It’s a familiar story, especially during challenging economic times.
Often, it starts like this. After a few quarterly disappointments or failed renewals, someone in the organization turns to the sales department and starts looking for the next big hit. And if no one seems capable of cranking out something magical in a specified period of time, then the search is on in earnest for the next idol. The next rock star. It’s as if only the act of finding and hiring the next temporary superstar can save the day, at least until the next disappointment appears.
Sales organizations of all types and in all verticals are prone to this illusion. The misconception is based on the notion that salespeople are solely responsible for growing revenue for the business, period. Leaders forget about market conditions, poor execution from current clients (leading to few or no references) and other factors that contribute to the complexities of an actual sales cycle. In short, they think salespeople carry the magic bullet that ignores all of these variables that lead to the growth of the business. Also, there is the belief that salespeople are fundamentally different from you and me. Common misconceptions are that salespeople are self-absorbed, motivated by purely selfish instincts, make indifferent team members and operate from an island of their own creation.
A lot flows from this mindset, including a managerial tendency to continually talk down to salespeople, to constantly remind them of the need to hit their numbers, to close that deal, to bring in the next hit that rockets them up the charts. Leaders forget what the salesperson has done in the past, and the salesperson feels no security in their role. Each of these drives a larger wedge between the salesperson and the organization. In fact, this “what have you done for me lately” mentality is neither motivating nor likely to encourage loyalty. Instead, managing by fear and threat turns salespeople into recruits for those businesses savvy enough to understand their real motivations.
The reality is that this type of organizational dynamic sets salespeople up for frustration and cynicism, confounds management and lays the foundation for a culture of constant turnover and volatility. Each time a salesperson leaves the organization, another one has to start the sales cycle and relationship building, not to mention the learning curve of the actual offering. Leaders forget what the salesperson has done in the past, and the salesperson feels no security in their role.
So, now that you may be realizing all of the things you and your business have been doing incorrectly, what will actually work? Things work best when sales are constant and there’s no need for rock stars or a Hail Mary at the end of the quarter or year. Sales are the responsibility of everyone in the organization; and the salesperson needs to see, hear and feel the team commitment. The sales department is likely to be most productive when everyone is telling the same story. Every client, prospect and company interaction is a chance to position your business for the next closed deal. Champion your organization and be consistent in telling the story. When the structures and processes are in place to support sales, the numbers tend to happen organically, not artificially. They happen by design, not by chance. In short, you are creating a sustainable model for growth.
Hire Quality, Not Qualifications.
Correcting the turnover trend begins with hiring the right people in the first place. Initial qualifications – industry experience, requisite skills and demonstrated ability – are really checked boxes. In other words, they’re qualifiers that filter out the wrong people without providing much intelligence about who will be the “best fit” for the job. And yet, it’s astounding how many hires are made on initial qualifications alone!
Get a sense of the DNA of the person, not just the organizations they have worked for or industries they have worked in. Good sales people possess the ability to soak up the details of any product or service offering. They sell themselves and offer value through their process. Pedigree within a certain industry becomes less important by the day. Similarly, where a person is located is increasingly irrelevant in a world enabled by mobile technology. Logistics no longer matter. A zip code is a distraction, not a qualifier. Look for the right person for the role, not the applicants within a certain area or industry.
Get the right cultural fit. Good people seldom leave purely for money, although so many think that is the case. They leave because of the people they’re currently working for and the fact they don’t feel valued. You want to find someone who will fit the culture of your company, an approach which will lead to the best match and maximize results. Be honest about who you are as a company and what you value. If the person does not fit that picture, it will not last. Many are motivated by the chance to join a family atmosphere or the chance to broaden their talent base. Others know when they’re being hired merely for their Rolodex. When they leave, they will take it with them. Hired guns travel. It goes with the territory. Hire for the long-term.
Motivating People Is An Inside Job.
