, and engaged.” – Jeb Blount, CEO of SalesGravy.com and author of “People Buy You”
“Stop being complacent to selling professionals. Selling professionals control their destiny more than any other organizational function. Nothing happens unless something is sold. Selling professionals must speak with customers, requesting referrals and closing business. Watching the news is simply a form of procrastination. They must discover the unspent allocated money from the current budget year and request the business. Products and services are still needed. Tell selling professionals to do what the competition is not – sell something!” –Drew Stevens, PhD, Business Growth Consultant and author of Split Second Selling and Ultimate Business Bible
“Managers need to shift away from fear based management and develop more of a collaborative coaching culture. You cannot inspire others when you are afraid and you can’t be inspired when you’re full of fear and worry. Conduct more frequent one-to-one meetings, build greater accountability by relinquishing your role as Chief Problem Solver and have less tolerance for mediocrity. Ultimately, management needs to adapt, innovate and evolve or suffer from corporate inefficiency, rigidity and declining profits.”–Keith Rosen, Executive Sales Coach and author of the award winning, Coaching Salespeople into Sales Champions
“In tough times, sellers must be at the top of their game. As a sales manager, your job is to infuse your team with fresh thinking – to make sure they have the knowledge and skills to deal with today’s challenges. Start a “book of the month” club. Register for webinars or teleseminars put on by sales experts. Encourage sign up for sales e-newsletters. Lead weekly “how we won” sessions. For maximum impact, start now!” Jill Konrath, Sales Strategist & author of Selling to Big Companies and Snap Selling
“Sales managers must help salespeople to maintain clarity, calm their nerves, help them function, keep them positive, get them motivated, challenge them to perform, urge them to fill their pipelines and hold them accountable to all of that. And talking the talk isn’t quite enough. When conducting pre-call strategizing, coaching must include how the account or call plan will be executed – with role play – so that sales managers are certain their salespeople truly have the ability to get it done. Your pipelines may have been thrown into a holding pattern. Orders haven’t canceled or been lost to competitors; they are simply delayed. The sooner that everyone gets over their initial reaction to the recession and gets back to just doing business, the sooner that money will loosen up and start changing hands again.” –Dave Kurlan, Sales Development Expert, and author of Baseline Selling
“To get the malaise out of your sales team give them permission to press the “off button” and shut out the negative media. Protect seller’s natural optimism – have contests for the best joke of the day – buy coffee for the winner. Equip them with the winning words – role-play the very words decision-makers long/need/want to hear: which are how your product increases revenues; decreases expenses; mitigates risk.” –Leslie Buterin, founder ColdCallingNetNews.com
“We read & hear the doom and gloom every day about this economy. Well, I believe we need to start managing our attitudes and mindsets, as well as our sales efforts. It is time to look at all the challenges, issues and problems as OPPORTUNITIES wearing disguises. Strip off the disguises, identify the opportunity and deliver a solution. Be positive, persistent, proactive and patient in this time of change.” –J. Glenn Ebersole, “Your Strategic Thinking Business Coach”
“Here’s my best piece of advice to those leading sales teams today: Do all you can to continually boost your staff’s confidence — confidence in themselves, confidence in their product, and confidence in the problems your product solves for your customers. Suggestions on how to do that: Remind them of successful case studies often. Feed them creative ways to confidently answer your top objections. Work with them one-on-one to develop their own individual style, so they sound and act naturally confident. Today’s customers have NO margin for error in choosing their suppliers; do all you can to help your staff be the ones that others can trust to make them look good!” Bill Guertin, CEO, The 800-Pound Gorilla and author of Reality Sells and The 800-Pound Gorilla of Sales
“Many sales teams are not only going through a big wake up call on the economic front, but are going through an earth moving generational shift…from Baby Boomers and Generation X running the show to men and women under the age of 30 making critical business decisions for our organizations. At the end of the day, they want to know “How are my ideas being incorporated and actually applied to our sales processes to make us better at what we do?” –Bea Fields, Leadership and Generation Y Consultant and co-author of the book Millennial Leaders: Success Stories From Today’s Most Brilliant Generation Y Leaders
“To create momentum, keep your sales team focused on what they need to do today, or this week, by implementing a 20 point system. On this system, they earn points for doing the right types of sales activities: conversations, appointments booked, face-to-face meetings, referrals, closed files and closed business. The focus on the right kind of activities with targeted prospects will result in creating the desired energy.” –Danita Bye, President of Sales Growth Specialists
“Sales managers should hold a meeting with their sales teams with a focus on creating two lists: one containing the things the salespeople CAN’T control, and one containing the things they CAN control. Managers should then encourage their salespeople to focus 100% of their attention on the things they CAN control. Nothing blows away feelings of helplessness like having an action plan and TAKING DAILY ACTION against that plan.” – Alan Rigg, Sales Performance Expert, and author of How to Beat the 80/20 Rule in Sales Team Performance
“Downturn leadership requires laser-like focus. Focus to reinforce customer service, existing customer relationships, and presence in the marketplaces. This results in improved perception of market position and stronger, more profitable customer relationships (again, what every sales leader wants more of). Focus on the “vital few” – the 20 percent of customers, product lines, industries that has the greatest impact. Do not only rely on your instincts to identify your vital few—use data to determine the truth about your sales and customers.” –Lee J. Colan, Ph.D., author of Sticking to It: The Art of Adherence
