Managing your salespeople, Part 2 Featured

7:00pm EDT January 31, 2007

You’ve developed your product or service and secured your business plan. You know it’s important to select the right salespeople to sell your product, but how do you go about finding them?

“It’s possible for good professional salespeople to change industries because they can be taught the specifics about a product, a sales strategy or the industry,” says Jim Sherry, vice president of Devon Consulting in Philadelphia. “What you can’t teach is attitude.”

In this second part of a two-part series, Smart Business talked to Sherry about metrics, the sales funnel, accountability among the sales staff and the importance of team building.

What is a sales funnel?

Sales activity is similar to a funnel. Nothing gets sold unless somebody wants to buy. So how do you get from, ‘I’m meaning to contact somebody’ to something is sold? In my business, typically, a salesperson makes a phone call or sends an e-mail. That is, they need to make contact with somebody, with an initial goal of scheduling a face-to-face meeting. And the person they’re contacting needs to have a problem that can be solved by your product or service.

In each step of this sales funnel, the opening is getting smaller and smaller. You need metrics in place to measure the process. For example, if you need to make three sales a month in order to meet your quota and your metrics tell you that one in five proposals becomes a customer, then you need to submit 15 proposals each month in order to make three sales. Working backward, your metrics can tell you how many appointments you need to schedule and how many phone calls you need to make in order to hit your targets.

Using metrics in the sales funnel takes a lot of the guesswork out of the process. Ultimately, selling is a face-to-face business but it is also a numbers game. You can determine your own ratios to the point where you can say 100 dials equals one sale or 15 appointments equals one sale or five proposals equals one sale.

What about accountability?

It should never be a surprise to a salesperson or a sales manager when targets aren't being hit, because you've got the necessary measures in place. I meet with my salespeople every week and we go through their sales funnels and talk about what they’re doing and look at the metrics. Problems with activity are identified early in the process and can be addressed before they get out of control. This process holds salespeople accountable for executing the right activities that are going to help them succeed. My job is to coach, mentor and train my staff in order to help them be successful.

How important is team building?

Most salespeople have a commission component to their compensation package. In fact, I want salespeople who are money-motivated. Their commission plan should be consistent — and help drive results that align — with company goals.

Despite the individualistic nature of a commission plan, you can’t lose sight of the team and the company’s goals. As a sales manager I have to make sure my people understand that no individual is more important than the team. It is unacceptable if a salesperson’s actions become detrimental to the team or to the company.

How important is it for a salesperson to be able to build strong relationships?

Ultimately, people buy from people who they like. It’s all about establishing and nurturing relationships and treating people the way you want to be treated. There’s nothing more important than the ability to establish strong relationships.

What’s the difference between sales hunters and sales farmers?

In the end sales is about three things: the acquisition of new clients, the retention of existing clients, and the expansion of existing clients.

You need to acquire new clients, because every client has a life cycle with your company. A good general rule is that you want a third of your business over the course of a year to be new clients, because another third of your business will be leaving you.

You want to retain as well as expand on the business that you already have. From a dollar perspective invested from a company point of view, it’s much less costly to expand the business of a current client than it is to identify and acquire a new client. ‘Hunting’ refers to salespeople who are really new-business development people. They are excited about the hunt, the chase of acquiring a new client. It’s a much different skill set than somebody who’s going to ‘farm’ the client — to retain and expand business through an existing client.

JIM SHERRY is vice president of Devon Consulting in Philadelphia. Reach him at jsherry@devonconsulting.com or (610) 964-5769.