Every Saturday morning, our six-year-old son comes crashing into our room with the same earnest request; “Daddy, can we play games on the TV together?” Since the time he was able to hold a controller in his hands, Brady and I have spent part of Saturday morning playing video games together. It's become a ritual that is a reward for him, and a fun way for us to spend some dedicated time together.
As Brady strolls through the different games deciding which one to pick, he always asks the same question: “Is this one a two-player game?” “Is this one a two-player game?” Most of the time he waits until I confirm that we both can play before selecting one. Other times he picks the one-player game, while I sit back and watch him play the game, occasionally commenting on something or giving him a piece of advice.
Sounds a little like sales management, doesn’t it? Which one sounds closer to your management style? Odds are it leans more towards the second scenario – We provide some initial direction, then let our sales reps play the sales game while we watch, make comments, and throw in the occasional bit of advice. Many times we even leave the room, wishing them good luck as we go, and check back in every once in a while to see if they are winning.
I’ve heard way too many times from owners and managers that they want a sales rep they can hire and “just let them loose.” Everybody wants the sales rep that is completely autonomous, 100% self-driven, and has this big “book of business” they can immediately and endlessly tap into. The problem is, almost nobody is like this. Everybody needs direction and support, not just sales people. That’s why elite professional athletes are constantly surrounded by multiple coaches, why CEO’s have boards of directors and belong to CEO roundtables and peer groups, and why even entrepreneurs have executive coaches, mentors, and advisory councils.
Your sales rep, even a successful industry veteran, needs to be held accountable. Many sales managers have the mistaken assumption that the more talented, successful, and experienced a sales rep is, the less structure and accountability they need. Wrong! Over and over and over, I’ve seen that the best sales rep crave structure. When I was running a regional sales team a few years back, it was my top sales reps that never missed a one-on-one call with me, while the struggling reps would always have a reason to reschedule or “forget” we had our weekly scheduled call. To a highly-driven sales rep, quotas and metrics translate into challenges and goals. To a less driven and focused rep, they translate into micromanagement.
So, here are some simple steps you can do as a manager to hold up your part of this relationship, and ensure that your sales reps get the structure, feedback, and direction they need to be successful.
- Approach sales as a team –Your success is directly tied to the success of your sales people, so why leave it up to them to sink or swim? Quickly establish with your sales rep that you are going to work together to help them be successful. If they miss their goals or struggle in areas, reaffirm your commitment to helping them succeed. Work together on creating and executing an action plan. Don’t just leave it up to them to do more activity or “try harder.”
- Set weekly and annual goals – Sales reps need to know what your definition of success is, and how to get there. Here is a previous blog that discusses the four critical metrics you should be tracking.
- Track progress to goals – Goals don’t mean much if no one is looking at them. Have your sales rep report to you weekly their actual performance compared to your goals. For a simple, but highly effective activity report, download our weekly activity planner.
- Schedule a weekly one-on-one meeting – Talking to your sales rep throughout the week is great, but it doesn’t replace a formal one on one meeting. You should have at least one a week with each of your sales reps, and make them mandatory for both of you. If one of you has a scheduling conflict, reschedule – don’t cancel. Use the weekly activity planner as your meeting agenda, and provide immediate feedback on their progress
Sales people are a commitment, but that doesn’t mean they need to take up all your time. The above activities make a huge difference in creating a culture of accountability in your sales organization, and once set up, they make the sales management process highly efficient. Take the time to set the stage with goals and reporting, then provide ongoing direction and support. You will see a significant improvement in the performance of your sales team.