“During this time of stress, management needs to attend to the emotional needs of their sales professionals. Part of that attention is to help them understand what they can change and what is beyond their abilities to change. For example they can change their attitude in how they approach each day, keeping a positive focus and working to produce results. What they can’t change is how the market will fluctuate on an hour by hour basis.” –Gregory Stebbins, Ed.D., internationally recognized Sales Psychologist
“Sales managers need to roll up their sleeves and join the team. The worse thing to do in this situation is to add pressure from above with no active participation in the solution. The sales teams I’ve coached tell me that because I’m in the trenches with them, they are more motivated—even in tough times. Your sales team needs to know you are in it with them. Together you will conquer!” –Shannon Kavanaugh, president of Go-To-Market Strategies
“In order to re-energize your team you need to help them become more successful. The fastest way you can do that is by establishing a killer sales strategy that focuses on a moderate amount of ideal clients. An effective strategy positions you as the industry expert, educates the client/prospect on how to run their business better, sets the buying criteria and establishes doing business with you as a forgone conclusion. Your sales people will be fired up because they are closing lots of business, making good money and loving life!” –Andy Miller, sales strategist
“Although the current economic situation presents problems for you and your sales team, it also presents unprecedented opportunities. There are still prospects buying and customers purchasing additional products and services, and your competitors are facing the same daunting and depressing news. Salespeople who overcome their lethargy and seek new business can turn this economic downturn into a record-breaking year. Empathize with their issues, but emphasize the tremendous opportunities your team has while their competition is sitting on the sidelines.” –Paul McCord, management consultant and author of the Sales and Sales Management Blog
“The key to making the sale in this economy is to help your team stay focused on solving real customer problems and enabling them to add immediate value to their business. We have been in this economic situation before and we will be here again – the strong will survive and 20% of sales people will exceed their quota in spite of the economy. Our job as sales managers is to not let the economy become the excuse for non performance and lack of productivity.” –Julie Thomas, President and CEO of Value Selling Associates and author of ValueSelling: Driving up Sales One Conversation at a Time
“The sales manager needs to communicate the company’s vision, mission, values, goals, and expectations to the sales team weekly and then reward their accountability. The senior management team must define and communicate the criteria for a profitable customer and all sales efforts need to be focused on securing and managing those accounts. The sales professionals, who learn how to thrive in this economy, will develop skills and talents that will guide them to long-term success.” –Janet Boulter, Profitability Consultant, Center Consulting Group
“Salespeople will be excited to come to work when they adopt a referral-selling strategy. They’ll meet with decision makers, shorten their sales process, and convert prospects to clients more than 50% of the time—while acing out the competition and landing new, profitable clients. They’ll meet only with the people they want to meet and who want to meet them. What an irresistible proposition! Money in their pockets. What a great motivator!”–Joanne Black, founder of No More Cold Calling and author of No More Cold Calling™: the Breakthrough System That Will Leave Your Competition in the Dust
“The issue has become one of finding and sustaining mental energy. Not just the energy you and your team need to achieve sales. Even more important is your ability to sustain the enthusiasm, calm and inspiration needed to get your team through these torrid times. Instead of work life balance, it’s about getting the right flow of personal energy input and business energy output. Having an enjoyable personal interest that enables you to switch off is a good start.” –Peter Nicholls, Director, Work Leisure International
“My recommendation is simple. Identify specifically two things that your sales professionals have done well to adjust to the new marketplace. Once you determine them, discuss 2-3 areas that you both agree are in need of development. Reach out to all your sales professionals and repeat this process. Compile the responses and put together a measurable action plan for your team. And don’t forget to follow through.” –Charles Brennan Jr., President of Brennan Sales Institute and author of Sales Questions That Close the Sale
“Employ equal doses of inspiration, motivation, and oversight to simultaneously raise morale and maintain production levels. Use anecdotes from well-known figures in history who’ve met and overcome challenges. Set specific short-term goals, and monitor progress against them. Project an air of optimism, and lead by example. Direct the team to focus with laser-like discipline on only those opportunities that have real legs. Provide oversight to ensure they are maintaining that focus.” –Craig James, sales consultant and trainer, president of Sales Solutions© 2014 by Lee B. Salz. Lee B. Salz is a leading sales management strategist specializing in helping companies build scalable, high-performance sales organizations through hiring the right salespeople, effectively onboarding them, and aligning their sales activities with business objectives through process, metrics and compensation. He is the Founder and CEO of Sales Architects, Business Expert Webinarsand The Revenue Accelerator. Lee has authored several books including the award-winning book Soar Despite Your Dodo Sales Manager. He is a results-driven sales management consultant and a passionate, dynamic speaker. Lee can be reached at lsalz@SalesArchitects.net or +1 763-416-4321.