Selling is a craft. It's a performance. It's also a bit of a mystery. Why is it that two salespeople who work for the same manager have different results? Both salespeople sell the same thing, to similar clients, at the same price. If one salesperson complains about an underhanded competitor, another salesperson has little trouble dispatching that same competitor. Let's agree to call this "the variability of individual results."
If you wish that everyone on your team reached their maximum level of production, you are not alone. While I can't promise this post will help you eliminate variability, it can tell you how to improve sales performance. The short answer to how to improve your team's sales results is to increase effectiveness. Let's take a comprehensive look at improving sales results.
Starting with a Competency Model
When you think of sales as a craft and a performance, you can see it from a different perspective. Like in any craft, there are skills that can be taught, trained, and learned. These are the skills most sales leaders look for. But like any craft, sales can benefit from certain character traits that, when combined with the skills, create the desired results. A competency model addresses the skills and traits that form the foundation of a craft. Without a competency model, it is difficult to discern why an individual or team fails to improve their performance.
One senior leader complained that his team needed to be taught to prospect. He believed his team lacked the skills to schedule a meeting, but in reality, the team lacked discipline. This was made worse because the leader didn’t actually lead the team or hold them accountable. Another leader decided that her team should challenge their clients more, and she soon became unhappy with their performance. Until she asked them to change their approach, she didn't realize that most of her team was conflict averse.
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Assessing Individuals and Teams
You need to assess your team and the individuals that compose it. It isn't enough to assess your team as a whole. When you only assess the collective group, you will be blind to the individual factors behind the variability of results.
You assess your team so you can identify the skills they need to develop. When a large part of your sales force needs to improve a skill, you can improve sales performance through training. Developing a skills-based competency improves effectiveness and sales performance. Starting with a team assessment can help you address major obstacles to revenue growth. However, this often isn’t enough to improve sales performance. Which brings us to individual assessments.
Our competency model is comprehensive. It includes many more character traits than skills. Each salesperson will have several traits while missing others. To address the variability of results, you must recognize what character traits each individual needs to develop. It's unlikely that a salesperson is aware of the traits they need to improve their results. To be fair, you and I may have a tough time recognizing the traits we need to work on; therefore we have coaches.
By assessing both your team and the individual salespeople on it, you can build a plan to increase your team's effectiveness and each salesperson's performance. Improving sales performance comes from increased effectiveness, so that should be your primary and perennial focus.
High Standards and Sales Performance
There may be nothing worse than accepting a salesperson's performance. Great leaders see something in the individuals on their teams and help them recognize their potential. Part of the way you improve sales performance is to raise your standards. When you raise your expectations and hold your team accountable for meeting those standards, you affect change. This must be an ongoing process because what got you here, will not get you there.
When a sales team is not challenged to improve, it is almost certain that they will get worse. Entropy occurs when people and results are neglected. As far as I have been able to discern, no human has ever reached their full potential.
Coaching and Improving Sales Performance
The role of a sales manager is one of the more difficult things you might take on in business. The variability of results, the time-bound nature of sales, and the challenges of having to compete against other individuals and teams make it unlike other roles. No one in the accounting function is competing with the competitor's accounting function. Sales managers have a tough time taking care of their team while still handling their internal obligations. Salespeople want more coaching, as selling is becoming more difficult, but when asked about this, sales managers complain about not having time to coach.
Sales managers who want their teams to improve must make time for coaching. It is the best way to address an individual's lack of competency. It is also a high-leverage activity that, when done well and consistently, results in improved effectiveness. Acquiring a missing competency, be it a skill or a character trait, allows a salesperson to succeed in an area they once struggled. The competency model can help you improve performance by identifying and addressing what's missing at an individual level.
Strong, Engaged Leadership and Sales Performance
Improving sales performance requires strong and engaged leaders to help their teams develop. Coaching and development creates an asymmetric advantage for the teams that do it. Neglectful sales leaders will have a hard time competing against organizations where leaders actively support and develop their teams. Look at any successful team, be it in sales, an orchestra, or a sports team, and you will find high standards and continual growth.
Improving sales performance is a matter of developing the individuals that make up your team, using training and coaching to cultivate the competencies that improve results. If you are concerned about increasing activity, know that one of the character traits of high performers is that they temper the autonomy that comes with sales with a great deal of discipline. Your consistent effort toward building the competencies your team needs will be rewarded with consistent improvement.