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The Unprecedented Sales Management Challenge for 2009
Guest articles > The Unprecedented Sales Management Challenge for 2009
by: Lee B. Salz
Sales managers are facing a set of challenges that they've never experienced before. They think their team is focused on generating sales, but they are completely distracted.
As a sales manager, for years, you've had Human Resources preaching to you about the importance of work-life balance for your sales team. They reminded you that studies showed that productivity increased when employees had balance between their work life and their personal one. They told you that the team needed time to recharge their batteries so they could sell more for the company.
Some still talk about work-life balance, but the truth of the matter is that this is a yesterday issue. Work-life implies that "work" is a stressful world and "life" is a place of solace. Those days are gone with the way our economy has evolved. Your sales team is getting it from both sides now. They have unprecedented, high levels of stress at work and at home. The former life of solace is now filled with concerns of mounting debt, drastic drops in home values, a real fear of job loss, and disgust over their investment portfolio.
When your sales team arrives to start the day at 8am, the reality is that their day is already over. They began their day by watching the morning news. "Unemployment is at a record high! Housing values continues to fall! Consumer confidence is non-existent!" What a great way to start a productive sales day!
Imagine a boxer who gets beaten up before he enters the ring...What chance does he have of being successful in the match? ZERO! Today, your sales team is faced with the same challenges as that boxer. The media is defeating them before their day even begins. They arrive at work to begin their day, but the truth of the matter is that they are already finished. They've already lost. Despite all of these woes, the company is relying on the sales team to pull the company out of the painful downward spiral driven by the economic mess. Logic would tell you that with the present state of affairs, the sales team is more focused than ever on generating sales. Every minute of the business day, they are either on the phone with a prospect or meeting with one. All they can think of is… Make a sale!
Unfortunately, logic does not come into play here. All of the external noise is leading your sales team in the complete opposite direction. They are checking the market hourly, their 401k every 15 minutes, and checking the job boards. It's as if there is total sales paralysis. Sales productivity is probably at an all time low, at a time when the company needs them most. As the sales manager, this all falls in your lap. You are the face of the sales organization. The company needs you to change your hat from manager to leader to help focus the troops on the task at hand.
Since this is a relatively new issue, most sales managers have not been trained how to help their team regain their focus to drive productivity (a.k.a. sales). As a sales manager, what can you do to regain the reigns of the team and lead them to sales success?
Other industry experts have also weighed in on this issue. If they were talking to a sales manager about how to focus their sales team and drive productivity, they suggest…
"Sales managers must remember the behavior of sales people is driven by the
desire to avoid pain or gain pleasure. The more powerful of these two drivers is
the desire to gain pleasure. Smart sales managers recognize that achievement and
recognition of that achievement are the two most powerful motivators in sales.
So instead of cracking the whip, they are whipping up contests, games, spiffs,
and awards that keep their sales professionals focused, happy, and engaged."
"Stop being complacent to selling professionals. Selling professionals
control their destiny more than any other organizational function. Nothing
happens unless something is sold. Selling professionals must speak with
customers, requesting referrals and closing business. Watching the news is
simply a form of procrastination. They must discover the unspent allocated money
from the current budget year and request the business. Products and services are
still needed. Tell selling professionals to do what the competition is not -
"Managers need to shift away from fear based management and develop more of a
collaborative coaching culture. You cannot inspire others when you are afraid
and you can’t be inspired when you’re full of fear and worry. Conduct more
frequent one-to-one meetings, build greater accountability by relinquishing your
role as Chief Problem Solver and have less tolerance for mediocrity. Ultimately,
management needs to adapt, innovate and evolve or suffer from corporate
inefficiency, rigidity and declining profits.”
"In tough times, sellers must be at the top of their game. As a sales
manager, your job is to infuse your team with fresh thinking - to make sure they
have the knowledge and skills to deal with today's challenges. Start a "book of
the month" club. Register for webinars or teleseminars put on by sales experts.
