A successful sales team will lead to a fruitful business. You can use these tips and tricks to improve your business’ profitability and long-term competitiveness
When you start a business, you might be sales manager, marketing director and lone salesperson all in one. But, as your business grows you’ll need to put some thought into who you’re going to hire to be a part of your sales team. Your sales team will drive your company’s growth, the more sales people you have, the more sales you’ll generate, according to Mark LeBlanc, serial entrepreneur, in his book Growing Your Business!
Adding sales personnel and improving your existing sales staff are essential parts of growing your business. Here are five critical steps you need to take to ensure your hire and train the best, but also give them the right tools to improve and dominate at sales:
1. Hire the right team
You can’t succeed without plenty of talent on your sales team. “Extremely talented sales people who are ready to put in the effort required can be hard to come by; but once you find them, they’re invaluable to your organisation,” says John Marshall, president and founder of The Self-Management Group.
Related: 5 Tips to hiring the best employees
Here is a simple equation to determine the suitability of a candidate when assembling a sales team to grow your business:
Do they have the right talent?
Are your candidates made to work in sales? When assessing a candidate’s talent, you should look at their potential and their skills. Potential is not something that can be taught, this is the inherent charisma that flows naturally from successful sales people.
“The biggest waste of resources is trying to train people who don’t have the potential to do the tasks you’re asking of them,” says Marshall. Without the natural personality and temperament, they won’t be able to learn the skills necessary for them to achieve sales.
If you find someone who doesn’t have the experience you need, but does have the right temperament, you can offer them training. This will help to ensure they know all about your business, your products and how to go about approaching potential and repeat customers. “If your organisation develops a training programme, you can consider hiring good candidates without this aspect of talent, and then teach them the skills they need. But, if your organisation doesn’t have a training programme, you’ll want to hire people who come already equipped with the necessary skills,” advises Marshall.
Do they exhibit the right habits?
So you’ve narrowed down your candidate pool, now you need to find the interviewees that have the right attitude. “And although a good attitude doesn’t predict good performance, a bad attitude does predict bad performance,” reveals Marshall. You want optimistic sales people, you can structure your questions to see whether the candidate approaches tasks from a positive or negative point of view.
You’ll also want to look at the physical habits of your potential sales people. Candidates that don’t put in a lot of effort won’t live up to their sales potential, regardless of whether they have the talent. “Look for evidence that the candidate is a hard worker. Do they have a pattern of high effort? Note that this is not a matter of whether they’ve been successful in the past or not – lack of success may be unrelated to their level of effort,” says Marshall.
For example, a talented sales person that wasn’t performing at a previous company could be due to a bad corporate culture. You can use the questions in your interview to uncover insights into the habits of behaviour in your potential candidates.
Do they fit in your business?
Now that you’ve found the candidates with talent and work ethic, now you need to ensure they fit with your company culture. “If someone fits with your corporate culture, they are much more likely to stay and perform well. However, candidates who are a bad fit are likely to leave sooner, even if they are star sales people,” says Marshall. The fit of the new candidate is the biggest predictor of retention, so ensure you find people who fit with your company culture to retain talented sales people.
6 Tips on how to ask the most revealing interview questions
- Avoid easy-to-practice questions:“So start with a clean slate of questions, and at the very least eliminate overused and easy-to-practice questions with a low predictive value,” says John Sullivan, Ph.D., is a professor of management at San Francisco State University.
- Stay clear of historical questions:“Behavioural interview questions (e.g. ‘tell me about a time when you led…’), are problematic in a fast-moving world where yesterday’s approaches quickly become irrelevant,” adds Sullivan.
- Assess your candidates’ ability to solve problems: Ask them how they would perform in various scenarios that are particular to your business or business landscape.
- Assess your candidates’ ability to learn, adapt and innovate: Ask your candidate about ongoing learning; how quickly they can adapt and increase innovation among your team in response to competition or new technologies.
- Avoid duplications: Don’t ask questions that are on their CV or you have already covered in the telephonic interview.
- Sell your business to them: Allocate time to excite and sell the candidate on your job, and ask them why they want to work for your company.
