Andris A. Zoltners, Prabhakant Sinha, and Sally E. Lorimer on Building a Winning Sales Force Team

The following is a guest post by Andris A. Zoltners, Prabhakant Sinha, and Sally E. Lorimer, authors of Building a Winning Sales Force

Do you wonder why your top sellers aren’t more productive?  Are you frustrated by a distracted sales force?  Your company may be suffering from misallocation of sales resources. In other words, you may be wasting the valuable time, effort, and talent of your salespeople.  Here are a series of questions to help you effectively restore sales force effectiveness:

  • Are important customers getting enough attention? Many salespeople spend too much time with comfortable and secure accounts, while others spend too much time catering to small but demanding client segments.  Yet, a company’s most important customers aren’t always its most loyal or most difficult ones.  Make sure your sales force is devoting ample, proactive attention to high-potential and high-profit customers.                    
  • Are important products getting enough sales effort? When given an option, most salespeople will focus on products they find easy or fun to sell.  They’re also influenced by contests or incentives aimed at boosting short-term sales of specific products.  As a result, products with strategic importance sometimes get overlooked.  Strive to balance your sales force’s time and efforts between established core products and exciting new ones.                                                
  • Is the sales force engaged in the highest-impact sales activities? Time spent on planning, training, travel, and other activities besides selling should help make salespeople’s time with customers more valuable.  When salespeople waste hours sitting in sales meetings, answering internal e-mails, feeding data into awkward CRM systems, checking their sales numbers against incentive payouts, chasing invoices, and crafting sales proposals that could have been adapted from company boilerplates, the company loses money.
  • Do salespeople have appropriate expectations? Even the best salespeople are likely to misallocate their time if they are unclear about what the company wants them to do and expects them to achieve for each customer, market segment, or product.  Clearly communicate priorities and objectives to your sales force, and provide salespeople with goals that encourage desired behaviors.  Also, measure how salespeople are spending their time and tracking their sales and provide them with ongoing feedback on these metrics.
  • Do salespeople have the information they need to do their jobs? Sometimes salespeople know what the company wants them to do, but lack the information they need to do it.  If salespeople are not sure how to go about identifying good prospects, for example, a mandate like “develop business with new customers” offers no guidance.  To keep salespeople informed, invest in developing and maintaining up-to-date customer databases.   Provide quick and easy access to detailed product information, and arm salespeople the high-tech tools and the bandwidth to leverage the information they need to do their jobs better.                                       
  • Do salespeople have the skills and knowledge they need to be successful? When salespeople know what the company wants them to do and have the information they need to do it but continue to avoid important customers or products, they likely lack confidence and specific sales skills—such as how to negotiate effectively or how to close a sale.  The remedy for both is targeted sales force training and coaching.

  • Are salespeople motivated to do what the company wants? Lack of sales force motivation is one of the most notorious wasters of time, sales talent and potential profits.  To get salespeople motivated, tie incentive plan rewards and align the criteria for nonmonetary recognitions, like membership in the President’s Club, to the desired sales activities.  Another effective motivational strategy is demonstrating to the sales force how a failure to grow business leads to lost market share, insufficient word of mouth among customers, and a decrease in long-term income for salespeople.
  • Do you have the right salespeople in the job? In some companies, sales resource misallocation is a matter of having people with the wrong capabilities or characteristics in the job.  The solution is improving recruitment and retention of top performers.  Start by changing your hiring profile to reflect the capabilities and characteristics of your best reps. Evaluate current salespeople and encourage those who lack what it takes to succeed in your sales organization to seek other jobs.  Finally, work on changing your sales culture so that salespeople with the right capabilities and characteristics will want to join and stay with your company.

Andris A. Zoltners is a professor of marketing at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. Prabhakant Sinha is Co-Chairman of ZS Associates, a global sales effectiveness and marketing consulting firm founded by Zoltners and Sinha in 1983. Andy and Prabha are the coauthors of The Complete Guide to Sales Force Incentive Compensation and The Complete Guide to Accelerating Sales Force Performance. Sally E.Lorimer is a sales and marketing consultant and business writer.

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