Supervising Salespeople

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New salespeople need more than a territory, compensation and training — they need superuixiim. Through supervision, the company directs and motivates the sales force to do a better job.

* Directing Salespeople

To what extent should sales management be involved in helping salespeople manage their territories? It depends on everything from the company's size to the experience of its sales force. Consequently, companies vary widely in how closely they supervise their salespeople. Furthermore, what works for one company may not work for another.**

DEVELOPING CUSTOMKK TARGETS AND CALL NORMS. Many companies help their salespeople in identifying customer targets and setting call norms. They classify customers based on sales volume, profit and growth potential, and set call norms accordingly. Thus salespeople may call weekly on accounts with large sales or potential, but only infrequently on small accounts, Beyond account size and potential, call norms may also depend on other factors such as competitive call activity and account development status.

Companies often specify how much time their sales force should spend prospecting for new accounts. Companies set up prospecting standards for several reasons. If left alone, many salespeople will spend most of their time with current customers, which are better-known quantities. Moreover, whereas a prospect may never deliver any business, salespeople can depend on current accounts for some business. Therefore, unless salespeople are rewarded for opening new accounts, they may avoid new-account development.

USING SALES TIME EFFICIENTLY. Salespeople need to know how to use their time efficiently. One tool is the annual call schedule that shows which customers and prospects to call on in which months and which activities to carry out. Activities include taking part in trade shows, attending sales meetings and carrying out marketing research. Another tool is time-and-duty analysis. In addition to time spent selling, the salesperson spends time travelling, waiting, eating, taking breaks and doing administrative chores (see Marketing Highlight 20.1). Because of the tiny portion of the day most sales staff actually spend selling or negotiating and talking face-to-faee with potential customers, companies must look for ways to save time. This can be done by getting salespeople to use phones instead of travelling, simplifying record-keeping forms, finding better call and routing plans, and supplying more and better customer information.

Advances in information and computer technology, such as laptop computers, telecommunications, personal selling software, videodisc players and automatic dialers, have encouraged many firms to adopt sales force, automation systems, computerized sales operations for more efficient order-entry transactions, improved customer service and better salesperson decision-making support. Many sales forces have truly gone 'electronic'. A recent study of 100 large companies found that 48 per cent are 'actively pursuing' sales force automation; another 34 per cent are planning or considering it.10 Salespeople use computers to profile customers and prospects, analyze and forecast sales, manage accounts, schedule sales calls, enter orders, check inventories and order status, prepare sales and expense reports, process correspondence and carry out many other activities. Sales force automation not only lowers sales force calls and improves productivity; it also improves the quality of sales management decisions. Here are some examples of companies that have introduced computer and other sophisticated technologies successfully into their sales force operations:

The Anglo-Dutch Shell Chemical Company developed a laptop computer package consisting of several applications. Although many salespeople initially resisted the computer - they couldn't type, or they didn't have time to learn the software, or whatever - some applications had great appeal. Salespeople responded first to the automatic expense statement programme, which made it easier for them to record expenses and get reimbursed quickly. Soon, they discovered the sales inquiry function, which gave them immediate access to the latest account information, including phone numbers, addresses, recent developments and prices. They no longer had to wait for the clerical staff to give them out-of-date information. Before long, salespeople were using the entire package. Electronic mail allowed them quickly to receive and send messages to others. Various corporate farms, such as territory work plans and sales call reports, could be filled out faster and sent electronically. Other useful applications included an appointment calendar, a 'to-do list'function. a spreadsheet programme, and ^ graphics package that helped salespeople prepare charts and graphs for customer presentations. Today, even salespeople who initially resisted the computer package wonder how they ever got along without it.11

Salespeople are often said to be unloved, foot-in-the-door creatures, whose superiors motivate them mainly in the form of alternate bouts of public humiliation and recognition. Not surprisingly, many people commonly regard selling as a very low form of life. The frequent portrayal of salespeople as sweet-talking, hard-selling pedlars does not boost their self-perception either. Stereotyping salespeople in this way is, of course, an unfair representation of company staff who are under constant pressure to create and keep a customer. Furthermore, salespeople are expected to perform many other tasks, most of which are arguably related to creating and maintaining sales for the company.

