How Not to Run Your Sales Team: A Contrarian Approach

What is the right way to run your sales team?

As the game show says, the clue is in the question. The problem is that if you don’t ask the right question, then you you’ll have no clue as to what the right answer is; and in this case there is only one.

While you’re thinking about what it might be, let’s remind ourselves of what a typical sales team looks like. Usually, they consist of five groups. Let’s give them letter grades: A, B, C, D, and E. That way you won’t have any preconceived ideas that descriptive labels might give them.

“A” level salespeople are the best you have. They were born to sell, and they love doing it. They probably bring in 80% of your revenue, and are capable of managing their own teams. You only hope that they’ll derive enough satisfaction from working for you that they won’t want to go somewhere else.

“B” level sales people are above average. You can rely on them to make their numbers, and you’d be tickled if your entire sales team consisted of people exactly like them. Then you wouldn’t have to deal with those whose performance wasn’t quite as good. These people are always looking for ways to improve. They read books, attend seminars, and study the habits of the “A” level salespeople, not just in your company, but also in the industry as a whole. You see, they are “A” players-in-waiting. They may lack their raw talent, but they have more determination.

“C” level sales people are average. Their performance is acceptable. Not great; not abysmal. It’s right in the middle. They know what they can do and are content to stay where they’re comfortable. They, too make their numbers, but only just. Unlike “B” level salespeople, however, they have little or no interest in self-improvement. They don’t want to rock the boat; especially theirs.

“D” level sales people are trying, but not making it. There could be a lot of reasons for this. Maybe they have domestic issues. Sales people are often known to work very long hours and to travel quite a bit. It could be that the family is objecting to some of that, as they should.

Or perhaps their customers have been bought by other companies that use different suppliers. That has meant that all the time that’s gone into building relationships has vanished with the people who were made redundant by the mergers.

It’s also possible that some of the most promising prospects went bust. “Bad luck” can happen to anyone. We simply don’t have as much control over our futures as many would like to think, and so for “D” level sales people, life keeps getting in the way of the job.

“E” level sales people are different from the rest. They have given up. But before you write them off, as the received wisdom suggests you do, you need to recognize something: They haven’t always been this way. Many of them, probably most, were “A” or “B” level before they plummeted to the bottom of the heap.

How could this have happened?

Remember, the clue is in the question or, in this case, the title.

What is the most important word in it? It’s “Team”; and yet, how few sales teams actually function like one. Instead, their members are pitted against one another. The enemy is no longer outside, but within. Cooperation stops. That’s because to do so would be to aid the enemy. It would make it easier for the person you wanted to beat to compete against you – like putting a can of Coke in every six-pack of Pepsi. How smart would that be?

Many organizations believe that this is the way to obtain higher results; but at what cost? Burnout?Breakdowns?Prolonged sick leave, as well as under-performance?

What would a sales team that worked together look like?

Ultimately, each team member would be helping one another. Collectively, they would focus on how to contribute the greatest joint value to your organization.

Those who were naturally gifted and who had the greater success could mentor the “B” and “D” level groups, and encourage the “C” level group to become “B” level salespeople. They could be given teams of their own to manage and to nurture.

At meetings, team results would be shared. This doesn’t mean that there would be no discussion of individual outcomes, but they wouldn’t be used as a means to castigate those whose performance was less. Instead, they could be used as a teaching tool, a basis for training to show those who results were than they could be how to improve.

Can you feel the difference?

If you’re a sales manager, think about your team. Ask yourself, who has the most to teach, who would make the best mentors, and who are the most eager to learn? Then sit down with each person and find out what they want to accomplish, and what’s holding them back. Then you’ll be ready to create a plan for how to bring it altogether.

 

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