Observations on Sales in an Organization – Part One

This is the first article in a two-part series on sales – one from the company perspective and one from the salesperson perspective. We are approaching the subject with sense of humor. You just HAVE to as sales is truly a necessary evil. New business is the lifeblood of any company, because if you are not selling, you’re dying. As a peddler myself as well as a CEO, I have both perspectives. These two articles are more of an experience-share of my 30 years of sales from both sides of the fence.

Sales from the Company Perspective

Managing salespeople
A detail-oriented salesperson is rare. Scribbled notes, piles of paperwork and expense documentation are often left for other departments like accounting and fulfillment to clean up. Assistants can help with the routine so energy can be spent closing the deal. In depth product and service training works as long as you have defined outcomes and accountability for the training. Coordination with legal, production, and marketing are important. Getting everyone on the same page is vital in the following areas: what has been released to market/not; key themes, messages and selling points; availability of resources to support the sale; and ensuring the company can deliver what sales has promised.

Keeping motivated
When I managed 17 sales people at once, I didn’t care what they did as long as they got their numbers. We measured performance versus activity and discovered that didn’t work because when there is an issue, without tracked activity you are clueless as to how to improve performance. Set expectations by communicating the length of the sales cycle: is it two days, six months, or five years? True salespeople do not need to be motivated as they are already on to the next deal. Either they are externally challenged or they challenge themselves. Management perceives salespeople as being a pain in the backside, but reality is they often expose soft underbellies in the company that need to be addressed by leadership.

Managing and protecting the data
Technology that is both automated and simple will help reduce the follow up once back at the office. Anything that can close sales faster or allows immediate access to the sales person is preferable; voicemail that is automatically forwarded to their cell phone; customer relationship management systems; online sales inquiries that vet prospects then are forwarded to the salesperson’s email. A good salesperson wants to know what their numbers are. Aggregated/reporting info and social media are support tools. Laptops, iPads, and smart phones give salespeople more flexibility, higher responsiveness, less down time, and access to networked files. Confidentiality agreements and anti-piracy agreements will help protect your data, regardless of location.

When to invest and when to pull the plug
Increased market share, succession planning, pending retirement or change in employment status are all good reasons to invest. Almost 100 percent of the time your best sales person is not a good sales manager. Do not make that mistake. Invest in achievers and people who can do the job. Most companies do not set up criteria and do not pull the plug soon enough. Goals, accountability, minimum performance expectations, cultural fit are musts.

Stay tuned for your next article from the salesperson’s perspective.

Jim Annis is president/CEO of The Applied Companies, which provide HR solutions for today’s workplace. Celeste Johnson, Tom Miller, and Suzanne Chennault, Applied’s division directors, contributed to this article.