What do salespeople in fact do with their time? Given the many tasks that they are expected to perform, how many are truly professional in what they do? Do salespeople use their time well?

A recent international survey, conducted by Kinnaird Communications Group, a consultancy based in Glasgow, Scotland, sought to examine these questions. It covered about 1,000 salesmen and women operating in the United Kingdom, France, Italy and Germany, and was based on sales records and talking to chief executives, supervisors and customers. The consultancy's findings were also supplemented by observations over many years among clients' sales forces.

The study reported that only 5 per cent of field sales staff surveyed 'possess the natural selling skills that make them stand out as professionals'. The survey claimed that 35 per cent of salespeople 'just manage to pay their way', while 'an astounding 60 per cent [are] just there for the beer'. The study claimed that many of the sales reps 'drifted into the profession, attracted by the freedom, ear and expense account'.

In terms of how salespeople spend their time, Kinnairci found that out of the average salesperson's day, 42 per cent of the time is spent in the car, while 26 per cent is spent at home, planning, having lunch, telephoning, writing reports and parking the car (see Table 1). Less than one-third of the time is spent on customers' premises, and all of that time -except for about 6 per cent - is spent on fruitless 'cold' calls, waiting in reception, interruptions and, in the case of the poorest salespeople, inadequate forward planning and an excess of 'small talk'. Although 20 per cent of time is spent in face-to-faee contact (including 'small talk'; 7.5 per cent; customer interruptions, phone, colleagues and so forth: 7.5 per cent; and actual selling negotiation: 5 per cent), the survey found that much of this invaluable activity was spent talking to individuals with no influence on the purchasing decision.




Selling or negotiation


Home planning


'Cold canvass' calls -

leaving card, no interview


Waiting in reception


'Small talk'


Customer interruptions.

phone, colleagues, etc.


Walking, parking, taking

notes, telephoning, etc.




Car travel


NOTE: Based on a nine-hcmr day. SouilCE: Kinnaird, i994.

NOTE: Based on a nine-hcmr day. SouilCE: Kinnaird, i994.

Kinuaird points out that what sets the upper 5 per cent sales elite apart from the rest is charisma in a sales situation. Arguably, charisma is elusive. However, there are other prime qualities to be found in a successful salesperson: a sense of humour; good planning and preparation skills; the ability to take initiatives (nearly all of the time, since sales reps are on their own); a belief in their company and their products or services (if they don't, why should their cus

So You Want to be a Professional Salesperson?


Highlight 20.1

tomers?); a trust in their colleagues (that is, those in marketing, accounting find distribution); and a belief in themselves. Other observers add to that list physical energy, tenacity and resilience in the face of rejection.

There are always going to be 'natural1 salespeople, but for the rest, training is absolutely essential for developing sales professionalism and to overcome some of the deficiencies in personal skills. Another area that must be emphasized continually is management's commitment to pro viding marketing and advertising support for the sales force. Salespeople are front-line troops. They are the valuable bridge between the business and its customers, they aet as information and intelligence satellites, and they can make or break the sale. Where selling is a key activity, businesses must learn to utilize this valuable marketing tool, the salesperson. The unloved ranks of salespeople must be loved again.

SoWifira: Adapu.fl from Diane Summers. 'Unloved and incompeteru',

Computers have also changed the way commercial insurance company Sun Alliance International (SAI) uses information to support sales staff and to forge long-term relationships with customers and intermediaries. SAI deploys a PC-based sales system called ADAM - Agency Development and Management — among its 170-strong sales force, including 26 home workers known as 'on the road sales staff (OTRs). Over 80 per cent of its business is generated by a network of agents, supported by a sales force of 140 across the UK. Their job is to build relationships with brokers and other intermediaries (some 4.000 agencies). According to SAI, paper-based systems were sketchy: salespeople's natural instinct is not to complete records; frequently the paperwork is incomplete or their reports do not tell the whole story. ADAM is developed from the view of field-based sales staff who need to share data with office-based colleagues. Customer information is accessible by anyone — all view the same record. which is synchronised in an overnight update. Arguably, the beauty of a distributed database is that you can share the information across a wide range of people. Gone are the days of relying on a dusty set ot' papers in someone's car 100 miles away. Steve (iinn, an SAI sales development manager, stresses that 'One of the fundamentals of selling is an understanding of customers' needs. Once we know the customer sectors, we can work more closely in partnership with brokers and the customer sees a far more professional approach.' lie has been using his Toshiba laptop to access a menu, which shows a task organizer, in-tray, electronic mail and standard user reports and inquiries. The system offers him a far more structured way to analyze information on current sales campaigns and see instantly how long" it is since he contacted clients. He can also append notes to the agency records for his account 'caretakers', something paper-based card systems could not do. One salesperson whose performance once gave concern has become an OTR and an enthusiastic and highly effective ADAM user. According" to a senior marketing executive, and supporter of the system at SAI, 'you have got to open people's eyes to what the technology can do for them', but 'you can't do it overnight. The company trained total novices on the keyboard, and worked to put at rest the fears of those expelled from the cosy support of their office. The vast majority of staff, now they have seen it in action, see myriad advantages. ADAM converts task response into customer care, and that is what the technology can help us do.'12

