As any chief executive or business owner knows, good salespeople are a rare commodity, effective sales managers are harder to find, and an outstanding sales director is the proverbial needle in a haystack. So what can you do to ensure that your sales organization performs? As Thomas Edison famously said, “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.” In my 20 years running a global sales team, I have found that the 99% perspiration, when properly applied, will achieve the success your business needs.
In fact, the effectiveness of sales organizations could be radically improved across the world by putting in place a few straightforward principles. I know that these principles work, because they have become the bedrock of my own career, and have helped propel the company I work for, Regus, from one city in Europe to 550 cities in 90 countries. These guiding disciplines are not easy to achieve and they don’t substitute for Edison’s 1% inspiration, but if a sales leader can use them consistently, success will certainly follow.
Hire right: Often neglected, the more thought-out and detailed the job description, the clearer the recruitment will be, and in turn the much more likely that the right person will be identified and brought on board. Insist upon a structured interview process with two key components: a formalized interviewer questionnaire and dual interviews with at least two separate managers. This leads to consistent questioning, tests candidates’ competency against the job description, and ensures that an objective decision is made. If you hire only people you like you are failing your organization many times over.
Induct and train: It is important to remember that training and induction are not the same thing. A good induction helps individuals understand the company, the culture, and the expectations for the person and the role. Training, on the other hand, prepares you to do the job at hand for the respective company. All too often I have seen only one of these done properly. The key takeaway: Be willing to invest in sales training, expect your new trainees to take it seriously, and insist that they deliver.
Activity over results: Remember the 99% rule. Once you put your new people on the ground, expect all new sales to concentrate on prospecting to build a solid pipeline. Take a quasi-scientific approach with solid metrics such as the number of new appointments, prospect cold calls, or structured customer call-back targets. All the while, evaluate and score their activity during the initial employment phase so that it can be analyzed, corrected and/or refined. Use this to continuously improve your team.
Show me the money: No matter how well you hire and train up your sales team, they still have a tough day-to-day job where they will receive countless rejections from prospects. It is vital to support your team by fostering a positive attitude and providing motivational moments throughout the weeks and months. I expect all of my sales leaders to foster a proactive spirit in their teams and lead by example. Poor managers say, “Don’t do what I do; do what I say.” This is nonsense. The greatest motivator is a leader who can walk the walk. Last, but certainly not least, remember the importance of monetary and other incentives. Aside from the basic commission schemes, introduce special incentives on seasonal, topical, and ad hoc bases. This should not be predictable but instead focused on driving sales in slow periods.
Align with business targets: All too often sales teams stay in a mindset of functioning in a vacuum. Make sure you have a formal structure to give your sales teams a forward view and an in-depth explanation of what the business targets are and how they are to be achieved, not just in sales terms but also across the whole business. When you explain what your business is going for and how you are getting there, your sales team can see how the whole company is working with them and can understand their role in meeting those challenges.
Live the product: Good salespeople are able to get close to customers and make them feel they are really experiencing the product or service being provided. We are lucky that at Regus we actually use the products we sell: flexible, impressive, professional locations and facilities. Our salespeople can work from where they want, when they want, by using Regus offices by the day or our lounges by the hour. This means they can be close to home one day and close to a customer the next day, with access to convenient meeting venues with plug-and-play technology to make presentations or to print and bind proposals on the go. Making sure that your teams can similarly “live” your products, and get them as close to the client as possible, is vital.
Any sales team, whether pitching to existing customers or looking for new ones, needs to spend more of its time selling and less on distractions. A great sales team needs to plan, prepare, ask for the business, differentiate, and—while working hard—have fun. Some have indeed been lucky and found Edison’s elusive 1% inspiration, but for the rest of us, it’s hard work and dedication that will ensure global sales management success.