I didn’t mean to, of course. But, had I done a good job of hiring and managing my salespeople from the start, I never would have had to let go of 75 percent of them over the past two years.
Unfortunately, I’m not the only entrepreneur who’s had this problem. Only 13 percent of small business owners come from sales or marketing backgrounds themselves. And, therefore, because most of us aren’t sales leaders by trade, few of us do more than act as part-time managers for sales staff members, leaving them to fend for themselves with the hope that they know what they’re doing.
That's a mistake. Too often, when sales teams don’t perform the way owners hope, it’s because they aren’t receiving anything close to the kind of attention they really need. Worse, many entrepreneurs don’t know how to fix this problem. Motivating a sales team is a foreign concept to those of us who have never spent time on the front lines.
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After a few years and some tough lessons, I've finally figured out what entrepreneurs who aren’t sales-focused need to do to manage their sales teams effectively.
Managing sales teams for dummies
As already mentioned, my mistake was not giving my sales team members the time and attention they needed to flourish. I didn’t go out in the field with them, so I couldn’t provide meaningful feedback to help sharpen their skills. And, as a result, they produced average results, and our company missed multiple opportunities for growth.
Once I realized my sales team needed more input from me, I saw other mistakes I had made along the way. Check out my laundry list of missteps to avoid making them yourself:
1. Setting goals without clear consequences
We’ve never had a salesperson leave the company before his or her six-month anniversary, but at least two of them should have been let go within their first 90 days. We provided monthly sales goals that started low and built up, but we did nothing except shrug if and when those goals weren’t met.
Without making clear repercussions for failing to meet expectations, stated "goals" are just lip service -- all talk, no teeth. A few of our early salespeople realized there were no consequences for bad work and put in the least amount of effort necessary. To fix this issue, we established clear key performance indicators (KPIs) for our sales team and defined (and followed through with) the consequences of missing those benchmarks.
2. Taking a laissez-faire approach to managing sales
Whether it was me or a dedicated sales manager, someone should have been more involved with the sales team’s performance. Weekly meetings simply aren’t enough. Without micromanaging, I had to find a way to be constantly involved in my team members’ activities to ensure they met my high expectations.
Ultimately, I realized that I couldn’t both run an entire business and act as its sales manager. Hiring someone to motivate and monitor my sales team remains one of the very best business decisions I’ve ever made.
3. Playing musical chairs with their roles
Last year, we launched a new product and pulled in our entire sales team to focus on the new offering. The product sold well, but sales in other areas took a nosedive. When our salespeople tried to switch back and forth between these areas, their frustrations and struggles only multiplied.
Creating specialized sales roles improved our numbers across the board, allowing our salespeople to develop better client relationships and utilize their deep familiarity with the products within their domains.
4. Buying into unacceptable alibis
A common complaint among salespeople is, “The leads aren’t good.” My willingness to believe this excuse cost our company a lot of time and opportunities. Some salespeople make things happen; others are more like order-takers, content to sit back and process the easiest leads rather than create and cultivate opportunities for themselves.
Legitimate complaints are one thing, but when you’re having these conversations over and over again with your team, you might have the wrong people working for you. Making a good sale requires five follow-ups -- not the single call that order-takers often feel should be sufficient.
While bad salespeople will see their opportunities dry up in the near future, good sales consultants can expect a 10 percent rise in their demand. Don’t wait around for the supply to dry up before you build the right team; hire (and work to retain) people who make things happen.
Learning these lessons was difficult, but the knowledge that I will never again have to lay off so many members of my sales staff made it well worth the struggle. If you’re fighting to keep your own sales team motivated, try to avoid making these same mistakes so your business doesn’t end up in the same limbo as mine before you finally find your sales groove.