Seven Steps to Building a Winning Sales Organization

Is your sales team performing far below potential?

Mine was. As a first-time sales manager many years ago, my office ranked dead-last out of 64 offices. We had ten salespeople, nine of whom had less than one year of sales experience with our company and were performing far below standards. The lone exception was Norm, an 18-year veteran with the company, who was selling more than the other nine salespeople combined.

Eighteen months later the office had moved all the way up to #5, having posted the biggest increase in sales of any office in the company. Here are steps that you can take to turn around your sales team.

Step 1: Do not tolerate mediocre sales performance.

You must have high expectations of your salespeople, or they will not perform. You must make the decision that if one or more of your salespeople is not performing, you must address the situation.
Some sales managers allow underperforming salespeople to continue their underperforming ways, by avoiding or delaying without confronting the situation. You must provide them constant feedback.

Poor performers must make a decision themselves to either recommit themselves to the necessary behaviors and activities, or leave the company. And you, as a manager, must decide to commit yourself to providing the direction for the poor performer to perform these duties.

Your team is only as strong as its weakest link. You cannot tie your ship to your poor performers’ anchor. The classic line in the movie Network said it best: “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.” As a sales manager, your responsibility is to grow sales. If you have an under performing sales team, it is up to you to turn it around. Ask yourself the hard questions.

Step 2: Do Nothing

Take the time to understand your organization’s situation, and gather information about the people involved. Analyze your problem(s).

My problem was that my salespeople didn’t believe in themselves. They hadn’t yet experienced success, and there was no role model — someone whom they could say, “Yea, there’s somebody like me who’s making it.” Sure, Norm was making great money, but new salespeople couldn’t relate to Norm and his 18-years of company experience.

When a new hire signs on with you, which salesperson(s) do they look up to? What kind of example is that person setting for your new hires?

Step 3: Find your role model.

Some salespeople avoid accepting responsibility for their poor performance, they had a variety of excuses: lousy territory, poor pay plan, etc. But what they really lacked was a success role model.

Who do your salespeople look up to besides you?

I knew I needed a success role model, and that person unfortunately, was not already on my team. So, I began recruiting like mad. I knew that my next hire was my most important hire. When I found him, I told Bill Zeeb “you’ll probably hear some stinkin thinkin from some of our other salespeople… and you need to ignore it. If you stick with me, do exactly as I teach you to do, you will succeed.”

Step 4: Set and install performance standards for your salespeople.

Raise the BAR: with Behavior, Activity and Result standards.

For example, one behavior standard was to arrive in the office every morning by 8AM. An activity standard could be to make a minimum of 25 telephone prospecting calls every day. A result standard could be that a sales rep with 7-9 months sales experience must sell a minimum of $15,000/month. On result standards, I recommend a lower “keep your job” standard, and a higher quota standard.

If a salesperson falls below his/her minimum standard for a three month period, he/she is placed on probation. If sales don’t pick up, that person is fired.

Step 5: Identify sales training needs

Find areas you can add more value to your prospects and customers. Install a common language your salespeople can use. Without a common selling language, your salespeople tend to sell on their instincts, and some wander aimlessly through a sales process without a plan, missing many opportunities during the buying process to intensify the customers’ needs and differentiate your solution.

Step 6: Let your worst performer go.

Your salespeople will be wondering, “Does he/she really mean it?” And, “As long as I sell more than John, I’m safe.” The first person you dehire will send a message, loud and clear, that you walk your talk.

As my former boss told me, “There’s only one thing worse than someone who quits and leaves, and that’s someone who quits and stays.”

Step 7: Stay the Course, Things are likely to get worse before they get better.

Bill knew that I was counting on him, and he didn’t let me down. In his fourth month he produced 200% of quota. Overnight, the attitude in the office changed from, “lousy territory”, “poor pay plan”, to “what’s Bill Zeeb doing?” That’s when individual salespeople who wanted to believe in themselves first openly questioned themselves. That’s the day when they stopped making excuses and finally accepted responsibility for their own poor performance.

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!”.