Encourage sign up for sales e-newsletters. Lead weekly "how we won" sessions.
For maximum impact, start now!"
"Sales managers must help salespeople to maintain clarity, calm their nerves,
help them function, keep them positive, get them motivated, challenge them to
perform, urge them to fill their pipelines and hold them accountable to all of
that. And talking the talk isn’t quite enough. When conducting pre-call
strategizing, coaching must include how the account or call plan will be
executed – with role play – so that sales managers are certain their salespeople
truly have the ability to get it done. Your pipelines may have been thrown into
a holding pattern. Orders haven't canceled or been lost to competitors; they are
simply delayed. The sooner that everyone gets over their initial reaction to the
recession and gets back to just doing business, the sooner that money will
loosen up and start changing hands again."
"To get the malaise out of your sales team give them permission to press the
“off button” and shut out the negative media. Protect seller’s natural optimism
– have contests for the best joke of the day – buy coffee for the winner. Equip
them with the winning words – role-play the very words decision-makers
long/need/want to hear: which are how your product increases revenues; decreases
expenses; mitigates risk."
"We read & hear the doom and gloom every day about this economy. Well, I
believe we need to start managing our attitudes and mindsets, as well as our
sales efforts. It is time to look at all the challenges, issues and problems as
OPPORTUNITIES wearing disguises. Strip off the disguises, identify the
opportunity and deliver a solution. Be positive, persistent, proactive and
patient in this time of change.”
“Here’s my best piece of advice to those leading sales teams today: Do all
you can to continually boost your staff’s confidence -- confidence in
themselves, confidence in their product, and confidence in the problems your
product solves for your customers. Suggestions on how to do that: Remind them of
successful case studies often. Feed them creative ways to confidently answer
your top objections. Work with them one-on-one to develop their own individual
style, so they sound and act naturally confident. Today’s customers have NO
margin for error in choosing their suppliers; do all you can to help your staff
be the ones that others can trust to make them look good!”
"Many sales teams are not only going through a big wake up call on the
economic front, but are going through an earth moving generational shift...from
Baby Boomers and Generation X running the show to men and women under the age of
30 making critical business decisions for our organizations. At the end of the
day, they want to know "How are my ideas being incorporated and actually applied
to our sales processes to make us better at what we do?"
"To create momentum, keep your sales team focused on what they need to do
today, or this week, by implementing a 20 point system. On this system, they
earn points for doing the right types of sales activities: conversations,
appointments booked, face-to-face meetings, referrals, closed files and closed
business. The focus on the right kind of activities with targeted prospects will
result in creating the desired energy."
"Sales managers should hold a meeting with their sales teams with a focus on
creating two lists: one containing the things the salespeople CAN'T control, and
one containing the things they CAN control. Managers should then encourage their
salespeople to focus 100% of their attention on the things they CAN control.
Nothing blows away feelings of helplessness like having an action plan and
TAKING DAILY ACTION against that plan."
"Downturn leadership requires laser-like focus. Focus to reinforce customer
service, existing customer relationships, and presence in the marketplaces. This
results in improved perception of market position and stronger, more profitable
customer relationships (again, what every sales leader wants more of). Focus on
the “vital few” - the 20 percent of customers, product lines, industries that
has the greatest impact. Do not only rely on your instincts to identify your
vital few—use data to determine the truth about your sales and customers."
"During this time of stress, management needs to attend to the emotional
needs of their sales professionals. Part of that attention is to help them
understand what they can change and what is beyond their abilities to change.
For example they can change their attitude in how they approach each day,
keeping a positive focus and working to produce results. What they can’t change
is how the market will fluctuate on an hour by hour basis."
"Sales managers need to roll up their sleeves and join the team. The worse
thing to do in this situation is to add pressure from above with no active
participation in the solution. The sales teams I’ve coached tell me that because
I’m in the trenches with them, they are more motivated—even in tough times. Your
sales team needs to know you are in it with them. Together you will conquer!"
