Increase the Effectiveness of Your Sales Force

Your sales force can be one of your biggest expenses. So it’s surprising how many companies don’t make better use of them. Even when trained well, many salespeople lose their edge quickly.

They can form opinions about your products, customers, marketing programs and management — often negative. Some will determine the least amount of effort needed to keep their job or max out their compensation.

They might quickly label each customer with names like “stupid,” “mean” and “cheap.” Perhaps a few are “nice.” Of course, the “nice” ones buy their product and don’t argue too much about price increases. None of these identifiers are usually correct. And once a customer has been labeled, it’s hard to change the salesperson’s opinion.

As most products are almost interchangeable with their competition, and most sales people aren’t provided an effective way to differentiate, they’re stuck talking price.

Start Turning Around Your Sales Force

The first step is to involve and respect them. The best way is simply listening to them.

Ask them some of the following; you’ll be surprised what you learn:

  1. What is their job like on a daily basis?
  2. What do they spend their time doing? You’ll probably be astonished how little of it is actually available for selling.
  3. How would they describe their job?
  4. Are your marketing programs in alignment with their compensation?
  5. Who do they report to, and what do they think motivates their boss? Is it implementing your marketing programs, or just short-term sales?
  6. What are their goals with current customers and new customers?
  7. What do they think of their customers?
  8. What do they think are the stupidest things your company does?
  9. Who do they think is their competition? What do they think about them?
  10. What are their strengths and weaknesses?

Phone calls and in-person meetings are a great way to answer these. An even better way is to ride along with a salesperson for a day and see for yourself.

Chances are, you’ll see just how challenging it is to get your marketing programs implemented through the sales force. They either don’t have enough time or have priorities out of alignment with yours.

Sales and marketing are distinct functions that require their own accountabilities. But the problem is they too often operate in silos and don’t effectively communicate or cooperate. The sales side, many times, doesn’t feel the marketing side understands what the real world is like. The marketing team doesn’t understand why the sales team doesn’t just do what they’re told.

The result is both teams operate much less effectively than if they worked together.

De-Silo Your Organization

It starts at the top. The leaders of marketing and sales need to be in regular communication. They need to agree the company has a goal and work together while respecting each other’s expertise. Marketing will develop more effective programs, and sales will better implement them.

Next is engaging the actual sales team. Ideally, someone from marketing and the agency should ride along with salespeople on a regular basis. Maintain regular communications with a few of the more successful salespeople.

You and your agency are now better equipped to develop an effective marketing program to achieve any sales goal. Involve the sales leadership and a few salespeople as you are developing your programs. They will not only be more effective, but they will be greeted with more enthusiasm, as the sales force will feel their issues were taken into account.

It’s Your Turn To Sell

When you introduce a new program, you’ve got to sell it. Don’t introduce it as another program from those geniuses in marketing and assume it will get applause or support. Most people are in too big a hurry to reveal the big idea, assuming instead that the sales team will just get it. Well, they usually won’t. Remember, you have lived with this new idea since its inception. Some parts seem so obvious to you now, so you don’t think they need to be covered. They need to be covered.

Start at the top with the objective. For example, the objective is to increase sales by 10% this year. This starts everyone at the same place. Whether they agree with it or not, they understand it and understand they will be measured against it. They are now very open to hear what you have to say, because they realize they have a challenge and now see you as someone who may be able to help them overcome it.

Next, walk them through the strategy, and show them how it will work. Talk about the market, the competition and the input from sales. Ideally this is done with illustrations and diagrams.

Now you are finally ready to walk them through the tactics — the actual elements of the program, such as sales tools, media support, PR, point of sale, promotions, ads, websites, social media campaigns, etc. Now they can understand the thinking that went into the program, and they’ll understand how each element will work. They’ll also have confidence in the program and an understanding of their assignment.

You should also ask them for feedback about how the program is working for them, so you can make the next one even better. There may be a small, seemingly unimportant detail that is actually a huge difficulty for the sales team.

Don’t Overlook the Basics

One final recommendation: Make sure your sales force has the basics covered. For several years, many companies didn’t have to sell, as the growth in housing meant more growth automatically. They may also have redirected sales away from one market, such as builders, to focus on retail. And since they didn’t need to sell, they got rid of the more experienced salespeople. What this all adds up to is a good chance your sales force doesn’t have a clue.

For example, a major building material manufacturer wanted to start calling on builders directly, which they had in the past. After conducting an assessment, Interrupt Marketing quickly found the sales people had no idea how a house was built or how a builder’s business worked. Yet, they were handed a program and told to start making calls.

Don’t assume your sales force is up to speed on the market. They may just need a refresher, or they may need to go back to the fundamentals.

When properly engaged, your sales force can turn from an expense to an asset that generates big returns on your investment.

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