How to turbocharge your sales team to achieve ambitious revenue goals
You’re planning for 2023. There’s a growth target you want to hit, so you’re looking at the sales you will need. A lot is riding on this. Hiring decisions for new staff, resource allocation and investments in innovation are all reliant on new sales. You can fail at many things in business, but you can’t afford to fail at revenue.
So it’s crucial to build a high-performance culture in your sales team. Yet too many businesses fail to meet their growth targets. As they get later into the year, they start to cut back. Salespeople get more and more desperate to sell. They win unprofitable deals that are a bad fit. These get poorly delivered – they’re an ongoing headache for support, and the customer is unhappy too. Referrals dry up, and you’re stuck in a miserable spiral to the bottom.
Contrast this with organisations with high-performing sales teams. It looks effortless. They target a smaller number of high-value customers that are profitable. New accounts are well-resourced, and customer satisfaction levels are high. Referrals pour in, and business spirals upwards.
So which one is your business? If you have more in common with the first scenario, you need a serious re-think. Recognise the importance of improving your sales function. Based on my experience training and coaching around sales, here are some ideas to turbocharge your team.
Have a purpose
This is first on the list as it can have the most profound impact. Great sales teams have a clearly defined sense of their purpose. They know why they’re doing what they’re doing. Sales leaders need to live and breathe this. Scratch their skin, and it’s there, just under the surface.
If a sales team can enthuse about what they’re selling, that’s half the battle won. And I mean enthuse. There needs to be passion and energy. They need to understand the profound impact they can have on their customer’s businesses. This should fire them up and excite them.
Most of our clients are purpose-led. Smartsourcing are a great example. I was with them over Christmas and did a session with their leadership team. I asked everyone to tell their origin story; by the end, there wasn’t a dry eye in the room. Their purpose as an organisation is to change the lives of 5000 Filipinos. Judging by the stories we heard that night, they’re well on the way to achieving it.
High performance will come from believing in what you’re doing. So spend some time defining a purpose and ensure it’s fully embedded in your sales team.
Get clear on core customer
Put in a model that says this is how you will approach your market. Too often, companies cast the net too widely. Work out what your expectations are in terms of growth. And how many net new core or ideal customers do you need to achieve this? In most markets, this won’t be thousands of leads.
Instead, you need to segment. Work out your core customer – the one that buys from you at the highest profit. Give them a name and job title, e.g. ‘Trevor’ from Human Resources. People buy stuff, not companies. Work out how you can add value to Trevor’s life. How can you be an expert in the problem Trevor has? Then make sure your sales team understand this implicitly.
Avoid paying commission
‘What?’ I hear you cry. ‘Really? Surely salespeople are only motivated by money.’ I know this is controversial but hear me out. When it comes to motivation, we’re all the same. Whether you work in IT, Finance or Sales, you want a sense of self-worth. And that self-worth should come from your purpose, not from money.
If the rest of your employees aren’t paid commission, don’t pay your salespeople this way. Assuming that good salespeople are coin-operated is a mistake. Most people don’t do piecework. You don’t pay software developers per line of code. If you did that, they might write shorter lines or rubbish code.
Similarly, if you paid support desks per ticket closed, they would likely steam through them without paying any attention to customer satisfaction. If you pay salespeople to close business, is it any surprise that some deals aren’t suitable for the customer or the company? And once they hit their target, they stop. Where’s the incentive to do 2x?
If you’re genuinely trying to build a ‘great company’ (in the Jim Collins sense of the word), there are better approaches than this. You’re passionate about what you do. You want to be the best in the world at it. And you want one of the top 15% of salespeople that feels the same way. You shouldn’t need to pay sales commission – they’re intrinsically motivated to solve their core customer’s problem. There’s no evidence that remuneration changes behaviour. Hire people with the right traits and allow them to flourish.
Your sales teams need to spend all day, every day selling. Be ruthless about this. Hopefully, you’ve employed people skilled in the art of conversation. Then make sure they spend 80% of their time talking to potential core customers.
Don’t have them cleaning data or doing quotes. They shouldn’t need to set appointments or spend hours on their CRM. Don’t give them responsibility for existing customers. They are NOT Account Managers. They’re salespeople. These people should have a talent for sales – if they genuinely love selling, they’ll bite your hand off to be released from all the admin. Get them to spend all their time selling net new revenue to net new customers. All the other stuff can be done by Marketing and Customer Services.
Expect high standards
I’ve never been in a sales team that’s hitting its number without putting in the hard yards. And conversely, it’s rare to see salespeople putting in the activity and not getting results. Activity will lead to winning deals if you’ve clarified your purpose, core customer and value proposition. No question.
Set high standards around CRM. Too often, I go into client businesses and ask for sales data. What they give me tells me nothing. You can’t tell why they’re failing because their data is rubbish. This happened only the other day with a client who had a turnover of several million pounds. Their sales operation was massive, and they’d put in world-class CRM. They pressed a button, and it generated garbage!
I’ve been in some organisations where, because of how the sales pipeline reviews are run, it’s evident that the salespeople are sending out proposals to clients they know they’ll never close. Their close rate is 1 in 10 – really poor. They do this because if they only proposed to customers who they could win, they wouldn’t have enough in their pipeline for the weekly review. And they’d be blamed for not doing enough work. They waste time and effort creating proposals that are doomed from the outset. Watch out if this toxic culture is creeping into your team. Far better to push for an early ‘no’ from these clients so your teams can line up behind something that’s winnable.
Build a non-judgemental, supportive sales culture
Too often, there’s a feeling that salespeople need to be beaten into submission. Their working environment becomes combative, and there’s little or no support.
In high-performing sales teams, the leadership spends time training and coaching their teams. In these businesses, calls are recorded but not to catch people out or check up on them. They’re recorded so managers can single out a great call that can be shared and learned from. Reps are encouraged and helped to win rather than being pushed or punished.
Ensure your salespeople can easily marshall resources across your organisation. They should feel like valued members of the team. I’ve seen companies hold ‘deal clinics’ where, if an opportunity is winnable, large chunks of the business will come together to create a solution for the customer. Everyone is aligned.
What’s the definition of a team? A group of people working towards a common goal. Does your sales team meet that description? High-performing sales teams will help each other, share things and leg each other up.
Rather than each sales rep managing their own sales pipeline and jealously guarding opportunities, the team should have a shared goal. Everyone should work towards it. What’s the point of one person winning when the rest of the team is losing?
I often think of the analogy of seven-year-olds playing football here. Johnny scores two goals and pats himself on the back. But the team loses 5:2. Not much to celebrate. There’s too much of this in poorly performing sales teams. So forget about paying commission – pay all sales reps the same and give them a common purpose. This is how you incentivise success.
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