2. On-board your sales team appropriately
There are a lot of advantages to onboarding your sales team, but if you’re getting it wrong it can be causing you a lot of grief as well. Here are five reasons why you should consider implementing sales onboarding:
Reason 1: Protect your investment
“When companies hire sales people, they are making a significant revenue investment. Onboarding not only protects the investment, but also helps to ensure a high rate of return on it,” says Lee Salz, president of Sales Architects. This is because it helps your sales team to get into action quicker, with a clear understanding of your business, giving you a higher rate of return on your investment in your new sales force.
Reason 2: Reduce wait on return on investment
One of the most common complaints is the amount of time it takes a new sales person to start producing meaningful revenue. “By having a structured onboarding experience, this production timeline is reduced, meaning that the money invested before seeing a return is also lessened,” says Salz. By onboarding you are given the opportunity to teach sales people how to position your products properly, increase their potential.
Reason 3: Improve knowledge and experience with the product
Everyone has had to deal with inept sales people in one way or another, you don’t want that to reflect your company. “Onboarding ensures your sales people are equipped with the knowledge your clients expect to glean from them while delivering a fantastic experience,” says Salz.
When your sales staff can’t speak knowledgeably about your products or the industry, for example, it creates a negative reflection on your brand. Onboarding teaches your sales force what the marketplace expects them to know.
Related: 10 Employment Acts start-ups must know when hiring employees
Reason 4: Reduce your staff churn
“In the first year of employment, the most common reason for turnover on a sales team is that sales expectations are not met,” says Salz. Either you let them go or they quit, in both cases it will hurt your revenue investment. Onboarding allows them to have a full understanding of your business and your expectation, allowing them to work towards this goal and feel like they are meeting, if not, exceeding your expectation.
Reason 5: Choose from a larger talent pool
Onboarding allows you to hire from those with natural talent, but without industry experience. “Many companies limit their hiring scope to just those sales people with industry experience. Yet, there are only so many people in your industry and only a small subset you would want on your team or who would want to be on your team,” says Salz. You can now hire from strong seller in other industries.
On the flip side, there are critical mistakes you could be making with your onboarding strategy. Here are six mistakes you could be making when onboarding your sales team:
Mistake 1: Not having an onboarding programme
When your sales team isn’t meeting their potential few businesses consider the source is how the sales person was assimilated into the organisation, yet, this can often be the problem. “Sales people arrive at a company with potential. The onboarding programme should be designed to ensure the potential becomes a reality,” says Salz. Ensuring your new sales person assimilates into your business smoothly can be the difference between meeting their targets or not.
Mistake 2: Not having objectives
Your onboarding needs to have and meet objectives. “Document the expectations you have of those who successfully complete your onboarding programme and create content that leads to those expectations being met,” says Salz.
Mistake 3: Having a generic onboarding programme
Where your candidate came from and their current level of experience, will determine the type of onboarding programme they’ll need to complete. “You may hire from within the industry, outside of the industry, transfer an employee to the sales team or hire someone just out of school. The expectations of those who successfully complete onboarding doesn’t change, just the path to ensure they are met,” says Salz.
Related: 6 Tips to keep in mind when hiring your first employees
Mistake 4: Don’t rush
Everyone would love their sales team to earn them money on their first day, but that’s not a realistic goal. “Identify when proficiency is required in their tenure and structure the programme accordingly. Plan the pace to ensure that the knowledge and skills are retained,” says Salz.
Mistake 5: Not assessing your staff forces’ proficiency
Your sales team has been initiated with the onboarding experience, and now you’ve sent them off to sell. But, shouldn’t you have checked that they have product and business knowledge correctly and that they remember everything they need to know correctly?
“At the end of onboarding, have an assessment programme that gives the new sales people the opportunity to show their stuff. This can come in the form of a written exam, simulated sales call or group presentation, and/or a CRM practical,” says Salz. This last step is crucial to ensuring your new sales person is on track for success.
Mistake 6: No feedback
The more feedback you get for your onboarding process the better the experience can become. Conduct a participant survey to see suggestions or criticism about your onboarding programme and use this feedback to either add or remove sections that aren’t meeting objectives.
3. Put the right sales tools in place
Implementing marketing workflow automation allows you to automate your internal marketing processes. This includes streamlining your budgeting and planning, workflow and approvals, your marketing calendar as well as internal collaboration, digital asset creation and management, and anything else that supports the operational efficiency of the internal marketing function.
