Step One to Creating a High Performing Sales Organization…
Most of my clients are leaders and/or managers in small to medium sized businesses. Some of them have come from a sales background, others from a technical or entrepreneurial path. All of them manage multiple priorities on any given day including leading and managing people. For those that manage sales teams, it is a challenge to maintain strong performance. It seems as though there are always “plates that are wobbling,” as one of my clients would say.
Statistics show that in a sales organization, the top performing quartile of the organization drives 60-70% of revenue. The flip side of this is troubling, that the remaining 75% of salespeople account for only 30-40% of revenue. The bottom line is that members of your sales team are a liability to your bottom line, burning scarce resources you need to help you grow your revenue and profit. In any sales organization, your compensation cost of sales is your fuel that you need to power your sales engine. One major key to success in any sales organization is to ensure you are investing in the right people who can provide you a return on your investment, retaining your top people and replacing those that cannot perform with the right talent that can deliver the results you need.
Sounds like a pretty clearly defined problem, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, although the solution is fairly simple, it is anything but easy to execute well. There are some very specific steps you can take to begin to make this a reality in your organization. Much like other areas of sales, a strong foundation of the right activities can yield the right results. In this post, I talk about the first step of any high performing sales organization, keeping your top people by keeping them actively engaged.
Step One: Keeping and Growing Your Top People
In my experience, it is much more productive to focus on “making the highs higher,” than on trying to fix what is broken. To me one of the biggest mistakes a manager can make is to lose touch with the top talent of the organization. One of my clients once told me that he felt he just needed to “leave his top salesperson alone, and speak when I’m spoken to.” He really thought that is what this person wanted.
In reality, many of your top talent are with you in part because of a relationship with you, and a connection to your company culture. If we leave them alone, we risk weakening or losing that engagement. The Gallup Organization, in their work in Employee Engagement discovered that access to a manager was one of the determining factors in the level of engagement if an employee. A top salesperson often sees a manager as an important “tool in the toolbox.” Even though you may not have a strong personal relationship (you aren’t BFF’s outside of work) you can have a strong professional relationship with employees who know you care about them, and are invested in their success.
Here’s a few specific things you can do:
- Have regular contact and communication, defined by the manager with input from the employee. This is critical to maintaining the relationship. This communication includes formal communication like quarterly performance reviews. No matter how long someone has been in their position, top talent likes to know how they are doing, and what they can do to improve. You should have a regularly scheduled 1-on-1 focusing on key account growth, solution development, planning, and accountability for maintaining a strong foundation of the right activities. Keep these meetings, treat them as a non-negotiable part of your weekly calendar. If a manager continuously cancels and moves a meeting, the message being sent to the employee is that “you aren’t that important to me.”
- Another key factor in keeping and growing your top salespeople is around continuous improvement. Top talent often have a very real growth orientation, which can manifest itself as income as one tangible way they “keep score.” But The Gallup Organization research, along with Daniel Pink in his findings from his best-selling book “Drive,” show that professional development is a core part of what engages and motivates people in their work today. As our economy nears a full employment level, it is critical that you are investing in the development of your top people, an investment that if made properly, can yield a very strong return for you and your business. As the old saying goes, if you don’t invest in your best people, somebody else will!
- Have a specific conversation and develop a plan with your top talent about where they want to grow and improve. What is their desired path? Don’t fall into an age old trap and assume you need to be grooming them for management. This could be a big mistake if their strengths focus around being an individual contributor. If you are in a technical business, certifications and technical training can be a great solution. Help them sharpen their skills and you both will benefit. Other common development solutions can be around improving communication skills, sales process, and effective use of technology. Ask them where they would like to grow, they’ll tell you.
As your top people are responsible for the majority of your revenue, this is the right place to focus as your first step in developing a recruitment culture in your organization. My experience tells me I can get a better return on my time and resources by investing them with my best people.
In my next article, I will address Step Two of building a recruitment culture, building and maintaining a pipeline of talent before you need to hire.