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The Ruby Group | Akron and Columbus, OH

Some managers attempt to “manage” all aspects of their salespeople’s activities. When a salesperson senses that someone is looking over his shoulder, he’s right—it’s the sales manager about to ask for a pipeline report, opportunity update, or sales forecast. Something he does much too frequently.

At the other end of the spectrum, there are managers who have a hands-off “I’m only interested in the end result” attitude. They occasionally ask for a prospect update. But for the most part, they pay scant attention to the day-to-day goings on. Their only directive to the sales team is, “Just hit your numbers.”

Neither management strategy is particularly effective. And neither does much, if anything, to improve team productivity. (One might argue that those strategies—too much or too little supervision—actually impede productivity.)

There is a middle ground, however—a strategy that keeps your sales team focused on the required day-to-day activities (and ensures that the long-term results will materialize) without having to scrutinize their every move.

The foundation on which a middle-ground strategy is built is a set of distinct goals. You can’t hold people accountable to specific outcomes unless they clearly understand what it is that they are working toward, specifically what is expected of them, and by when it’s expected.

So, the first step in helping your sales team achieve higher levels of productivity is to provide them with clear department goals. Tying those goals to corporate initiatives will help them see the big picture and better understand the part they play in creating it.

The next step is to assist your salespeople in translating the department goals into individual goals. Those goals should be specific, with defined objectives on which they can focus. A goal to grow a territory, for example, should define how much of that growth will come from existing accounts (and more specifically, which ones) and how much will come from new accounts. Also, the goals should be measurable and time-bound so the degree and rate of progress can be tracked.

Once formulated, goals need to be analyzed, organized, and prioritized. High-value goals, those that directly relate to corporate initiatives and contribute to the accomplishment of other goals, should be placed at the top of the list.

After the goals have been prioritized, action plans for accomplishment need to be developed. And, those plans must be as detailed as the goals themselves. They should include specific steps, taken in a specific sequence, within a specific time frame, and with specific outcomes in mind. The more detailed the plan, the easier it is for your salespeople to stay on track and measure their progress. And, if the process becomes temporarily derailed, a well-defined plan makes the path to getting back on track more visible.

Also, and perhaps most importantly, your salespeople’s detailed action plans will provide you with specific points in time at which to hold them accountable for specific actions and outcomes. You won’t have to continually look over their shoulders to see what they’re doing…or wait until the end of a quota period to determine what they’ve done—you’ll know at key points along their goal-accomplishment journeys exactly how far they’ve come and how much farther they have to go. If a salesperson falls behind schedule, you can provide the needed assistance to help him or her pick up the pace.

Another thing you can do to improve team productivity is to allow team members to do that which they do best. If, for instance, you have a salesperson who is particularly skillful at prospecting, but is not so proficient entering information into the company’s CRM program, rather than saddling him with that task, arrange for an assistant to help with it. Allowing the salesperson to invest more of his time uncovering new opportunities would likely contribute more to the accomplishment of department goals, than insisting that he spend time in front of a computer.

In a similar fashion, if practicable, team up salespeople who possess complementary skills: the prolific prospector with the adept analyst, or the proficient proposal writer with the persuasive presenter, for example. The synergy improves proficiency, productivity, and ultimately, profitability.

 

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