These types of systems usually require a CRM administrator to arrange a complex series of rules to trigger action items for both internal sales and marketing professionals to manually process, such as designing files, sending letters, and sending email campaigns. These systems will increase your team’s ability to deliver relevant content to relevant individuals at relevant times.
Implementing marketing automation software today brings rich features into a business and is quick to implement and is generally affordable. It has brought down the cost of doing self-automation and also improves ROI, as a result,” says Matt West, marketing director at Connected Marketer.
He continues to reveal the two areas were you’ll receive the most gains:
Better conversion rate
Keeping track of your revenue when dealing with complex sales processes can be challenging because of the length deals can take to close. “A pragmatic solution is to use stages: from inquiry, to qualified lead, to a lead that is accepted by sales, via opportunity to closed business. For every step, you can measure a percentage: say 5% of inquiries turn into qualified leads,” says West. Once you can improve your conversion rates, it makes it possible to forecast an increase in revenue earlier.
Improved lead generation
Implementing marketing automation doesn’t just increase conversions, it can also make lead generations efficient. “Often, the effectiveness of lead generation is measured by the number of new leads. However, a low quality lead is unlikely to result in revenue. With proper marketing automation processes, you can correlate revenue to specific lead generation activities,” says West.
The automated marketing process will give you clear feedback about which lead generation strategies are offering returns, and which aren’t. You can then adjust your lead generation portfolio based on the results, which will allow you to generate better-quality leads and increase revenue.
How marketing automation works
Marketing automation offers your business the opportunity to create sophisticated and engaging campaigns that respond automatically to customer and potential customers’ lifecycle segments and behaviour, amongst other things. This software automates repetitive tasks, allowing your marketing team to focus on custom responsibilities and offering them the opportunity to improve their efficiency and reducing human error in the mundane chores.
Related: Hiring: the when, where and how
According to Focus.com, the combination of a sales strategy with marketing automation yielded a 417% increase in revenue for the companies surveyed. In addition, businesses that use marketing automation to nurture potential clients experience a 451% increase in usable leads; nurtured leads in turn make 47% larger purchases than non-nurtured leads.
4. Train and manage your sales employees effectively
These two elements typically help your sales associates to increase sales:
- Increase the quantity of sales effort by adding sales people
- Improve the quality of sales efforts by investing in coaching and training.
The third, overlooked, strategy is improving the allocation of sales effort. This means that your sales teams needs to work smarter not harder, by dividing their time more strategically among customers, products, and sales activities. Here are five questions that can help you to trace any probable cause of sales effort misallocation:
Question 1: Do your sales people know what’s important?
If your sales team isn’t clear about which markets and products are priorities, they can focus on less important aspects, which could result in lower income. The key to avoid this is constant communication and reminding your sales team what their goals are at all times, especially if your company’s goals change throughout the year and products move up and down the priority list.
Question 2: Do your sales people have the information they need?
Your sales team will spend their time more efficiently when they have access to solid information and tools. Businesses like Netflix and Amazon, give their sales people direction using predictive models, this helps them to improve sales with under-performing, high potential customers. The analytics delivers information that can help your sales team focus on product offerings that match customers’ needs, which increases sales.
Question 3: Does your sales team have the competencies required?
If you sales team is neglecting priorities because of insufficient skills and knowledge, you need to implement coaching and training strategies. For example, if you were a computer manufacturer selling your product to retails, but you discovered that the retailers’ sales people didn’t know very much about your product. This will then result in your product having low sales and lost opportunities. If you offer the retailers the right kind of training, it can help improve your bottom line as well as theirs.
Question 4: Are your sales people motivated to succeed?
Employees are motivated when they can perceive value for their efforts, such as career success, recognition, personal satisfaction and money. Sales people are no different, you need to keep your sales force motivated in order to succeed. Ideas for keeping your sales team motivated is to change up the incentive plan, or change the criteria for recognition programmes, while still acknowledging those who are successful.
Question 5: Do your sales people have enough time for their customer loads?
If your sales force has too many diverse responsibilities, it can mean that they can’t give every customer adequate time. To ensure that they are spending time on company priorities you can restructure your sales force.
Your sales teams are dived into Hunters and Farmers, Hunters specialise in developing new accounts, while Farmers are inherently better at cultivating and growing the relationship to generate repeat business. You need to help these two types to prioritise the activities they’re better at.
