Boosting sales Featured

7:00pm EDT December 31, 2006

Astrong, motivated sales force has always been vital to a company’s success. But in today’s marketplace, where changes happen with lightning speed and more players are vying for a piece of the pie, the traditional way of selling just won’t cut it anymore.

According to Terry W. Loe, Ph.D., associate professor and director of the Center for Professional Selling at Coles College of Business at Kennesaw State University in Kennesaw, it is more important than ever for salespeople to understand their clients’ businesses, markets and financials as much as their clients in order to deliver value.

Smart Business spoke with Loe about what companies need to do to revamp their sales efforts in order to maintain their competitive edge.

In today's ultra-competitive marketplace, has the way a company approaches sales changed?

Sales has changed dramatically over the past 10 years. The speed of change in technology and the ways that companies do business has impacted the role of salespeople. Salespeople must have a strong business acumen and be prepared to manage relationships across organizations. Organizations have developed ‘supplier relationship management’ strategies paralleling customer relationship management (CRM). Additionally, more mergers and acquisitions have further reduced the number of customers in the market. This means salespeople have to fight harder to maintain their current account base, and gaining new clients will be even more difficult.

Another difference is that more companies are using multiple channels (Internet, call centers, contact centers) in order to allow customers to buy in the manner they prefer.

Also, competitive advantages for organizations will emerge based upon people (salespeople in particular) rather than products. Salespeople must understand their clients’ businesses, markets and financials as much as their clients in order to deliver value.

In what way has the burgeoning global economy affected sales?

Companies today are looking at low-cost countries and then low-cost vendors, which means that organizations and salespeople are having to compete on a day-to-day basis with India, China, Thailand and other countries with lower manufacturing and labor costs. Salespeople have to broaden their knowledge basis of competitors and develop and deliver strategies that provide value to their markets (customers) in order to offset pricing issues.

How are companies motivating their sales teams these days?

Companies today, in order to be successful, must develop a sales culture throughout the organization, which means that everyone in the organization must be focused on delivering value to the customer. Sales leaders must go beyond motivation and strive to inspire their sales-people and educate others in the organization on the importance of organizational customer focus. Inspiration encompasses the transference of belief of the corporate vision.

While attractive commissions, bonuses and compensation packages are still necessary, sales leaders must go beyond this type of motivation. In order to have breakthrough success, the organization has to change more than just behavior and methods — it has to change the way it and its employees and salespeople think about the way they approach their jobs.

How important is goal setting to a company’s sales?

Without a vision, organizations and individuals will be destined to mediocre performance. Goals are important, but they must be meaningful and they must be based upon the core values of the organization or individual. Core values are those that the organization does not compromise. If goals are not based upon a set of core values, they are meaningless. Short-term goals may be adjusted and re-evaluated, and the organization and salespeople must be able to adapt to the environment. Ultimately, though, the organization must know where it wants to go.

How does one recruit a competent sales staff?

Recent studies indicate that 44 percent of U.S. employers can’t fill sales jobs. There’s a greater shortage of qualified salespeople than nurses or teachers. And the average turnover rate in professional sales is around 40 percent.

Organizations must use innovative approaches to acquire qualified salespeople. More and more colleges and universities have programs and degrees that are sales-focused — an indication of the shortage of supply and recognition by higher education of the need. Twenty years ago, there were no universities with centers focused on the sales discipline. Today, there are 11 universities that have sales centers that focus on strong undergraduate education in sales and sales management.

TERRY W. LOE, Ph.D., is associate professor and director of the Center for Professional Selling at Coles College of Business at Kennesaw State University in Kennesaw. Reach him at (678) 797-2017.