The Right Way to Build a Strong Sales Function

While there is a secret to sales success, it’s not a mystery. Business owners and leaders frequently ask, “How do I increase sales?” or “Why is my sales team not performing better?” Before we tackle the how, we have to address the why.

Does your sales function lack a clear, process-driven method to meet sales goals? Too often, owners of businesses rely on a few good salespeople rather than on a repeatable and scalable process to secure predictable sales from current clients or new sales from potential clients. 

An owner of a middle-market business’s top salesperson left the company; that salesperson’s colleagues were inconsistent performers, at best. The business relied too heavily on a single salesperson to steer new business into the top of the sales funnel. I challenged the owner to think about the company’s sales process with these “Do you know?” questions. Do you know:

  • Who your salespeople talk to and meet with each week?
  • What they’re asking and saying when they speak with clients?
  • How effectively they’re representing your company and your products?
  • How frequently they’re calling on your most important clients or potential clients?
  • How well they’re following up with client needs?
  • If they’re asking for the right type of business?

The discussion was a wake-up call. The owner now understood that lacking a repeatable, reliable and scalable process for selling put his company’s revenue at risk – especially during the pandemic. How do larger and more sustainable businesses run their sales departments? Here are the timeless, simple – yet focused – guidelines to implement:

The right salespeople holding the right conversations with the right clients at the right frequency asking for the right type of business.

This practice requires a disciplined approach to building a skillful and market-focused sales team. It means making smart hiring decisions, investing in training, coordinating with marketing, understating client needs and measuring the right metrics. 

The Right Salespeople

Whom you hire matters! 

The right people relish the opportunity to sell on your behalf, in an industry that excites them. Take the hiring process seriously and challenge the candidate during the interview process. Make sure they’re the right fit for sales and for your team. Ask questions aligned with your selling and company expectations.

Holding the Right Conversations 

What you ask and say matters! 

The mantra about right messages suggests that sales success hinges on delivery of the right features and benefits. This is important, but it’s more important to hold two-way conversations that provide the platform for building trust, learning client needs, providing valued insights and anticipating potential barriers to sales. 

Holding productive conversations requires the salesperson to apply essential skills and behaviors, such as asking connected questions; listening carefully; learning what’s important to the client; being responsive and being affable. Sales management needs to teach and develop these qualities. Then, the right sales message at the right moment makes sales sense.

Highly successful salespeople make productive conversations look easy, which takes training, coaching and practice. Great salespeople are trusted consultants who help clients solve problems and find new opportunities, often leading to increased sales of products or services. 

Targeting the Right Clients at the Right Frequency

Whom you talk to – and how often – matters! 

One of the biggest challenges involves salespeople who spend too much time with less-promising customers (C-level targets), because the A-level targets are often harder to see, and the sales cycle takes longer – especially during the pandemic. Salespeople focused on activity, call on approachable C targets. When a sales team seeks activity before results, activity creep occurs, hurting sales.

How do you help your sales team balance targeting and activity? By using sales data and CRM tools to ensure that your salespeople spend the Right Time with the Right Clients. Meet with your salespeople each month (weekly for new hires), using sales data to stem activity creep and to help your team make the right adjustments. Create a reward system that measures intended results and the right sales behaviors that lead to results.

Asking for the Right Type of Business

We get what we ask for! 

A highly experienced salesperson once shared that she does not close, because she is reluctant to lose the relationships she worked so hard to build. This equates to being the lead runner in a 400-meter Olympic race and walking off the track without finishing. Training and effort for no return.

Many salespeople are hesitant and uncomfortable because their closing process is overly complicated. Why? Because they sometimes ask for too much or for something the client is not ready to commit to. Effective two-way conversations can encourage your client to ask for your help, which is an opportunity to close. Also, closing is easier if you anticipate and manage potential objections. 

Recommendations

  • Ask for something small – make it easy for your client to say yes.
  • Ask the client how your product or services helps solve their problems or meets specific needs. 
  • Provide an active choice between two recommended solutions and let the client decide which solution best suits them. 
  • Don’t wait until the end of the selling cycle. Check in along the way, to assess interest and need.
  • Ensure what you ask for meets your company’s business goals and strategies.

Next, meet with your management team and assess your sales function and salespeople. Based on the “Right” roadmap, where is your sales function strong? Where do you need to improve and adjust? Do you have the right salespeople and sales managers to move business forward? 

By holding a deep dive discussion with your management team, you’re engaging them in the process, assessing their thinking about the sales function and sharing ownership for the decision-making with a team of people. The process will also help you to re-set sales goals, purpose and expectations with them. 

Larry Prince is the CEO of PrinceLeadership, a New Jersey-based business consultancy that works with small and middle market companies to create growth and sustainability. Email him at larry@princeleadership.com.

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