Once you’ve answered these five questions you need to consider how much your sales force knows and how valuable ongoing learning will be to both them and your business.
Create a culture of ongoing learning
Lifelong learning will give you, your team and your business an advantage over those who aren’t continuously learning new things. Before you instil an understanding of and love for learning, you need to instil in your staff that they are accountable for their own futures. The more effort they put it, the more reward they’ll get out. Here are a few ways you can help them reach their ongoing learning goals:
1. Lead by example
Talk to your sales force about how much you read and learn, and share experiences that show how easily this process can be to apply.
2. Determine your sales teams learning needs
Implement a performance management system, this will allow you to see the baseline of your staff. You can use this system to show your staff where you expect them to be and where they may have gaps in their knowledge or skills base.
3. Ask for continuous updates
As part of your regular contact with your sales staff, you can ask them to outline something new that they have learnt recently. Encourage your team to reflect on the method of learning, which will reveal when the best time for individuals to learn is. This will help them to stay motivated and optimise their learning.
5. Making sales and closing deals
To beat your toughest competitors you need to show your offering in a way that appeals to your ideal client. They need to know that you and your sales team has their best interests at heart. The market is highly competitive, and you need to prepare your team if you want to stand against other businesses in your market space.
Here are five selling strategies to help your team surpass any competition and improve your effectiveness at landing sales:
Step 1: Treat your prospective like they’ve hired you
Your competition are going to approach potential customers from a point of offering a sale or requesting to work with them. If you and your sales force want to beat your competition, you’ll need to do something that sets you apart. If you go into the meeting from the position that you’re already hired, it changes the tone of the business interaction.
The conversation changes from “buy this” to “I’ve identified a problem. Let’s fix it this way.”
Step 2: Don’t lower your price
Lower prices can give the impression that your product is affordable, but it can also scare clients off. Low prices give off the impression that your service is of questionable quality, because clients relate a higher price to high quality.
When you keep your price at its original position (higher), you’re telling your new customers that you’re offering a premium product, that is worthy of the higher price bracket.
Step 3: Offer specials, coupons and discounts
Limited-time incentives can win over potential customers, especially if they know they’re getting a premium product at a discounted price.
“Offering discounts on your products can help kick-start a successful sales cycle for your business. Many of the companies that have listed their discount offers on our search engine have begun to experience a surge in growth. It's not just about customers seeing your products, the price has to be a fit,” says Peter King, founder of Mamma.com, a targeted search engine for coupons and discount codes.
Step 4: Sell with value in mind, not the price
If your sales force only uses the price of your product as your comparative advantage over your competitors, it will not entice customers to buy from you. You need to identify and promote the value your service provides, if you can prove that your beat your competitions on value, you can win customers.
Step 5: Tier your pricing
This allows customers of different incomes or preference to have multiple options available to choose from. This strategy will help you to attract a wide range of customers, giving you a wider reach.
Even one-offs give your customers a taste of the opportunity you’re offering, encouraging them to continue to buy from you. When clientele see a different price point for each tier, they tend to go for the premium price, which means more customers will be paying the larger amount than before. Resulting in an increase in profitability, without increasing productivity.
Related: 4 Hiring techniques needed to build a stellar team
Once you’ve laid the ground work for your sales forces’ selling strategies, now you need to know how to close the deal:
Know everything you can about the decision-making process up front
Before you start you presentation, you want to know who makes the decisions, how long these decisions generally take, and what the decisions process entails. This will help you streamline your strategy, as you only need to present to the people who make the decisions, and you can give them all the information they need to say yes to your proposal.
What is your value proposition?
Focus on the real value your service can offer, instead of outlining all the features and benefits of your services. Your prospective customer is buying the outcomes and solutions of your products, so don’t focus solely on the product. Highlight what valuable results they can expect from working with you.
Don’t be desperate for a “yes”
Prospective clients can tell when you’re trying to get them to say yes. Your efforts can have the unintended effect of putting your prospect on the defensive. Try to focus on determining whether your companies fit, before you try to force a fit with desperation.
Keep in mind, that in order for your sales force to become a well-oiled machine you need to have all five of these components: The right people, onboarding, systems and ensure your sales people can make and close the sales. Use this comprehensive guide to help you to optimise your sales team and ensure they work smarter not harder and improve your business’ profitability and competitiveness.