Once you’ve found the right person, the first key to keeping them is to understand what motivates them. Sure, money is a motivator, but not for everyone. Some crave verbal recognition, which costs you nothing! Many salespeople are motivated by the knowledge that they are contributing behind the scenes. No two are alike. It’s up to management to condition its sales talent to respond to their true motivations. This is an area that organizations miss on more often than not. You have to manage the individual to their goals and motivations in order to get the most out of them.
Success isn’t automatic, especially with new hires. People perform better when they are set up to succeed. One popular tactic is to attach that new hire to a person, or better still, to an account or deal that is already in progress. Let them taste success early. This allows them to experience what success looks and gives them access to what has to happen along the way to close a deal. Similarly, mid-cycle hires can be frustrated by unrealistic expectations. Be honest about what is realistic. If you are hiring someone for a role that has an 18-month sales cycle, yet are hiring them with 4 months to go in the year, don’t give them a full quota only to have to grade them lower in their evaluation. Set them up to succeed, gain confidence and build momentum. They will reward you for that.
Once we reject the “magic bullet” formula, we begin to see sales as an organic part of the organization’s long-term growth objectives, rather than a synthetic goal created from last year’s profit and loss statement. We begin to ask the deeper questions about where the organization needs to go to meet its true objectives. This entails actually listening to what our markets are telling us, rather than layering our expectations on them. Measuring sales is a linear, fluid process. It doesn’t necessarily have a start and stop period.
These deeper questions can be soul-searching. Are the goals we are setting realistic and attainable? Are we overlooking better long-term prospects in our short-term focus? How can we position our people to create long-term growth, rather than settling for growth based on the needs of near-term accounting? One thing is certain: if your approach to setting sales goals has produced constant personnel churn as a by-product, the only common denominator is you.
Sales Success Is Not An Annual Event.
Sales aren’t always home run fireworks. The best organizations celebrate the little victories. Try initiating regular touch points with your people, as well as dashboard calls that track things other than final numbers and deals signed. Give kudos as deals are moving through the sales funnel and as key gates are achieved. Start tracking meetings and visits and celebrating momentum; focusing on little victories convinces sales people that all of their efforts are appreciated.
There are always other statistical measures that build success. Monitor business cards gained at sales conferences or ways that your people tell the company’s larger success story. Such efforts may not impact the immediate future, yet they will broaden the base of value for both your employees and your company. As a by-product, they will know they’re contributing to long-term success outside the quarterly numbers.
Set intermediate competitions to spur success. This takes the focus off the one big number while helping your people make progress towards it. Friendly competitions – with a free lunch or an iPad on the line – are momentum-builders. Try an actual countdown to the prize. Keep the prizes varied and relevant. Challenge your top sales people to win a spa day or a round of golf. Everyone knows where the stick is. Be both regular and creative with the carrots. Again, know your people and offer incentives that align to their motivations.
Interim competitions send the message that everyone is in success together. Motivating people in the short-term underscores, rather than conflicts with, long-term objectives. These kinds of nudges can be done on an ad hoc basis and will foster and lead to results, even if you must fund them. It’s not a cost; it’s an investment.
Finally, resist and deflate the self-defeating “all or nothing” dynamic that is at the heart of sales turnover. By committing to short-term successes, you can make the year-end review a more positive and rewarding experience for both parties. Even if there is a negative message, the little victories empower you to deliver and deal with it in a positive way. Knowing that you are engaged and committed to personal success throughout the year helps everyone involved.
Valued People Have Fewer Reasons To Look or Leave.
Look for new ways to express value in your salespeople. For example, engaging in their ongoing success is an opportunity to ask about their ideas for what the organization can do to better serve its customers. People who feel valued for their input are harder to lure away.
Salespeople can be a different breed, but not a different species. Being overtly competitive by nature does not equal being self-absorbed, shady or the need to live on an island. Winning organizations rise to the big occasions because they have instilled the importance of life’s daily victories to their employees. Drawing your sales people in and making them feel part of a team is essential to helping them succeed and tell the company’s story. Success is sweeter when it’s mutually supporting.
Don’t deny yourself – or your people – the pleasure of an ongoing taste of success.
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