How to manage salespeople
Successful sales management requires a certain kind of discipline that is very, very difficult when you're also running the company, trying to do marketing, managing product creation, dealing with government regulations, and so on. However, like anything else, it has to be done - and done right - in order for the company to run smoothly.
Here's what has to happen.
1) A daily sales meeting - with everyone - for about 15 minutes. That's all. You can even hold the meeting standing up - which guarantees that it won't go over the 15 minutes. It's very important to keep this meeting short, because otherwise you won't do it every day. It will be too time-consuming.
This meeting should address anything that is "stuck." This is not a meeting to talk about anything at length. It's certainly not a meeting where anyone can be allowed to pontificate. It's only for anything that is causing a problem and keeping normal sales processes from occurring.
Think of this as a "problem inventory meeting," where you just take an inventory of the problems - and then solve them separately - outside of this meeting. You can ask for any possible solutions, but do not try to agree on the answer. That would take too long.
There will be some issues that come up in this meeting over and over, issues that are systemic rather than personal and must be solved so that everyone can be more productive. Examples would include inefficient paperwork activity, or customers who keep balking at the same point in the buying process.
2) A weekly sales meeting. Pick a time that will work for everyone - and be religious about holding that meeting every single week. Friday afternoon isn't optimum, because people will forget what was decided and will also be less motivated to do anything about it after relaxing over the weekend. I prefer Monday or Tuesday morning. Tuesday morning is the best, because it gives the salespeople all day Monday to get caught up after the weekend, and gives them the remainder of Tuesday to work with customers. And, it's early enough in the week that you can apply what you've decided as the week progresses and see how it works. Hopefully, by the next sales meeting, you can report that the problem has been solved.
There should always be an agenda for the weekly meeting. You should keep the agenda in a virtual public place - one that everyone can access - so that people can add to it. This makes it possible for a salesperson to get an item added to the discussion list, knowing it will be addressed, and then go back to making calls. If you don't give them a way to add an item to the agenda, they will spend far too much time thinking about the item - and how they should bring it to your attention. Their time should be spent selling, not fretting.
This is a good place to mention that if you don't give salespeople a way to vent, frequently and formally, they will fret. They will worry about the problem, wonder if they should talk about the problem, worry about how you will react if they bring up the problem, etc., etc., etc. Fretting always distracts salespeople from generating revenue. If your salespeople are fretting, they aren't selling. And if they don't think they can vent in a pre-arranged venting environment, they will vent with each other. So the other salespeople will be affected by the fretting salesperson, dragging down everyone's productivity.
Going back to the meeting: There should only be about 5 items on the agenda each week, maximum - that's all you'll have time for in an hour. The meeting should not go beyond an hour, period. Anything that involves that much discussion is really a separate item that should be addressed separately, with a smaller group dedicated to solving the problem.
One of the agenda items should always be devoted to training. You should spend 5 to 15 minutes on some aspect of selling or the product. This ensures that the entire group gets the same information about the product or about new selling methods.
Other agenda items can include "what I learned over the last week" - where everyone gets to share something that worked. And there should be a "management report," where top managers and/or marketing give a report from the 35,000-foot level (without dominating the meeting). Topics in this segment should include what is being done to bring in leads, what the overall conversion levels are, and any changes in strategy - especially product or customer strategy. It's important for salespeople to be "in the know" about what the boss is thinking and how business is doing. Again, it keeps the fretting and the salesperson-to-salesperson venting to a minimum.
Other possible items discussed in this meeting can include:
- Product functions that are exciting to clients right now
- Competitive activity
- Technical aspects of the product
- Promises that can and cannot be made about the product
- Customer complaints and issues, and how they are being resolved
- Industry-specific issues
- Networking issues
While anyone should be able to add to the weekly meeting agenda, whoever is running the meeting should be absolutely, positively determined to keep the meeting running on time and on topic. If any discussion gets too far out of hand - starts dragging on - it should be "taken offline," resolved, and then brought up again in the next meeting. It's really important to let everyone know when something is resolved. Again, unresolved problems fester in the minds of salespeople. They must feel, at all times, that management:
- Knows about the issue
- Is facing it squarely and maturely (is not in denial)
- Is open to suggestions about what to do about it
- Will then make a decision, and communicate that decision
- Will then do whatever was decided - and keep everyone appraised regarding progress.
"Personal" issues must not be discussed in this meeting, such as salaries, absenteeism, etc. This meeting is for the group as a whole, for all the people who are involved in selling. It is up to the meeting leader to know when a meeting has suddenly veered into the realm of "personal" - and take appropriate action.
I cannot emphasize enough how important these two meetings are. The successful sales organizations do this, the unsuccessful ones don't. Without these meetings, one small problem can snowball and derail an entire day or week of productivity, simply because there wasn't a regular forum in which the problem would be discussed. Unresolved problems fester, and become the burr under the saddle, the pebble in the shoe, the splinter in the finger. Leave it alone for more than a few hours, or fail to provide the promise of relief, and it will turn into a mess.
Salespeople are a bit like little children. You just can't leave them alone too long. It's not that salespeople are inherently immature, compared to others in your organization. It's just that all day long, the salespeople are out there trying to resolve the difference between "what we have to sell" and "what they want to buy." It is a tough job. These two types of meetings keep the salesperson informed and fresh, filled with new solutions and ready to face the customer with renewed enthusiasm.