How to beat your team’s sales quota, part four: Culture, managing and coaching


cartoon of team and manager

This is the fourth part in a series on beating your team sales quota. Part one is on hiring new sales reps, part two is on onboarding the reps, part three covers setting the quota and the last part is on aligning sales and marketing.

“You can’t teach a kid to ride a bike at a seminar.” –David Sandler, founder of Sandler Sales Institute

Managing and coaching sales people are complex activities. Each rep will be different. Even if all are significantly motivated by money, there are many other motivations in their lives as well such as achievement, recognition, time with family, and contributing to a team. Some people welcome criticism while others hate it, etc. Figuring out the relative weight of each of these and the motivators for each rep is just one step in successfully managing your team.

Some of the personal traits that make individual reps successful may make them more challenging to manage. Treat each rep in the unique way that best suits their personality and needs. Star reps may need more autonomy, and they’ve earned it. You can use the example of stars to help motivate under-performers.

The weekly meeting

You should meet with your reps weekly, either as a team or individually. Or both. Since I think that Monday morning is a poor time for prospecting or even following up with prospects, it’s a perfect time for your weekly meeting. And it helps set the tone and agenda for the week.

In your weekly meeting, go through every opportunity and make sure each is being handled properly:

  • Was it properly qualified? (Even marketing qualified leads need to be re-qualified by sales)
  • What are the prospect’s pain points?
  • What does the prospect know about your company? Is there a brand preference?
  • Can you find out the competition? If so, how are you differentiated from them? Has that been communicated to the prospect?
  • Is there an incumbent in the mix? If so, are they favored (probably a sign to not pursue this) or are they on their way out the door?
  • What’s the power base? Who are the decision makers? Who are the influencers? Are you talking to them? If not, what is your strategy to?
  • Do they have a budget for this? Is it sufficient to cover your offering? (Even if it’s not, in some cases it may still be worth pursuing: more than one prospect has ended up paying more than they originally wanted to when they found the right solution. That’s part of what sales is about.)
  • What’s the process and timeline for making a decision?
  • Is this a situation where you need to disrupt the process or challenge the prospect’s thinking?
  • What are the next steps, internally and with the prospect?
  • What support does the rep need to move forward? To close?

Over time, as you review these questions for each opportunity reps will learn to think along these lines on their own and the reviews will go more quickly. You want to keep the length of this meeting reasonable; reps want and need to be out there selling.

Weekly meetings are focused on current opportunities and new information. You should also be holding quarterly performance reviews with each rep. These are retrospective – looking over their past performance and major issues related to their professional development and personal goals.

Culture and Coaching

Knowing how your reps think and feel is important for motivating and getting the best out of them. Culture eats strategy for breakfast. What’s the sales culture of your company? Some are super aggressive, calling customers on a daily or weekly basis, showering them with gifts and taking them on golf trips. (The rap on EMC in the ’90s was that you weren’t really an EMC rep until you had been thrown out of a customer’s office. In a more modern form of this aggressiveness, I saw the CMO of Vistaprint talk one time and he said that they’ve found that emailing their micro-business customers with offers every day produces the most sales and profits, even though he acknowledged that convention industry wisdom is that daily emails are not a good idea.) Some companies are, and can afford to be, very flexible on price and terms, especially during the last few days of the quarter — they want to win every deal and will do almost anything to do it. Other companies focus on a more consultative approach with less wining and dining, or may feel that they offer a superior product or service and won’t bend much on price. Some companies are all over social selling; others don’t care the least about LinkedIn or Twitter. (Their loss.) Whatever your company’s sales culture, acknowledge, support and grow it.

And build your team and your team spirit. Teams do more together than just work. Go out to celebrate a big win, or take the entire team out to celebrate a great quarter. You can’t imagine how grateful a rep on vacation will be if she finds out that dinner for her and her spouse at the best restaurant on the island is being paid for by the company.

Ultimately, though, what you’re concerned about is their behavior: are they saying and doing the things that will best advance each opportunity toward a sale. People don’t learn and change from being taught, or told, something once. Or twice. It takes a combination of teaching, practice and reinforcements to make new behaviors stick. It’s your job as their manager to help the less skilled ones develop and practice new behaviors until they become habit.

