There's A Better Way To Manage Your Salespeople's Level of Effort.
Joe has been in territory for 6 months and hasn't closed any business. Is he a slow starter -- or a goof off? Mary's production has been flat for the past four years. Is her territory tapped out -- or is she just coasting?
One way that many training companies attempt to determine selling effort is by measuring selling activity. "All Account Managers must make 15 face to face sales calls per week." Or, "All Inside Sales Reps must spend 50% of every work day on the phone."
Unfortunately, in our work with training companies that put a premium on measuring selling activity, we find increasing fudging of sales call and contact time information -- frequently with the covert participation of the Sales VP! Why? Because there is dwindling confidence that raw sales activity levels have a lot to do with sales results.
Another issue is that more and more selling work is done via e-mail, conference calls and Internet collaboration software. So what are you going to do -- track how many times your salespeople log on?
Today, there's a better way to assess the effort level of your salespeople. Stop measuring what they do and start measuring what they know. Require your salespeople to demonstrate intimate account knowledge as part of their planning process and speak to this knowledge during coaching calls and operating reviews.
For instance, during your next operating review, as members of your sales team post their major frontlog items, ask: "Mary, tell me what you know about your account that should make me confident your $70K forecast will be achieved." As Mary proceeds, invite her to fill in any important blanks by saying "Mary, I'd feel better about your chances if you could tell me ______."
Then invite other members of your team to pitch in by saying "OK gang, is everybody confident about Mary's forecast now? What more would you like to know?"
If Mary really knows her stuff, it will be evident that she is really working her territory, and your entire sales team will be challenged to meet her high standard.
On the other hand, if Mary's frontlog item turns out to be just so much bluff and bluster, you won't need to know how many sales calls she is making to know she is not applying herself. And if she's not able to do any better next month you won't need to lose any sleep about taking appropriate disciplinary action.
Questions you may have:
Q: Our salespeople are professionals with a pay plan that rewards an extra effort. Shouldn't we just treat them like adults and get off their back?
A: Sorry, as human beings, salespeople require attention as well as compensation. Even police state methods of measuring their efforts will get better results than totally ignoring them.
Q: Why bother with selling effort at all? Why not just judge salespeople based on results?
A: Closing training business typically requires a long sales cycle, and there are many no-fault reasons why forecasted sales can be delayed or lost. Unless you measure selling effort, it can take months to finally conclude that a salesperson is failing. Meanwhile, you have lost any chance of taking corrective action. Look at it this way -- you invest too much in bringing on and supporting new salespeople to simply let them sink or swim.
Q: Suppose a salesperson knows their accounts inside out but can't close the business?
A: Then you will need to decide whether you are dealing with a lack of selling skills or selling aptitude. The former can be addressed through training in qualifying and closing skills. The latter may require counseling the individual into a different job role.
Q: Can't our salespeople fake account knowledge as easy as they can fake sales activity?
A: Because salespeople recognize the value of account knowledge, they will take a whole lot less pleasure in faking what they know -- and come down hard on peers they feel are cheating the system. However, if you feel a salesperson is faking it, try zeroing in on a specific topic, and then ask a series of penetrating questions.
"Ask the fourth question" a colleague of mine used to say -- "Most people only prepare for the first three." This will usually smoke out even the most determined bluffing effort.
Q: We're using 360-degree assessments of our salespeople. Isn't this enough?
A: Periodic 360-degree assessments are an excellent complement to regularly assessing your salespeople based on what they know about their accounts. You would expect a knowledgeable salesperson to be perceived by customers and colleagues as a consultative, high value added resource. So use 360s to validate your conclusions and fine tune the coaching process.
Q: I've tried debriefing frontlog items in our operating reviews, and my salespeople tell me they find this tedious and abrasive. Any ideas?
A: You need to reinforce with your salespeople that when you are conducting an operating review you are the customer, not an entertainer! They are there to sell you that they are on top of their business -- and to prepare you to represent their best interests to your boss or your board of directors.
As far as the abrasive rap goes, don't spend a disproportionate amount of time picking on poor performers. Give your superstars a chance to share what they know about their frontlog accounts -- and how they learned it. It's the best kind of training there is.
Q: We're using sales automation software to track our salespeople's activities. Isn't this enough to ensure ourselves that our salespeople are applying themselves?
A: Automating an activity-based sales measurement system doesn't make it any less subject to fudging. Build in fields so salespeople can also log in account knowledge in a consistent and easy way. This will also pay off if a territory turns over and a new rep needs to get up to speed.
A parting thought.
These days everybody's talking about Knowledge Management, the science of turning the collective intelligence of employees into a strategic competitive advantage. Well, let them talk -- you can actually apply Knowledge Management principles -- by debriefing your salespeople in your next operating review!