Tips for Communicating Effectively with Sales Teams

Author: 
Matt Brown, Senior Vice President of Sales, Lawson Products

Salespeople are often described as extroverted with good social and communication skills. They are entrepreneurial, self-motivated, curious and persistent. Typically dispersed across territories far and wide, and always on the go, face-to-face communication is often overridden by email, voicemail and text. And just like their coworkers at headquarters or in the distribution center, salespeople need to be kept engaged and aligned to company values and goals. This means sales teams need more than a website to gather product and pricing information.

A creative and consistent approach to sales team communication is important to ensure your sales team remains connected to your organization, motivated and producing measurable results. Here are some tips for communicating effectively with sales teams.

Create a plan

Partner with other key functions such as marketing, product management, internal communications and human resources to create the best programs and tools to meet your sales teams communication and training needs. Essential to the development of this plan is an understanding of salespersons’ communication preferences and information needs which may be gained via focus groups and/or surveys.

Key to the success of sales team communication at Lawson Products is always ensuring that sales management is aware of communication going to their teams. If it’s a change, requires action or will generate a lot of questions, we provide sales management with extra information or tools to respond appropriately. In other words, sales management is never caught off guard or surprised by a communication received by their team. In addition, important or key messages are communicated more than once, via a variety of vehicles, to ensure critical information is not missed by Lawson’s dispersed, mobile sales team who is focused on taking care of their customers.

Make time for face-to-face communication

The cost of making time for face-to-face communication is outweighed by the benefits of this high-touch vehicle. At Lawson Products, face-to-face communication happens in the field as well as at headquarters. Specifically, Lawson’s senior management team members spend one day every month on the road with salespeople conducting Salesperson Ride-Alongs to call on customers, and listen to sales representatives’ ideas, concerns and challenges.

Every few years, Lawson Products also holds a North American sales meeting, giving the entire sales team access to the C-suite, opportunities for cross-region sharing and training. This three-day event includes time for teambuilding, networking and learning at a variety of workshops and an internal tradeshow highlighting suppliers, internal corporate functions, programs and products.

The sales management team gathers annually for an abbreviated version of the meeting described above, covering topics relevant to managing a dispersed sales team. The management team then cascades content via district meetings, webinars and/or conference calls – or a combination.

Listen

By observing, listening and rolling up their sleeves together during Salesperson Ride-Alongs, Lawson Products senior management team members and sales representatives talk about what’s working well and what could still be improved in sales, service and customer outreach. Sharing their expertise and perspective, the sales representatives feel heard and valued. Ride-along learnings are brought back and shared with the rest of leadership/management so they can make better, more informed decisions.

Provide the same opportunities to salespeople

Providing members of the remote and mobile sales team the same opportunities that employees at headquarters or the warehouse have makes a world of difference when it comes to communication and engagement. Lean Six Sigma is a key contributor to improving the customer experience, increasing revenue and reducing costs at Lawson Products. Lawson sales representatives have served and continue to serve on Lean Six Sigma teams. One example is of a Six Sigma team that set out to gain a stronger understanding of what attracts sales representatives to the industry and what they need to be successful. This Six Sigma team, consisting of a cross-functional group of employees representing human resources and field sales, reduced recruiting cycle time by 56 percent by improving the company’s social media presence, simplifying the job application, and better defining Lawson’s sales position.

Empower your salespeople

Ensuring your salespeople are equipped with a variety of communication and learning tools that eliminate downtime or are available anytime from anywhere is key to keeping communication alive and empowering your sales force. Here are some of the many tools used to empower Lawson Products’ sales team.

  1. Lawson Sales Center mobile toolset (mobile app developed in house) that allows sales representatives to use their mobile devices to access real-time product pricing and inventory status, look up orders, check order status and cross-reference part numbers.
  2. Online communities for 24/7 knowledge sharing and problem solving. Topics include product applications, successful selling strategies, time saving strategies and customer service best practices.
  3. Customized sales townhall meetings held quarterly via conference call to ensure sales representatives don’t miss out on important company information. A critical component of this quarterly call is reserved time for live Q&A.
  4. Onboarding, mentoring and other formal training programs.

Creating and sustaining effective communication with salespeople requires a solid framework and processes – one that allows for consistent and frequent two-way communication, collaboration, knowledge transfer and problem solving via a variety of communication vehicles. Keeping communication alive with a highly dispersed and mobile workforce at Lawson Products has helped improve engagement levels. When salespeople are listened to, communicated with frequently, invited to work on highly visible projects and held accountable, sales go up.

Matt Brown is senior vice president of sales for Lawson Products, Inc., a distributor of products and services to the MRO and automotive marketplaces. With a sales team of 1,000 dispersed across North America, Matt has a proven track record of increasing sales across the company and a commitment to helping build and train Lawson's sales organization. The company is currently recruiting sales representatives.