‘Failure is not an option.’ This is the mantra of the sales professional. They are tough, confident, tenacious and self-reliant. So when they do come up short it hits them hard. ‘How could I fail when I am working my backside off to match my colleagues and hit those KPIs?’ The truth is, all sales people fail at some point.
Some are just not up to the job but the more uncomfortable truth for the employer is that it’s not always the fault of the individual. So where are some companies getting it so wrong? As you might imagine, it starts at the beginning with a flawed recruitment process, but organisations are quite capable of failing their sales teams in almost every area if they put their minds to it!
The Low Barriers to Entry
If you do a quick internet search, you’ll find an abundance of ads that make sales seem a no brainer. You know the sort: ‘Earn £hundreds in your spare time!’ Unlike other professions you can enter the world of sales without a formal academic qualification.
There is no common agreed body of technical knowledge. It is possible for anyone with the right attitude and character to prosper in sales. This low perceived barrier to entry means that sales attracts a wide range of abilities. As a result, too many of your hires will fall at the first hurdle and leave after a short time. If there is no benchmark or proven vetting process in place to identify top performers, how are companies going to know if they have the best talent at the outset?
The Recruitment Blind Spot
One common problem at the recruitment stage is the ‘blind spot.’ You look for people from your industry. They have lots of seemingly relevant experience and can therefore ‘talk the talk.’ But this means that you are already limiting your search to the restricted pool of talent that happens to have worked in your sector. So the danger is that you hire poor performers who know how to get noticed, and, more often than not, know how to jump ship just as they are about to get found out.
This isn’t to say that you should be wary of every hire, but even if they have a solid background in sales with the experience to match, don’t rush in with a job offer. To identify the right candidates and reduce the blind spots that hinder your search for an all-round sales professional, you need to take a planned, structured approach to your recruitment search.
First, make an objective assessment of your sales need. This will allow you to identify gaps within your team, and reveal critical weaknesses, such as the inability to structure an effective sales call or handle objection correctly.
Nurture your top talent…and keep nurturing
Once you have done all you can to find the top talent, you need to make sure they are given the skills and support to allow them to perform at the highest level. So commit to an ongoing structured training programme. It’s not about one-off training sessions with little follow-up, but a series of courses that are seen as a business critical activity, whereby progression is constantly analysed and reinforced. Improvement will only come about by this continuous process of measurement and control. Consider carrying out accreditation to ensure that your sales team have had the best training in the business. This will also make it easier to log which areas of the sales arena your team have had training in and spot any gaps.
Managers become coaches
For this process to have a chance of success you have to get the sales managers on board. The chances are that they haven’t had the right level of training and development in their careers to date, so they will lack to core coaching and leadership skills to implement the training programme that is so critical to success. So invest in your managers. Turn them into performance coaches so that they can get the best from their teams and be able to spot underperformers early on.
Sales people can fail when they are only exposed to a minimal number of training solutions, and don’t complete the full training process that allows them to upskill in a variety of areas. To combat this half-hearted approach again the answer lies with sales managers, and a thorough planning approach to see through all areas of their development in the field.
Measuring success in sales is often limited to the short term gains; did the salesperson hit their target? Did they complete it in the recommended timescale? This can be a hit and miss approach to managing sales, because by the time you’ve measured them, it’s already too late to do anything about it. Instil support and keep an eye on your team’s progression, as well as being open to advice and discussions so you can find out first if your team is struggling, and deal with it accordingly.
Tackling struggling performers can simply start with lead generation, so you can give a member of your team a target of generating a certain number of leads a week, or updating existing contacts on your CRM. Then look at the amount of meetings gained; did these meetings take place? How many meetings turn into business? If this is a poor ratio, then you are made aware that training needs to be implemented to improve the conversion rate.
By analysing performance at every level, you can put a stop to unproductive trends and communicate with your team to identify what areas they feel they could benefit training in.
Look in the mirror, not out of the window
The best salespeople will not just be those that bring in new business and consistently hit their targets, but those whose skills are nurtured through a structured and measured approach to training and development. Don’t get me wrong.
Some people are just not cut out for sales and all the investment in the world won’t get them to pick up that phone or email that prospect. But you can stack the odds in your favour by understanding that getting the best sales people and making sure they don’t fail is to a large extent your problem not always theirs. Instead of looking out of your office window to try and work out why your guys are failing, maybe take a look in the mirror?