I love small businesses and their owners. I spend much of my day marveling at the great accomplishments of this hearty bunch of entrepreneurs who pursue their dream and formulate the backbone of our business society. They are the lifeblood of this country. there is a soft spot in my heart for the struggles they endure as well as the challenges they must overcome to succeed.
Unfortunately, some small business owners fuel problems that don't have to exist by focusing more on their product or service than their sales force. Having quality products and services is only half the goal; the other half is the development a high performing sales staff to present them in the marketplace.
I had an enlightening conversation with a small business owner recently about the current downward state of his business and the options he was exploring to reverse the trend.
I asked, "How many of your company problems would disappear if your sales staff would sell more of your products?"
His response startled me.
"All of them," he said, "but there's nothing I can do about that right now. My sales force is telling me that we have to ride it out and hope we can survive."
My first thought was, "Do you realize that your sales force is doing a better job selling you this idea than they are selling your prospects on a reason to do business with you?"
Unfortunately, this dialogue happens all too frequently due to the complexity of our new business environment and the complacency of some salespeople.
The disturbing fact was that the business owner felt helpless to do anything to remedy the situation and was willing to accept what the salespeople were telling him as gospel. Low and mediocre performing sales teams are conspiring to keep their jobs by convincing their bosses that it's not them, rather like Clinton said to Bush during the 1992 election, "It's the economy, stupid."
In reality, there is a shared commitment for success that both business owner and salesperson must accept. Here are some specific actions that the can be taken to guide sales teams to greater success:
- Set realistic sales goals and create daily action plans to achieve them: Stretch your salespeople to take action, but be realistic about what can be accomplished.
- Develop behavior models that insure high performance and uncovers mediocrity: Understand that the right behavior combined with the right hire will yield success.
- Brief and debrief all key sales calls: Take the time to meet with salespeople to review the strategy for key sales calls and then, after the call, review what actually happened.
- Use team selling to model success: Make joint calls to model the proper behavior and coach the strategy and tactics that need to be modified.
- Make prospecting for new business the number one priority for the sales force: Direct your salespeople to get in front of more new prospects each week. This is the lifeblood of your future growth.
- Better penetrate your existing customers: If you sell multiple products or services, set a goal to make sure each customer is presented the opportunity to purchase your full line.
- Eliminate the time wasters that sap the time of high performers and give the low performers excuses for poor results: Analyze meetings, processes, outdated systems, etc. to determine those that are preventing your sales team from more field time.. and get rid of the roadblocks.
- Make sure the outside sales staff is not stuck performing the duties of the inside service staff: All internal departments must step up and be more effective in order to eliminate the consistent need to follow up by the sales team.
- Look for unproductive activities and excuse making: Formally address the busy work and whining syndrome that many low performers exhibit. This behavior is not only annoying but also creates a negative environment that pulls the entire company attitude down.
- Terminate low performing sales people as a sign of respect to those who are committed to the success of the company: Send a message that high performance is rewarded and low performance is punished! You owe it to the company to get rid of those who are not contributing to its success.
Is your sales force holding your future hostage? Many business owners choose to avoid this question because it's a difficult one to ask, but the answer is the key to true entrepreneurial success.