Planning for the Upcoming Year

A reader writes, "This year I'd like to set goals that motivate my salespeople. In the past, when I've tried to do this, I end up doing most of the talking and telling them what I'd like to see them achieve. They don't participate much. How do I create a partnership between myself and the reps?"

Whether someone aspires to watch less television or start working out more consistently, everyone -- salespeople and non-salespeople alike -- more enthusiastically embraces goals they set for themselves. As you establish the 2012 goals for your sales reps, don't forget to ask them what they would like to accomplish.  

Come Prepared

Asking a salesperson what they'd like to accomplish without any warning may catch them off guard. Though well intentioned, their responses to your question may be vague or unrealistic.

Setting a goal carries with it the possibility of being held accountable for achieving it. Knowing this, reps might be conservative about what they say or agree to.

Avoid this by giving them some advance warning. Ask them to come prepared with a list of goals they'd like to accomplish. Don't criticize or agree to any of the objectives. Just start a discussion. Set a time to meet again.

Specific and Measurable

Once you understand what they'd like to accomplish, work together to come up with specific and measurable goals that benefit them and the company.

In the chart below note the differences between the pairs of stated sales objectives: 

Vague Specific
Do more business with my largest accounts. Increase overall sales revenue by 5% with my top ten accounts.
Grow the number of accounts that carry Product X and Product Y. Add two accounts per quarter that carry both Product X and Product Y.
Schedule more meetings with decision makers running companies that could use our product / service. Complete one meeting per month with a decision maker running a company in my target market.

Team Involvement

For salespeople, achieving goals requires working with other employees. For instance, a rep wanting to convincing companies to carry both products X and Y needs solid product and competitive knowledge. Your company's product development group or support group could offer assistance in this area.

Share the sales goals with staff in other departments. Be specific about how they can help out. Ask for their support when necessary.

Do the Math

When setting goals, both parties sometimes lose sight of the main benefit - additional revenue for the company and more commission for the salesperson. If two accounts per quarter do agree to carry both Product X and Y, how large might the initial order(s) be? What about subsequent orders? How much revenue/commission might that mean over the course of the year?

Work with the sales rep to calculate the dollar amounts. Determine how far above quota they might finish. Ask them how much their bonus check would increase over last year. The possibility of a substantial boost in income keeps reps focused.

Eyes on the Prize

Estimate what achievement of the rep's goal might mean to the company in terms of sales revenue. Take a percentage and put it towards bonuses for the other staff members directly involved. With skin in the game, these employees will work harder than ever to assist the rep in reaching their goal.

Reward Effort

Don't wait until year-end to celebrate achievement of an objective. Provide prizes to acknowledge milestones along the way. If the sales rep convinces three prospects to carry both Product A and Product B in Q1 instead of two, take the rep and others who assisted out for lunch. When a rep meets with one new decision maker every month for six months in a row, they leave early on Friday to get a head start on spending a gift certificate at the local mall.

Keep everyone interested and motivated to achieve the objective through out the entire year.

Win / Win

Reps understand that as part of the job, managers set targeted goals. They probably won't agree with or be enthusiastic about every single one. But supporting them in a sales initiative of their choosing pays an unexpected dividend. When a rep sees you working hard to help them achieve an objective they set for themselves, they'll be more motivated to achieve the goals you set as well.

Book of the Month

Since writing my book, I've met several other Entrepreneur Press authors. In the coming months I'll be introducing their books to my newsletter readers. 

As managers and business leaders, we know we should be creating a positive work environnment. In the hectic rush to meet deadlines and service customers, we often lose site of that goal. Dr Joey Faucette, author of Work Positive in a Negative World, provides business owners, leaders, and middle managers with actionable advice on creating a work positive environment.  "Show up within your business," he advises.

Read Dr. Joey's excellent book and begin to reflect a positive attitude throughout your organization -- no matter how large or small.

The Accidental Sales Manager Guide to Hiring

Available here, "The Accidental Sales Manager Guide to Hiring" summarizes the pre-hire process recommended in "The Accidental Sales Manager."

Supervising an Inside Sales Rep

I have some experience managing field salespeople. I decided to hire an inside salesperson and want this new candidate to succeed, but have never supervised a telesales rep before. Do you have any thoughts on working with them effectively?

Both field and phone reps speak with customers, make presentations and close sales. Just as you would for an outside sales staff, set minimum standards, provide coaching, sponsor sales contests and review the rep's performances on a regular basis.

The jobs do vary in certain respects, though. You're smart to realize you may need a different set of management skills at certain points.

Consider the following.

Duties and Responsibilities

Write a job description. Does this new rep call on existing accounts only or will some cold calling be involved? What percentage of their quota is new vs. renewal business?

Do they have a geographic or vertical territory? Are their accounts below a certain dollar amount? Do they assist the field reps in any way?

The more specific the job description, the more focused the new rep will be right from the beginning.

Conflicts with the Field Staff

Field salespeople will express concern about potentially losing accounts, territory, or income. Share the inside rep's job description with them. If losses will occur, explain why. Modify quotas if necessary.

Inside sales reps often call on customers in remote geographic areas or those with lower sales volume. Remind outside reps that telesales reps may free them up to cover their territory more effectively and spend increased time with their larger accounts.

Dealing with potential clashes before their first day on the job eases the inside rep's relationship with their new co-workers.

Drop by to Chat

Making phone call after phone call, even though it involves interaction with customers, can be intense and isolating - especially if they're the only person at the company doing a particular job.

Drop by and chat with them throughout the day. Make the conversation casual. Avoid any coaching or criticism of their performance. Just check in and break up their day a little bit. They will appreciate the support.

Set up a Schedule

To avoid a fragmented day, work with the new rep to devise a schedule. For instance, if they have cold call responsibilities you might agree that they will make those particular calls between 8:30am and 10:00am and 4:00pm and 5:00pm. Pick an appropriate period of time for other types of activities like follow-up calls and presentations.

Yes, interruptions and emergencies will interfere with their schedule from time to time. Establishing a routine will minimize distractions and increase their productivity.

Off the Phone -- Out of the Office

Telesales reps need variety to avoid burn-out. Arrange for them to visit their accounts in person or accompany the outside or service reps on customer visits every so often.

Sign them up for off-site training several times a year. Being introduced to new ideas and talking with reps at other companies boosts their morale and improves their sales skills.

After any outside activity you'll see an increase in their energy level and productivity for weeks.

Respect their Time

Barring an emergency, you wouldn't ask your outside reps to "come back to headquarters immediately" or demand that they call you in the middle of a client meeting. The same goes for the inside salesperson.

Just because they might sit just a few feet from your office doesn't mean you should interrupt them for frequent impromptu meetings. These actions encourage them to abandon the call schedule the two of you worked out in the beginning of their tenure. Where possible, arrange a time to speak where they might have a natural break in the day.

Most companies find the inside sales rep allows an economical expansion of their sales force with a corresponding increase in sales revenue. Many talented sales reps prefer selling over the phone to the hassle of traveling a territory. Simple, common sense adjustments to your management style make for a happy and productive inside sales representative.