Sure Fire Ways to Build a Successful Sales Force – Part 2: Work Smarter with People

Your sales force is defined by the people you choose. At first glance, that might seem obvious, but consider what it entails.

The choices you make in this area will have a direct bearing on how well your team works together, how cohesive they will be in reaching the goals you set for your business, how quickly they will get there, and how motivated they will be every step along the way.

All of these factors combined define your organization and tell your customers a lot about what they can expect when doing business with you. So it’s really important to get it right.

Working smarter with people entails three key activities: assigning the right number of people, identifying roles and planning compensation strategically. These are points 2, 3 and 4 in our list of seven sure-fire ways to build a successful sales force (click here for the first article). Let’s have a look at each step in detail.

Assign the right number of people

How much can one sales rep realistically manage? If you overwhelm them, you risk missing out on leads. Give them too little and they might starve while only your overhead grows.

Do your research. Look at what the data tells you. What is the average size of a sale in your business? How many opportunities in your sales pipeline does each rep have to manage to reach that sum? And how long does it take them to achieve this? Your answers to these questions will help you identify how many people you need on the front lines of your sales force.

Identify roles

It’s important that you clearly identify the roles of each member of your sales team and ensure there’s no overlap, otherwise you risk having conflict on the ground between members of your sales team. Watch out for this two common mistakes: 1) combining both direct sales and channel in the same territory with the same person. I’ve seen many businesses try this and more often than not, they pay a steep price: lost sales, confused customers and cranky, demoralized channel partners. 2) A combined role as a player / coach sales leaders. Sell, or lead. Do not do both at the same time. Player / coaches always default to “playing (aka selling) at the detriment of coaching their team. Worse, they are viewed as competition by the team who see them in competition for leads, and commissions. Know who does what at every level of your team. No exceptions.

Plan compensation strategically

Compensation is the big carrot that motivates sales people, but you have to use it right to get the best results. My advice is to look at having unique compensation plans for each group in your sales force where there is well-defined set of challenges.

Modify that carrot to suit varied tastes. If a team deals mainly with transactional sales, consider compensating based on volume. On large enterprise opportunities that take years to close, look at paying a larger percentage or basing bonuses on other key performance indicators such as activities, adherence to budget, or even a team goal.

When I sold for Open Text, I had the US Air Force as my client. It took us eighteen months to close one deal worth $13 million. Had my compensation only been based on revenue from this customer I might have starved while waiting for that commission, even though I was working as hard as my colleagues who were bringing plenty of smaller deals over a shorter term. Remember the golden rule: Sales people do exactly what they are paid to do.

Working smarter with people is about understanding what makes it easiest for them to do their jobs effectively, knowing what motivates them best and how to compensate fairly. As always, data can help you at every step. You can track, monitor, measure, course correct as often as required to grow quickly. The outcome is that you have a sales force that sells more, faster.