During the course of my life, I have been a student, an observer and a practitioner of the fine art of making sales.
I have been successful, unsuccessful, frustrated and elated while attempting to create fabulous sales numbers for my companies. Although I do not have all of the answers to sales success, I have learned a few lessons along the way which I will share with you now.
The last company I worked for before starting my current consulting business was an international insurance firm with a large number of offices all over North America. I was the Vice President of Operations in my region and I was partnered with a Vice President of sales. We were responsible for approximately 160 employees in a dozen offices. We worked very well together because we accepted that both of us carried ominous responsibility for the success of our region and that if we did not work as team, we would surely fail.
Lesson number one: Accountability
The first thing we learned was that success requires hard work from everyone involved.
Whenever we lost focus and let up or reduced our drive for more sales our numbers would start to slide and our profitability would begin to wane. It was up to us as leaders to drive the bus and when we lost energy, the entire vehicle lost momentum.
We also learned that our sales-people responded best when we showed a great deal of interest in them, reminding them regularly that it was their responsibility to make a budgeted number of sales. We had to make it clear that just as we were accountable to our executive and shareholders, they were responsible to us and their co-workers to drive the company forward.
When we asked them for buy-in and helped them along the way they bought in but when we focussed on something other than sales effort, they took our lack of acknowledgement as a sign that the pressure was off and not surprisingly, sales dropped off. Holding sales people personally responsible for their sales effort is one of the most important elements of a successful sales organization.
Lesson number two: Support
One of the single most common reasons why people struggle to make sales budgets is a lack of personalized support.
In order to make sales, we learned that we had to accept that everyone needed a different technique when contacting and dealing with clients and that there is no single–best way to make a sale happen. We understood that each sales person naturally behaved differently than the others and that each was driven by different motivations.
We utilized specific assessment tools to understand how each of our sales people thought and we encouraged them to utilize their natural skills and talents to create their own brand of success.
We also learned to accept that everyone is not, and cannot be a superstar. We learned that as much as we had to set minimum goals that must be attained, we could not expect everyone to perform at the same level. Despite varying levels of skill and success everyone mattered. Most importantly, when one of our people was struggling, rather than finding fault or giving up on them, we offered coaching, encouragement and support to rejuvenate their enthusiasm and recharge their passion.
Lesson number three: Teamwork
Any group of people that is assembled for any purpose can only be successful if they operate as a team.
Just as this is true in athletics, it is true in the sales arena. Teams require leaders and leaders require loyal, devoted followers. A team must have a common vision that each member is able to buy into and each player must know his or her position.
We learned that as leaders, we had to reinforce the value of each member of the team from the reception people, to the accounting staff, to the administration department...because without them, the sales people would not survive. We reinforced the fact that without each member of the team paddling as fast as they could, the sales boat would not move forward. We asked them to treat each member of the team with respect all-the-while holding each other accountable for the team’s performance.
We taught them how harmful bad words and bad thoughts amongst team members could be and that intolerance would not be accepted. We let them know that every success was a team success to be shared by all members equally. We asked all team members to carry their weight as best they could and to help other team members when they stumbled. In short we helped them to understand that success was a team endeavour that required the unrelenting effort of each player.
Lesson number four: Lead by example
Leaders in great sales organizations work harder than every person on their team in order to maintain success.
There can be no room on any team for lazy, lacklustre, disengaged sales leaders or managers.Those who set the goals and enforce the activities that create the results must be fully involved and highly motivated. Their dedication to the process must be palpable and measurable. The time they put in to assist their sales force must be as great as, or preferably greater than the time each sales person and support-staff member puts in to make sales happen.
Great leaders work tirelessly and selflessly for the greater good of the team. Great leaders acknowledge that they are under the microscope and that everyone on their team is waiting for them to stumble. The best of them will be helped up by their team members when they fall...the worst will be left behind or kicked to the curb in disgust. They say that it is lonely at the top. As much as there is a smattering of truth to that statement, it can also be very rewarding and highly energizing up there. When you forget your own personal needs and wants, pushing those of your team members to the top, you will soon come to find that you have a second family that will support you and carry you on their shoulders to success.
The bottom line for leaders is that they must never give up, must always stay the course and must always work like their professional life depends on it...Because it does!
Lesson number five: Build your culture
Sales success can be sustainable or fleeting...it is your choice.
Success that is short-lived or sporadic is symptomatic of a weak sales-culture. If you have products or services to sell, you must always put sales activity at the top of your priority list. Let’s face it; you won’t need a receptionist, an accountant, or a human-resources professional if your products or services are not getting into the hands of buyers.
If you are unhappy with your current rate of sales stop what you are doing and regroup. Many leaders believe that if they just do more of what they are currently doing, great things will happen. That may or may not be true depending on the situation. However, if your sales machine is not printing money, there is a good chance it is broken or at the very least is need of a tune up.
The best way to find out why you are not as successful as you would like to be is to do an evaluation of your corporate culture to find out how your employees and your customers feel about it. Once you have communicated with a good sampling of them to find out where the weaknesses are, start building your culture from the ground up all over again.
During the rebuilding process, be honest with yourself and be willing to admit your failings. You must be willing to accept major changes if you want to succeed. Let everyone know that you want to build a powerful, sustainable culture where all of the stakeholders will share in the spoils and where everyone’s participation will be valued and acknowledged. Once the foundation is built, start bricking up the walls with solid, established business practices and employee engagement techniques. If you are not up to date on the practices of highly successful companies or simply do not know where to start, get help from outside professionals to guide you to a better path. Finally, you must be patient. Building a great corporate structure with fabulous sales results takes a lot of perseverance and a good deal of time.
Build your culture one brick at a time and watch your success grow right along with it.
All the Best!