Before we start, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page regarding the term “direct sales.” In this context, I’m referring to companies that sell their products and services directly to their customer base rather than selling through retail or other sales channels (distributors, value-added resellers, system integrators, and so on).
Companies face stiff competition and customers have multiple options. Often, the differentiator may come down to the sales rep, whose product knowledge, experience and ability to solve the customer’s problem end up being the deciding factor in turning a prospect into a customer. Companies have very little room for error in this environment. Chances are, if you’re playing in today’s world of direct sales, you could use a few tips on how to amp up your strategy and move from playing to competing.
Here are a few solid tips for today’s sales leaders:
1. Identify and hire the correct profile
Before you do anything else, it’s imperative to begin with a foundational assessment of your team and determine if your existing staff can adequately handle your current and near-term sales needs. This initial evaluation will likely reveal deficits in your sales team and might lead you to shift current personnel or add new hires. Either way, it’s important to identify the proper sales profile(s) that is most essential to driving sales success for your operation.
How do you identify the profile(s) that will bring you the most success? Start by looking at your top performers to determine what it is that makes them successful. Do they ask good questions and listen intently? Do they have grit? Do they communicate well without relying on jargon and filler? Can they solve problems, and do they look for opportunities to do so? Are they coachable, and do they implement the coaching? Are they disciplined and responsive? Whatever it is that you determine your top performers have/do, that’s the profile you need to hire for. Not education or pedigree. Not prior experience. Not past answers to routine interview questions. Seek out and hire those who fit the profile(s) of your top performers so you can replicate their success on your team. You’re not hiring for a random or predetermined profile—you’re hiring to get more of the great sellers you already have!
Besides hiring for the right profile, remember that it doesn’t do much good to answer a specific need with a nonspecific seller. Be precise about what you need. Are you looking for someone to bring in new business, sometimes referred to as a “hunter”? Or does your team need a “farmer” – someone to work with, support, and grow existing accounts? Sometimes, the answer isn’t one or the other. You might need both or a hybrid.
2. Set them in the right motion
It’s not enough to hire the appropriate sales profile. You need to make sure you’re putting your team members in the proper sales motions. Do you need prospecting, lead development, sales, someone who can handle everything from prospecting to closing the sale, customer engagement, long-term customer relationship, transactional relationship, or something else? Whatever the case may be, it’s important to understand your specific needs, make sure you have the right people from the right profile to handle the job, and then set them up in the proper motions depending on their individual strengths and weaknesses and what you need them to do.
3. Define your processes
Once you’ve got your people squared away (profile and motion), inspect your processes. It may be true that “sales is a numbers game”, but consider whether you need to buy/develop/cultivate more leads or if you have plenty of leads but need to qualify them better. Are you speaking to decision makers or gatekeepers or influencers? Do you know what to do when you encounter them? Do you just burn through leads and buy more lists, or do you have a specific methodology for follow-up and rules of engagement for your sellers? Without the proper processes in place, you can’t know why you are or are not closing deals. Your sales processes should be definable, measurable, and repeatable. If your lead generators aren’t scheduling enough appointments or if your sellers aren’t closing deals, you can train and coach them to hit their desired outcomes—as long as you have a methodology that is fully developed, documented, tested, and refined. Companies like HubSpot know that and share their experience freely with others.
4. Measure what matters
“Not everything that matters can be measured and not everything that can be measured matters.” This quote is attributed to various people, but regardless of who said it, they were right! In sales, there are many activities we can quantify that don’t necessarily move the needle. For example, how many calls your sellers make each day is important, but won’t tell you how many of those dials led to decision-maker conversations. Which would you rather have: a seller who makes 100 calls/day and has 10 decision-maker conversations or a seller who makes 15 calls/day and has 14 decision-maker conversations? Further, the number of decision-maker conversations won’t tell you the quality of those conversations. Would you prefer a seller who makes 100 calls/day, and has eight quality conversations with decision makers, or a seller who makes 15 calls/day and has four quality conversations with decision makers?
I’m not suggesting quality over quantity, but rather quality plus quantity. When adopting this mindset toward the previous examples, you’re able to take into account the number of dials and conversations with decision makers, as well as the quality of those conversations. When both quality and quantity are factors of evaluation, you’re better able to determine how your reps are measuring up to the KPIs you’ve defined and you’ll be able to identify which specific areas need coaching in order for you to reach the goals you’ve set.
5. Use tools and technology to automate, extend and evaluate
Sales automation. Sales operations. Sales enablement. Enough! Whatever you call it, it needs to include tools and technology to extend and amplify your sales team. Today’s sales tools can help you identify better, more qualified leads before your seller even speaks to them. There’s technology to help your reps juggle multiple prospects at once by setting up sequences, automated schedules of touchpoints such as emails and phone calls to keep a lead warm and moving down the funnel. Tools can also help sales leaders analyze the quality of phone calls by measuring factors such as the percentage of the call that the seller was talking versus the percentage of time the prospect was talking. All of these tools (and many others) can help salespeople work more efficiently by eliminating a lot of manual tasks, and they can help you train and improve your team by recording and surfacing data that matters.
Once you’ve made sure you have the right profiles, place them in the proper motions with strong leadership and tie it all together with defined processes and useful sales automation tools and technology. Then it’s about fine-tuning and maximizing output along the way.
Not only will your sellers work more efficiently and your sales management lead more effectively, but I’m willing to bet you’ll also maximize your output and close more sales. Go get ‘em!
Todd Handy is the vice president of client services, digital media, for MarketStar.