According to a story from the Harvard Business Review published in December 2013, close to 75% of sales leaders claimed that up to 40% of their sales reps did not reach their targets. With so many resources and technical tools available to sales professionals, these statistics are quite staggering.
As you are ramping up for sales in the new year, we wanted to provide a few suggestions for what sales managers can do to identify the root causes of their sales staff’s challenges and how they can help to solidify future success.
Establish Attainable Expectations
If you want your sales reps to step up their game, set up challenging yet achievable goals. Be specific and be fair. Unrealistic benchmarks and vague objectives are only going to lead to confusion, frustration and low morale among employees. Use historical data to outline new goals for your sales team. In addition, take into account current economic conditions and carefully evaluate market demand for your products and services. Make sure each team member is clear about his or her role in the sales process and knows exactly what is expected of them. Outline the key metrics for the next week, month and quarter and create a roadmap for everyone to follow. Once you cover all your bases, stress the details and give your sales team the ammunition to succeed, it will be easier for them to deliver better results.
The real culprit behind missed quotas
If only a handful of sales reps “fall under the radar,” set up face-to-face meetings with each one of them. Identify the problem and figure out what has been undermining their efforts. It’s important to know that investing in your current sales force and providing them with effective coaching and training is a fiscally sound strategy. Furthermore, it’s cheaper than high employee turnover.
If a majority of sales reps regularly miss their targets, you may be facing an internal problem that needs to be eliminated. Review and evaluate your organization’s sales processes and try to look at things from a fresh perspective. If internal issues go unaddressed and continue to fester, most sales reps will start losing confidence in their organization and fall deeper into a rut, making a bad situation worse.
While being overly ambitious in sales comes with the territory, don’t go too far and impose unrealistic demands on your salespeople. Extremely aggressive sales quotas may demotivate your salesforce. As soon as your sales reps come to a realization that the market is oversaturated and your goals are out of reach, they will slack off and start falling behind.
Overly aggressive quotas can also foster unethical behavior. Have you ever been in a situation where you were being insistently upsold, when all you wanted was a basic oil change?
Everyone deserves a fair shot
Every sales manager should ensure that the sales pipeline is evenly and fairly distributed among sales reps. There is nothing more demoralizing than unequal treatment in the workplace. You may want to address the following questions:
- How good are the leads given to each sales rep?
- Did they get all the training and reinforcement they need to rise to the occasion?
- Did you take into consideration each sales rep’s unique situation, circumstances and level of experience?
In other words, it doesn’t make sense to set up the same goals and expectations for the veterans who have a long list of contacts and referrals at their disposal, and the new hires who are still learning the ropes and trying to set the wheels in motion.
After identifying the problem, develop your plan of attack
If after careful analysis you conclude that your quotas are fair and attainable, uncover the causes of poor performance. Is it a lack of enthusiasm or their inability to communicate the value of your offerings? What are some of the most crucial aspects of your product that need to be emphasized during each presentation? Oftentimes, a lack of a well-thought-out follow-up strategy may be the reason for failure.
Pay attention to lagging and leading indicators to gain a better understanding of each individual’s performance. Some sales professionals may be brilliant at networking but terrible at managing the sales cycle. By pinpointing lagging indicators, you should get a sense of where they need support.
Additionally, offer regular coaching sessions based on clearly-identified performance gaps, but make sure you limit each session to one or two topics. Engage your reps with open-ended questions that allow them to think and explore their shortcomings. When providing constructive feedback, try not to put your sales reps on the defensive and always take into account their communication preferences. Before wrapping up each coaching session, review the key points, propose next steps, and confirm with your staff members that they are in agreement about the progress you’ve made.
Bottomline: Every sales executive has to deal with underperforming sales reps who don’t hit their marks or follow through with prospects. However, every sales professional deserves a fair shot at success. Instead of throwing in the towel and firing poor performers too early in the game, give them the benefit of the doubt, offer additional training and help them enhance their approach. The results may surprise you.