Building a Winning Sales Organization in 2021

The beginning of the new year is the perfect time for sales managers to make plans to achieve breakthrough sales performance in 2021.

One year ago you had strategies for success, but then the pandemic hit, and everything changed. Like everyone else, you probably spent the year “dancing on a shifting carpet” to make your numbers.

While the carpet may still be shifting, there are six steps you can take to build a winning sales organization in 2021.

Step 1: Re-examine and then communicate your metrics

When salespeople work remotely, it’s vitally important that you provide clearly defined expectations for their activities so they can measure themselves on a daily basis. And chances are that the metrics needed for success are different now than they were prior to the pandemic.

So, start the year by defining the results you expect and the metrics tied to those results. Examples of meaningful metrics include # of sales calls, number of new prospect meetings, number of demos, number of proposals submitted, number of new accounts opened.

But don’t stop there. Just giving people target numbers doesn’t help them achieve those numbers. You have to define the actions that your team members have to take to achieve the results.

Step 2: Reassess each salesperson’s skills and abilities in light of new challenges.

Sales managers tell me that the salespeople who are struggling in the current environment of virtual selling are the ones who, in the past, excelled at relationship selling.

These relationship-oriented sellers can fall into the trap of talking too much about things that are not relevant to a prospect’s business problems. They may be careless in their preparation because they have always believed they can talk their way through any presentation at any time.

An unsystematic sales approach is far less likely to succeed in virtual selling. As one client said to me recently, “Fluff doesn’t fly in the virtual world.”

Nine months into the pandemic, it should be clear which of your salespeople are struggling the most. Whether it’s because they are relationship sellers or lack some other skills, now is the time to help them fill in the gaps in their knowledge and expertise.

Step 3: Deal with your underperformers—Coach ’em up, or coach ’em out

You can talk ad nauseum about the high expectations you have for your team, but the lowest producer on your team reveals to everybody the minimum level of production that you’ll accept. And as long as you accept mediocrity, people lack the incentive to improve or to strive for excellence.

Between now and the end of March you must coach struggling salespeople to improve. Perhaps they need to improve their consultative selling skills, increase their prospecting skills, or become more systematic in their preparation. Whatever it is that they need to do to get better, that is what you need to coach them on.

It is possible that through this process you will discover that one or more of your under-performers is either unwilling or unable to make the changes necessary to succeed in your new sales reality. And if that’s the case, you must make that decision and contact your company’s HR Department for assistance on de-hiring them within the next few months.

Step 4: Schedule weekly coaching meetings with each salesperson for Deal Review coaching discussions

The best way for you to clearly understand how effective a salesperson is to conduct regular Deal Review coaching discussions. A good deal review should take no more than 20-30 minutes.

Your goal during a deal review discussion is to build the salesperson’s ability to understand what they can do to keep a prospect moving forward through their buying process. For each deal, ask the salesperson to identify four things:

  1. What has happened most recently with this opportunity? Put another way, where is the prospect in the buying process and why do you think that?
  2. What is the next action the salesperson wants the prospect to take? That is, what action will indicate that the prospect is moving forward through their buying steps?
  3. What options does the salesperson have in working with the prospect?
  4. Identify what strategies the salesperson is considering using to advance the deal.

Step 5: Do Monthly 1-on-1 Performance Reviews

This is a separate type of funnel/forecasting discussion that complements the deal coaching sessions. Once a month, you should talk one-on-one with each salesperson about five topics:

  1. New qualified opportunities the sales rep has added recently
  2. Recent progress on existing opportunities
  3. Older opportunities where nothing has happened for 30 to 60 days. Probe the salesperson for why these deals have stopped progressing.
  4. Number of new 1st-time meetings/needs analysis discussions
  5. The total dollar value of pipeline by stage

{As an aside, having regular deal review and performance reviews is a very effective way to counteract the isolation and loneliness that are rampant in the increasing virtual sales world.)

Step 6: With your #1 salesperson, conduct a Career Development Discussion

Suppose you were a top salesperson again and made the decision that you wanted to either explore other opportunities or even consider retiring. What month of the year would you likely be looking for a new sales job? January, of course, because you just finished out the previous year, maxing out your comp plan.

That’s why I advise sales managers to hold a Career Development discussion each January with your top one or two salespeople. Recently, a client who sells in both the U.S. and Canada learned that a top performer who was his only French-speaking salesperson working the Quebec sales territory intended to retire at the end of the year. Had she left without notice, he could have lost up to $7 million in business. Fortunately, by talking with her in January of last year, he had a full year to find someone who could replace her unique talent.

By taking these six steps, you’ll be off to a great start in 2021 and set the foundation for a productive year ahead!

Want to learn more about the wide range of skills a sales manager needs to drive consistent sales growth? Download my whitepaper, “The Holistic Competencies Vital for Successful Sales Management.”


Kevin Davis

Kevin F. Davis is the author of The Sales Manager’s Guide to Greatness”, which was named the 2018 Axiom Business Book Award Winner, Silver Medal. Kevin is also the author of Slow Down, Sell Faster!”.