Many companies award t rips as incentives for outstanding sales performance.

Perhaps the fastest-growing sales force technology tool is the Internet. As more and more organizations and individuals embrace Internet technology, salespeople are beginning to use the Internet regularly in their daily selling activities. The most common uses include gathering competitive information, monitoring customer Web sites and researching industries and specific customers. While the inclusion of this technology in die salesperson's selling armoury is still in its infancy, as more and more companies provide their salespeople with Web access, experts expect explosive growth in sales force Internet usage in the coming decade.13

• Motivating Salespeople

Some salespeople will do their best without any special urging from management. To them, selling may be the most fascinating job in the world. But selling can also be frustrating. Salespeople usually work alone, and they must sometimes travel away from home. They may face aggressive, competing salespeople and difficult customers. They sometimes lack the authority to do what is needed to win a sale and may thus lose large orders that they have worked hard to obtain. Therefore, salespeople often need special encouragement to do their best. Management can boost sales force morale and performance through its organizational climate, sales quota and positive incentives.

ORGANIZATIONAL CLIMATE. Organizational climate reflects the feeling that salespeople have about their opportunities, value and rewards for a good performance within the company. Some companies treat salespeople as if they are not very important. Other companies treat their salespeople as their prime movers and allow virtually unlimited opportunity for income and promotion. Not surprisingly, a company's attitude towards its salespeople affects their behaviour, if they are held in low esteem, there is high turnover and poor performance. If they are held in high esteem, there is less turnover and higher performance.

Treatment from the salesperson's immediate superior is especially important, A good sales manager keeps close to his or her sales force. They are in touch with salespeople through letters and phone calls, visits in the field and evaluation sessions in the home office. At different times, the sales manager acts as the salesperson's boss, companion, coach and confessor. Most importantly, sales management must be able to convince salespeople that they can sell more by working harder and being trained to work smarter, and that the rewards - be they financial in nature or higher-order rewards for better performance, such as liking, peer recognition and respect, and a sense of accomplishment - are worth the extra effort.

SALES QUOTAS. Many companies set sales quotas for their salespeople. Sales quotas are standards stating the amount they should sell and how sales should be divided among the company's products. Compensation is often related to how well salespeople meet their quotas.

Sales quotas are set at the time that the annual marketing plan is developed. The company first decides on a sales forecast that is reasonably achievable. Based on this forecast, management plans production, workforce size and financial needs. It then sets sales quotas for its regions and territories. Generally, sales quotas are set higher than the sales forecast to encourage sales managers and salespeople to give their best effort. If they fail to make their quotas, the company may still make its sales forecast.

sales quotas Standards set/or salespeople, stating die amount they should sell and how ,safc,s should be divided among the company's products.

POSITIVE INCENTIVES. Companies also use several incentives to increase sales force effort. Sales meetings provide social occasions, breaks from routine, chances to meet and talk with 'company brass', and opportunities to air feelings and to identify with a larger group. Companies also sponsor sales contests to spur the sales force to make a selling effort above what would normally be expected. Other incentives include honours, merchandise and cash awards, trips and pro fitsharing plans.

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  • mehret
    Does a sales person spend most of their time prospecting or manintaining accounts?
    7 years ago
  • Robin
    What is supervising salesperson?
    4 years ago
  • stanley
    What is the supervision of sales people?
    3 years ago

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