The practice of “sales management” is embraced by some and ignored by others. It is considered a powerful tool for some businesses, yet others see it as a total waste of time. The bulk in the middle will exercise various degrees of sales management, usually out of a sense of obligation or hope. These random practitioners typically see mixed results. The truth is that once a system is in place, magnificent results can result from a relatively small amount of effort.
In most firms, the task of sales management falls to one of the owners or the top producer in the firm. This is not necessarily a good idea because sales management can take time away from the sales manager’s own sales efforts, and good producers do not always make good managers.
Actually, sales management, as important as it is, should not be a full-time job in most businesses. If goals are properly set, communicated and monitored, if the right people are hired and developed, and if management will remove any unreasonable obstacles to production, producers should essentially manage themselves. They simply need to know that their performance is being monitored and that poor performance will not be tolerated.
The centerpiece of sales management is the sales meeting. Effective, weekly sales meetings are used to play-out the sales management process. It is during this time that sales activity can be properly monitored. Numbers are reviewed and discussed. Specific sales activity for each producer and the group is checked and analyzed by all. It is during this time that the rubber hits the road on new business produced, lost business, hit ratio for each producer, prospect activity, what referrals have been obtained from new sales, etc.
The sales meeting time is not just for working on numbers. Producers have egos and need recognition. These sales meetings are also an excellent time to recognize superior performance. This is also the time to train and educate. The production staff, including marketing personnel, needs to be kept current with new information on markets, new target markets, unique programs or products available, collection problems and service issues and backlogs. Sales coaching is imperative. Role-play with the producers. Encourage double-teaming to exploit strengths and minimize weaknesses.
The Sales Manager should oversee that the meeting runs well, but the leader can vary each time, to get others involved. A sales meeting should be held at least twice a month. The topics to be covered in the sales meetings should have a typed agenda that sent to each attendee before each meeting. The following is the standard topics that need to be addressed in each meeting:
- The group needs to go over the new production from each producer for the past month. To facilitate this process each salesperson’s activity sheet should be turned in before the meeting and photocopied so that each person attending will have a package that includes everyone’s sales activity. Each activity sheet is reviewed to go over past performance of the month (accounts with an effective date of the previous month) and another sheet per salesperson for what is in the pipeline to be quoted and effective in the next three months.
- The sales manager needs to remind each producer on how his or her production relates to that salesperson’s goal for the year. Are they meeting their goals? Put the worksheet into Excel or use something like SalesForce.com so the data can be manipulated for statistics, if possible. Volume commitments can be monitored also, especially with accounts in process.
- Discuss hit ratio per producer. Typically hit ratios will vary based on industry and products. The closer to 100% the better, but 25% might be okay for some industries. If there is a problem, then evaluate what could be the cause. Perform a diagnosis on the lost prospects. Ask if each salesperson is using a prospect qualification process to improve the qualification of the prospect. Find out the effectiveness of qualifying leads and ways to improve the process.
- Determine which products/services are selling and why. What is the trend based on? What does the future look like? Find a cause and effect for what is selling or not.
- Review all current product/service information of interest to the sales staff. Assign a person or persons to be responsible for keeping abreast of news and information and report updates to the team. Current, up to the minute knowledge can be a major differentiator.
- Discuss problems that the producers are having in qualifying leads, closing sales or with other departments, e.g. support personnel, engineering, marketing, etc. Role-play the tough cases for maximum effect. It is here where the skills of the better producers can be exploited and shared with the newer and less skilled producers. Have producers try new sales techniques and report back on the results. Have the producers share information they learned from sales classes they attended or tapes they may have listened to.
- Determine where salespeople will concentrate their efforts for the next month. Go over their goals and “centers of influence” and then compare that background to the prospects they have on their list. Ask for ideas on ways to generate new prospects and new coverages for existing clients. Let the group brainstorm to help each other when required.
- Ask each producer what two referrals per new sale that they obtained. There are no exceptions. Have the group provide support as needed.
- Hold an open discussion. See if anyone has anything else of sales importance to discuss (i.e. new proposals, accounts receivable, etc). Focus on the positive. It is here where some great ideas come up. People often want to discuss problems they have, which might include problems with others such as the service staff. When those types of problems arise, tell that person that it will be handled outside of the meeting. Airing out dirty laundry in front a group of employee can be a real moral buster. Handling minor, non-personnel type of problems is appropriate for this type of meeting. However, keep the focus on solutions.
- Towards the end the meeting’s leader can choose their own topic – something of interest related to sales or producer education. The sales manager need to make sure that each leader actual participates in this endeavor and does not pass on choosing a topic to discuss.
- Determine who will head next month’s meeting, before the meeting adjourns.
The first few meetings might be a little rough and be too long. After the system is in place the things will run smoothly and take less time. Remember that the sale manager is responsible for the meeting, however it works out best if each member of the sales staff takes their turn in running the meeting.
The key elements of an effective sales meeting are to collect the sales information beforehand, hold the producers responsible for their results and educate the group on new products, ideas and techniques. The format needs to be as outlined above but each company can customize the details to this process to fit the personalities involved.
When the facts are clearly spelled out for all to see, action will occur. The ego of a salesperson will make him or her sell to reach their goals or go somewhere else. When the producers focus on goals, new production and new ideas, then the business is in a sales mode. This is a surefire way to bring in new sales.