"There has never been a more critical time for sales leaders to work overtime
to ensure that their teams remain focused and fully motivated: Attitude is,
after all, that small thing that makes such a big difference. Strong leadership
from the front, and by example, is the only way to reverse the downward spiral
that comes with self-limiting beliefs and fears."
"In order to re-energize your team you need to help them become more
successful. The fastest way you can do that is by establishing a killer sales
strategy that focuses on a moderate amount of ideal clients. An effective
strategy positions you as the industry expert, educates the client/prospect on
how to run their business better, sets the buying criteria and establishes doing
business with you as a forgone conclusion. Your sales people will be fired up
because they are closing lots of business, making good money and loving life!"
"Although the current economic situation presents problems for you and your
sales team, it also presents unprecedented opportunities. There are still
prospects buying and customers purchasing additional products and services, and
your competitors are facing the same daunting and depressing news. Salespeople
who overcome their lethargy and seek new business can turn this economic
downturn into a record-breaking year. Empathize with their issues, but emphasize
the tremendous opportunities your team has while their competition is sitting on
"The key to making the sale in this economy is to help your team stay focused
on solving real customer problems and enabling them to add immediate value to
their business. We have been in this economic situation before and we will be
here again – the strong will survive and 20% of sales people will exceed their
quota in spite of the economy. Our job as sales managers is to not let the
economy become the excuse for non performance and lack of productivity."
"The sales manager needs to communicate the company’s vision, mission,
values, goals, and expectations to the sales team weekly and then reward their
accountability. The senior management team must define and communicate the
criteria for a profitable customer and all sales efforts need to be focused on
securing and managing those accounts. The sales professionals, who learn how to
thrive in this economy, will develop skills and talents that will guide them to
“Salespeople will be excited to come to work when they adopt a
referral-selling strategy. They’ll meet with decision makers, shorten their
sales process, and convert prospects to clients more than 50% of the time—while
acing out the competition and landing new, profitable clients. They’ll meet only
with the people they want to meet and who want to meet them. What an
irresistible proposition! Money in their pockets. What a great motivator!”
“The issue has become one of finding and sustaining mental energy. Not just
the energy you and your team need to achieve sales. Even more important is your
ability to sustain the enthusiasm, calm and inspiration needed to get your team
through these torrid times. Instead of work life balance, it’s about getting the
right flow of personal energy input and business energy output. Having an
enjoyable personal interest that enables you to switch off is a good start.”
“My recommendation is simple. Identify specifically two things that your
sales professionals have done well to adjust to the new marketplace. Once you
determine them, discuss 2-3 areas that you both agree are in need of
development. Reach out to all your sales professionals and repeat this process.
Compile the responses and put together a measurable action plan for your team.
And don’t forget to follow through.”
“Employ equal doses of inspiration, motivation, and oversight to
simultaneously raise morale and maintain production levels. Use anecdotes from
well-known figures in history who’ve met and overcome challenges. Set specific
short-term goals, and monitor progress against them. Project an air of optimism,
and lead by example. Direct the team to focus with laser-like discipline on only
those opportunities that have real legs. Provide oversight to ensure they are
maintaining that focus.”
Lee B. Salz is a sales management guru who helps companies hire the right sales people, on-board them, and focus their sales activity using his sales architecture® methodology. He is the President of Sales Architects, the C.E.O. of Business Expert Webinars and author of “Soar Despite Your Dodo Sales Manager.” Lee is an online columnist for Sales and Marketing Management Magazine, a print columnist for SalesforceXP Magazine, and the host of the Internet radio show, “Secrets of Business Gurus.” Look for Lee's new book in February 2009 titled, "The Sales Marriage” where he shares the secrets to hiring the right sales people. He is a passionate, dynamic speaker and a business consultant. Lee can be reached at lsalz@SalesArchitecture.com or 763.416.4321.
Keywords: work-life balance, how to manage a sales team, how to increase sales, sales best practices, increase sales productivity, sales management challenges
Contributor: Lee B. Salz
Published here on: 11-Jan-09