Want to Drive Better Sales? Manage People, Not Things

It doesn’t matter whether you are in the C-suite or just promoted to your first management position. If you think you can lead through policies, bullet points and messaging, you are not going to inspire the best in your people.

To create a culture that fosters confidence, collaboration and commitment, you need people that feel trusted, respected and empowered. Give them clear direction and let them use their skill, talent and creativity to drive wins. Not only will they exceed their goals – they will also deliver new levels of customer service and teamwork.

Here’s how to do it.

Involve everyone in the sales effort
Today’s business moves faster than ever, with more information and communication coming at you every day. To keep people focused on what matters – and to keep them from getting distracted by garbage work that never ladders up to anything – you have to keep things simple. It doesn’t get any simpler than this: Every single person in your company is in sales. Not just your sales department. Lawyers, human resources, engineers, communications professionals, anybody that you employ. They all should be able to answer one question: What did you do, today, to help us win more business?

Everyone in your company is making an impression – internally and externally – and influencing the attitudes and opinions that impact your business. Whether they interact with strategic partners, employees, end users or suppliers, they all shape the image of your business and people’s willingness to do business with you. The more people know they are a part of sales, the more sales – and the customer experience – will be a part of everything they do.

Open the channels of communication completely
The most unhealthy thing you can do is pit people against each other. All that does is create suspicion, paranoia and resentment. The more time sales reps spend worrying about internal competition, the less time they think about real competitors and helping customers. Encourage teamwork at all levels.

You can’t do it with just messaging, though. Salespeople believe what they are told when they see their leaders living it. Win or lose, pick up the phone and say great job. Build communication, one-on-one, one conversation at a time. Don’t send out group emails, or c.c. somebody’s manager, to make a big production out of it. Let them know it is personal – not political.

Not only does that strengthen connection, it also builds trust and transparency. Up and down your chain of command, everybody should be accessible. Anybody should feel free and welcome to email the CEO or a VP with a question, without you or their manager knowing about it. If your team doesn’t have that level of openness and comfort, it is going to be harder for them to work together on the kind of big wins that demand collaboration.

Let people do their jobs
Why bother attracting, hiring and retaining great people if you’re not going to let them use the experience and insight that made you want to hire them in the first place? Back off! The day you have to oversee somebody’s efforts, get into their business or tell them what to do next is, frankly, the day they have to go.

Everybody needs coaching and direction, but that’s very different than micromanaging. Empower your teams to set their own agendas, take control and communicate openly. Because nobody wants to be told what to do. And if you like telling people what to do all the time, you are not leading people, you are managing things.

Keep the attitudes in check
It’s easy to say that prima donna salespeople are more trouble than they are worth. But, as we all know, that’s not always the case. Every once in a while, an arrogant, me-first, high-maintenance sales rep can provide an in to an important account. In that instance, it may be worthwhile in the long run to put up with them for a short period of time. But you have to recognize that as a short-term strategy.

The bigger the deal, the more members of your team it will require to close. A selfish, difficult salesperson will eventually run off some of your best people and clients, costing a lot more than they bring in. Not only do people hate having to work with someone like that, tolerating that kind of behavior will often make others question your leadership and judgment. Your most valuable employees will be the first to leave.

It’s not just about the product
If your organization is going out and trying to sell a product, you are setting yourself up for failure. Of course, the product quality, performance and specs matter. But, more than ever, you have to focus on business outcomes and customer experience. Because of the amount of data and information available online, people now have more than 70 percent of their decision made before you speak with them – up from about 25 percent a decade ago. The question is, can they translate that information into customer benefits?

That is what real salespeople do: They lead customers from the product information to the business outcomes in a way that is authentic, honest and focused on solutions. And that is why they are so valuable and important, both to your organization and to your customers. Make no mistake, that last 30 percent of the decision is made now. And it is your rep that helps the customer make it. The human factor is more important than ever before. So lead accordingly.

 Mark Weber is an Executive in Residence at Catholic University of America and former Senior Vice President of Americas Sales at NetApp.

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