Tuesday, October 25, 2016

How can you professionalize your sales team? Why do you need to do it?

Professionalize your sales team.
It would be very nice to have a car which didn’t require any human intervention to take you from one place to another.

A car equipped with an autopilot so sophisticated that you would only have to enter or speak the address you are going to to let the car then do the whole job.

Can you imagine it?

It would certainly be very comfortable to have a car that could do the whole thing.

From starting the engine, switching to the corresponding gear, accelerating and slowing down as necessary, turning the steering wheel at each intersection on the road to the place you’re heading to, making a stop when it was time to fill the fuel tank.

In one word, taking care of  all those things we normally take care of when we are the pilots.

Your sales force can not be managed using an autopilot.

It is a common mistake for many businesses to use this same approach to managing their sales teams: looking to hire salespeople who only need to hear the words "go out, bring some sales in and reach the sales goal we set for you" to completely charge their batteries and go out as fireballs into the street to sell, reaching effectively and promptly that sales goal the company set for them. It would really be nice.

And even though in some cases, very strange cases though, you can be lucky enough to hire a “king-of-the-sales-kind-of-sales-guy”, it is very common this sales  management model doesn’t work or, if it does, to render average or even mediocre results.

What distinguishes a professional sales guy from one who is not?

As every time I make a statement like this, let me explain myself with an example. Today I would like to bring your attention to the aviation industry, my lifelong passion.

First of all, professional pilots (also called "commercial pilots", ie, pilots who earns their salaries flying airplanes back and forth) receive recurrent training, ie, at certain and regulated time intervals.

Such training includes reviewing emergency procedures, basic flight maneuvers, flying the airplane solely based on information received from navigation instruments on the cockpit and many other things.

That is, when a pilot is not actively flying, is actively receiving training. And you might ask, "But if they already know how to fly airplanes, why do they need to receive recurrent training?" ... Which would be the same as asking yourself about your sales people: "But if this person already knows how to sell, why do I need to provide her with recurrent training?"

A professional salesperson is trained regularly to maintain its effectiveness and performance at maximum level.

The thing is that selling, like flying airplanes, is not just about having the gift of the gab to convince someone to buy a product or service. That's just what you see on the surface, the outcome of a process of serious and dedicated training.

To be a professional seller, individuals must be familiar with many things, some of them related to the product to be sold, other things related to sales techniques themselves, and others related to surrounding market conditions and competition.

It would be like saying that to fly an airplane, you just need to know how to takeoff, keep it level and bring it back to the ground smoothly. And obviously, that's not so.

No matter how good a sales guy might be, he can’t sell a misconceived product.

Please notice I’m not talking about a "bad" product. No. I'm talking about a "misconceived" one, which is a completely different issue.

In many cases, during their “training stage”, a sale guy receives information solely about the product. Such information is most of the times scarce, poor or simply focused on highlighting the wonders of the product to be sold and nothing more.

This information is often insufficient to fully prepare a professional sales guy to sell the product effectively.

A product is misconceived when one (or more) of the following situations occur:

  • The product’s price has not been established according to the market segment in which it’s competing.
  • The differential value proposition which separates the product from its competition is not clearly defined.
  • The product is aimed at each and every person at the same time. That is, it doesn’t have a "buyer persona" clearly defined.
  • The product does not have a defined communication and promotional strategy, so there is nothing to support the sales people work.

In an article I posted on this blog a while ago, entitled “What Role Should Salespeople Occupy Within Your Company?” I made reference to the fact that a sales rep is just the tip of the iceberg within a company which has a clear strategy to approach its market.

There is no sales guy good enough to sell a misconceived product.

Sales reps are simply instruments used by the company to collect the rewards of a promotional and marketing strategy properly put together and executed. If the company does not do its corresponding tasks correctly, then the seller will be just a mercenary who will be on the road looking after any sales he may close, but wouldn’t be a professional who is developing profitable and long term business relationships.

If all the parts involved are working properly, if each area does its job, then yes, sales reps will have the ability to go out with a properly conceived proposal which potential customer will greatly appreciate, understand and, if it’s aligned with their needs, will become a new business for your company.

If your company does do its job and leaves all the responsibility (and hopes) on sales people’s shoulders, your sales area can never be considered a professional one, and the results you’ll get are far from being those you are expecting.

Therefore, a well-conceived product is the first thing you need to have to sell professionally.

A professional sales guy doesn’t only rely on his personal charisma.

Although any person’s charisma and physical attractiveness may be elements that will help close an occasional sale, a real sales professional must be trained in several different areas so it doesn’t depend on either one of them to be effective.

Let me share with you this story:
There was once a woodcutter who reported to work in a timber. The pay was good and working conditions even better, so the woodcutter set out to do his best job.

The first day the foreman gave him an ax and assigned a forest area he’d be working on. Our excited woodcutter went out to the woods to chop. In his first day he cut eighteen trees. “I congratulate you. Keep it up,” said the foreman.

Encouraged by these words, the woodcutter was determined to improve his own work the next day. So that night he went to bed early.

The next morning he got up before anyone else and went to the forest. Despite his best efforts, he failed to cut more than fifteen trees. “I must be tired” he thought. And then decided to go to bed with the sunset.

At daybreak he got up determined to beat his mark of eighteen trees. However, that day he did not cut even half of that. The next day it was only seven, after that five, and the last day he spent all afternoon trying to cut his second tree.

Disturbed by what he would say the foreman, the woodcutter went back to the office to report what was happening to him and swear he was really determined to work up to the limits of faintness.

The foreman asked: “When did you sharpen your ax for the last time?”. “Sharpen? I have not had the time to sharpen my ax: I've been too busy cutting down trees."

And the story ends with this reflection: "Sometimes one question makes us reflect on what we are doing and how we are doing it.

It is normal in business to listen to staff complaining about being stressed out, not having time for anything, having too much work, but they don’t even stop to think they might be needing “to sharpen their axes” instead of being so busy working. It would only take them a few minutes to do and would save many hours.

This is the leverage effect: with minimal effort reach the maximum result. Falling into the trap of cutting down trees relentlessly will only lead us to our highest level of incompetence."

As you can see from the story, the woodcutter was physically ready but his ax, his working tool was not. The same applies to individuals in your sales team: they can be physically ready, but their working tool (their ability to sell) might not be to its top condition, therefore their performance will not be the best.

Keep in mind your goal must be to turn your sales department one of professional sellers, giving them the recurrent training they might need to stay sharp and on their top performance in all necessary areas.

Remember: Not only having the gift of gab is important to sell, but also your salespeople must have a product that really be sold and keep their sales tools and skills, “their axes”, as sharp as they possibly can.

Photo credit: © Leah-Anne Thompson

Link to other post on this blog you may find of interest:
What Role Should Salespeople Occupy Within Your Company?

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