Managing Salespeople

Sales managers are often the best salespeople on the team. However, the best sales managers are simply the best at managing salespeople, and that is very much a matter of applying the experience of other sales companies in a systematic way. Like marshalling an army, the key to success lies in preparation.

Make sure your salespeople know everything about the product that any prospect might sensibly ask. Don't just tell them or show them. Make sure they can tell and show you. Training isn't like being at school. It is or ought to be much more fun. Give quizzes, and give little prizes for projects such as who has the best rundown on competition. Get the salespeople to teach each other. Build up team spirit by encouraging everyone to support each other and recognize each other's achievements. Something is always changing so training is a continuous process, and there are invariably points you will want to follow up on, such as after-sales service.

Most firms find it is enormously helpful to hold training meetings at a regular time each week. They don't have to be long; 30 minutes is enough in many cases. Monday morning is popular with management because people have a whole week to apply the knowledge they have acquired. Salespeople like meetings too. It helps to build a team spirit and whet their competitive edge.

There's no point in just announcing glorious targets. Targets, like carrots in front of donkeys, have to be individually positioned just far enough out of reach to encourage the salesperson to stretch, yet not so far away that the goal is unobtainable. You can only be sure that you have set an attainable target if you have sat down with each salesperson and explained exactly what is required in what time and have worked out together how the person can overcome any anticipated obstacles. Targets often work better where there is a mix of short and intermediate goals. This is partly because some salespeople are better at one than the other, but mainly because it gives a sales manger more scope to raise targets without raising hackles.

You can help salespeople by supplying leads, but they need to be doled out so that justice is seen to be done. It is also important to see that work is fairly shared among the team. There is no point in trying to present goodies behind anyone's back or unduly helping lame ducks. Everyone needs to know who is handling which lead to discourage poaching and squabbles over commission.

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