In terms of changing behavior, when necessary, that’s where coaching comes into play. And what usually goes along with coaching? Practice. When onboarding new reps you can run role plays. Even with established reps, if they aren’t qualifying, presenting or handling objections well the best way for them to learn will be through practice with you playing the prospect. Then talk about the practice with the rep, see how they think they did and what they could improve, and practice again. Athletics may be a tired metaphor for business, but it’s useful nonetheless: even professional athletes – the very best in their sport — practice fundamentals over and over again at the beginning of the season and between games so that they become not just routine but automatic. The ideal is to get the reps to the point where in a sales situation the right behavior is instinctual.

Many sales managers are star reps who were promoted into management; it can take a new manager 12-18 months to really get comfortable and competent in this new role. Especially in the first year or so many are tempted to go on sales calls with reps and jump in to try to close the deal themselves. Don’t do it! If you go on a sales call, go as an observer so you can discuss the rep’s behavior afterwards and work on what needs improving. To be a successful sales manager you need to scale your operation by making many reps successful and you won’t do that if you’re going on their sales calls and closing their deals for them.

Inside Sales

Up until now I’ve been essentially discussing issues related to sales on large, consultative opportunities with long sales cycles managed by field sales. Just winning or losing one big deal may make a major difference in an individual rep’s numbers, and even the numbers of the team and company. Inside sales is an entirely different matter.

Inside sales is growing much faster than field sales these days. The size of the opportunities of the inside sales team will typically be much smaller, perhaps in the four-figure range, with many more opportunities. With inside sales you can gather far more data and easily calculate each rep’s:

  • Number of dials per day
  • Percent of dials that lead to conversations
  • Average deal size
  • Daily average sales

Multiply that by the number of work days per year at your company, typically 240-250, and you have an annual gross sale figure per rep. And it’s easy to roll that up into team figures.

With a high volume of data it’s also easy to compare across the different inside sales reps. Some may be better at getting conversations but worse at closing deals, or vice versa. Ultimately, of course, it’s the amount of revenue that the rep is generating that is most important. And you can do similar analyses of business development reps whose job it is to make calls to schedule meetings for the senior account executives in the field sales force.

With your inside team you can listen in on calls, giving you easier opportunities to coach — and to learn what your most successful reps are doing and train others on that. You can also have your underperforming reps listen in on the conversations of the stars to learn how its done.

Successful inside sales is not a matter of making the most calls. Reps should be working from a database with information on each company and person that they’re calling, and should have an idea who they are calling and their business before making the dial. A rep making 10 dials per hour may have greater success than one making 12 or 15; especially if the lower dial rate is because that rep is actually talking to people and closing sales. Even though your reps will have a script, they should sound natural. And that script should begin with questions, not an immediate plunge into the brilliance of your products.

Social motivators may be even more important for people who are on the phone and starring at a screen all day than for people in the field. Don’t expect them to dial for four hours straight; let them get up and out every 60-90 minutes. Some teams have a bell on the wall and it gets rung for every win, big or small. Celebrate the wins – that bell can be happily ringing all day long. Give them the opportunity to meet with product people and learn about and tryout what they’re selling; they’ll be more motivated and informed.

These days, as people have become comfortable with web conferencing, and prospective customers are spread all over the globe, more and more outside sales people are working large deals by phone and the web, too. Some companies, and reps, are successfully closing $50,000-100,000 deals without a single in-person meeting, even when the sales cycle is several months long. By tracking they’ve found that for them selling deals of that size over the phone and web is just as effective as going in person. If that works in your business, it’s a great way to increase the productivity of your sales team while reducing cost and the wear and tear of travel. But some prospects will insist on in-person meetings, especially when buying services. And for large, enterprise sales, field sales is still the norm.

Whether you’re dealing with inside or field sales, make sure that all of the information is being entered into your CRM and that the reps are updating the opportunities so that your short-term pipeline reports and long-term forecasts are accurate. Keeping the CRM updated is not just stupid paperwork: as a manager you need to be able to look at all of the information on each opportunity anytime you want to, as well as team data. And you definitely don’t want a field sales person leaving the company and then finding out that there is not good information on their biggest opportunities.

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