The uncertainty is killing me

INTERROGANT 150x150“My sales team is out on the streets, but I’ve got no idea what they’re doing today nor who they’re visiting nor whether or not they are meeting targets…”

I have heard these or similar statements in many of the companies I visit, Sales Managers who’ve “been there, done that and got the T-shirt”. Have you ever said these words under your breath? Have they just crossed your mind? What do you make of them? How are you going to handle the situation when you take on board that you have no control over some of the most import elements of the company’s human capital: the sales team?

The normal reaction is to feel that a Tsunami of uncertainty is engulfing you. This sensation is a powerful force that may be a positive influence on your take on things or it may unravel all that you have achieved up to the present. The outcome will depend, to a great extent, on whether you just react or take structured steps to remedy the situation.

The reactive attitude may lead you to take thoughtless measures without weighing up the consequences your acts may produce. In these cases, one of the more frequent of reactions is, to put it bluntly, piss the salesmen off unnecessarily by acting like an “enforcer”. How many of you have picked up the phone only to question the salesmen’s every move in this situation, applying excessive pressure and insinuating dire consequences if they don’t meet targets? Phone calls of this nature often result in an aftermath that can be summarised as follows:

  • You end up right where you started to which you have added a feeling of impotence. 
  • Your sales-force loses all motivation and becomes less capable of doing a good job. 
  • You start losing prestige and, hence, your ability to manage is considerably impaired.

Well, that’s a JOB WELL DONE, then! The next time you need to speak to your salesmen, THINK before you pick the phone up.

How are you going to face up to this situation? Deal with it calmly and imaginatively so that you get rid of that nagging uncertainty and, to boot, improve sales performance? The first thing you have to do is to leave the Gestapo uniform at home and become a salesman’s nurse. The concept may seem absurd, but give it a little thought! This will lead you to discover aspects capable of changing attitudes. You’ll go from an antagonistic approach in which you are always looking for crimes and laying the blame on the salesmen to one in which you will be looking for ways in which YOU can help your sales team.

A little thought will lead to the conclusion that the fault does not lie with the team, but, rather, with your own organisation and systems. These will often blind you to what the salesmen are actually doing and how they are doing it. The answer, however, does not reside exclusively in what the sales team is doing, it should also include the how. What is their level of competence, quality and effectiveness?

Any and all processes are measurable and, thus, controllable. They can then be measured against benchmarks and targets. Let’s have a look at a practical case:

Most salesmen visit potential new clients, you can quantify these visits. You will also know how many of these contacts have been converted into new customers. Comparing these data will give you a salesman-specific index of productivity. Nevertheless, these raw data have to be “weighted”. Just to give an example: a salesman who visits one potential new client and closes that prospect will have a “better” score than one who visits 10 and closes 5. To weigh these data, you have to measure each salesman against the average of the group. Only thus will you know which of them need our help to bring them up to speed in the acquirement of new clients.

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Team Averages Acquiring New Clients

Average number of visits: 14’75

Average Nº acquired clients:   5’25

Average success rate:  47%

These data show that Salesman 1 has a serious problem acquiring new customers. As well as discussing with him about what is going wrong, it is time to make some visits with him. How does he introduce himself, the firm and the portfolio? Have a talk with Salesman 3 to find the key to his success. Is it a result of correctly identifying potential clients? An exceptional product presentation?

On the other hand, in the case of Salesman 3, his impressive rate of acquisition is offset by the relatively low number of visits. If he made more visits to potential customers his value to the company would increase considerably.

You are now in possession of detailed statistics and this accurate data will enable you to:

  • Eliminate your uncertainty. 
  • Become aware of any improvements and the real quality of the team. 
  • Design and implement strategies aimed at improving and gauging the activities under your control.

I suggest you go over each and every one of the tasks your team are (or are supposed) carrying out to enhance sales. With this information at hand, you can establish indices for your own management purposes and to aid self-management within the team.

Next Article: “Salesman, what am I paying you for?”