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Achieving sales efficiency with your underperformers

Posted by Simon Thiessen on 22-May-2014 17:24:00

improve_sales_efficiencyWhy can't the bottom 50% be more like the top 50%?

Have you noticed that some sales people just get stuck in and make a success of a sales career while others seem to lack direction, motivation and structure? Silly question really - no doubt you have noticed and  used every trick in the book to get that bottom 50% of your team active and productive.

If you talk to the people who are doing well and ask them why they will often shrug and say it isn’t that hard. Good sales people are often instinctive – they don’t think about how to be good, they just are. That doesn't mean they are born sales people - but they develop and hone their skills in a more intuitive way.

Of course that means pointing at one of your sales stars and saying 'just do what they do' is easy. Quantifying exactly what they do is much harder.

Treat them equally but differently

Everyone in your should be given encouragement, opportunities to succeed, support, training, etc. However, the way you actually manage them may (and should) be very different. A great way to improve sales efficiency, is to divide your team into two groups - and then apply a different strategy with each.

The ones who are getting the results

The most important tip we can offer you here is to get out of their way as much as possible. Sure, there are reports that need to be done, meetings that need to be held and systems that the company expects everyone to work with. Beyond that, let them go for it. Sales efficiency for these people is all about maximising the time they spend doing what they do well even if they aren't so good at quantifying what that is.

Imposing too much structure on these sales people is like making a piano player perform in handcuffs - it will hurt their performance, enjoyment and motivation.

The ones who aren’t delivering the results you expect

In reality, what the under performers need to do to create sales success isn't that different. Its just that you cant leave to instinct. For these people, sales efficiency isn’t intuitive and you need to give them a framework to work within.

Will they like the framework? Maybe not. Do they need it? Definitely

You may actually create a new motivation to perform - being allowed to move into the group that is given more freedom and flexibility which would suit you just fine as well!

you_may_need_a_framework_for_sales_efficiencyA word of warning about uncomfortable sales people

One of our real-isms (the sayings, attitudes and beliefs that we work by) is that we should never make people comfortable with poor – or less than acceptable – performance. Of course, you should only ever make people appropriately uncomfortable. The  tortoise may one day catch the hare - but not if there is no reason to move!

  • Asking people to perform at a reasonable level is fine as long as you ask them in a reasonable way
  • Telling people that their performance needs to improve is OK as long as it isn’t a personal attack and you offer them support in making the improvement
  • Imposing a structure on some of your sales team but not on others is reasonable as long as the structure is appropriate and people are included based on performance.

If doing any of these things makes them feel uncomfortable, that is OK. However, any time you make someone uncomfortable with their performance, they will aim to become comfortable – which they can achieve by moving up or moving out. In other words, some people may decide that they no longer want to work for you – which is probably OK if they aren’t performing.

A framework for sales efficiency

There are only two ways to increase sales. Depending on the industry you are in, you may focus equally on both or favour one over the other:

  • Get more from your existing customers
  • Find some new customers

There is no other way to increase sales. A framework that holds your under performers accountable and that focuses on each of these is the only answer – and it’s simple.

Ask each of your under performers to:

  • Do a minimum number of new business calls every week: these are calls they make to completely new prospects to set up whatever the next step in your sales process is
  • Do a minimum number of revenue generating calls each week: these are client meetings (depending on your sales process they may be by phone or in person) that involve diagnosing needs or presenting solutions. Don’t settle for comfort calls – those are ‘how are you going’ meetings that struggling sales people love to have with their favourite clients because they make them feel busy without ever having to leave their comfort zone.

Forget the focus on pure sales volume

The problem for many under performing sales people is that they know they have a budget to meet but they don’t have a process for achieving it. By implementing this framework, you are shifting the focus from outcome to process.

Carefully consider where the benchmarks for each of these things should be set. If it is too high your sales people won't be able to do that many sales activities in the time available. This crosses a line – it is no longer a reasonable task, you will create resentment and you will dis-empower people. No-one chases an impossible goal.

If it is too low, you are settling for poor performance.

Five steps to set sales efficiency targets for under performers

Follow these steps as we work backwards to figure out what numbers you should set as your standards.

  1. How many hours is it reasonable to expect each person to work?
  2. How much time is taken up with meetings, reports and other administrative stuff?
  3. How much time is left – and how would you like to see that divided between looking for new business and generating more revenue from existing customers?
  4. How long does a revenue generating call take on average? Remember to allow some time for research before a diagnostic meeting and for preparation of proposals before a meeting to discuss solutions
  5. How long does it take to contact a new prospect – as a rule of thumb, we generally work on about 8-10 calls per hour by phone

A spotlight on skill deficiency

If your under performers meet the required activity levels but still don’t succeed, there are two main causes:

  1. You have got your numbers wrong – budgets are unattainable, you aren’t asking them to make enough prospecting or revenue generating calls, etc. At least consider this possibility before moving on to the next point
  2. There quantity is high enough but their quality isn’t – which is all about their skill levels.

This opens up a whole new area and you may need to coach them on some core sales skills: who to target, how to ask good questions, effective presentations skills, managing objections, closing, etc.

The good news is that skill errors are much easier to deal with than someone lacking motivation and direction.

If you would like your sales people to improve their focus on prospecting for new customers, try downloading and having them complete this free Customer Prospecting Calculator. They may get a surprise about what they need to do to succeed!

Customer prospecting calculator


photo credit (podium): via photopin photo credit (tortoise and hare): Jehsuk via photopin cc

Topics: Sales, Sales Management