Consider the following scenario:

Acme Software Company has 88 salespeople in the United States, managed by 10 regional sales managers, all reporting to you, the vice president of sales. Twenty-two reps are achieving or exceeding their sales targets, 41 are between 50 and 90 percent of their target, and the remaining 25 are below 50 percent of quota (including the eight new reps hired in the past six months to replace reps who left the company).

As the vice president of sales, you feel as though all of them have had sufficient product and sales training and just “don’t get it.” Your reps are as frustrated as you, and they do not enjoy struggling. They are looking for guidance, and you want to help them improve. You cannot continue to carry the 17 reps who are below quota, but with turnover rates already at 20 percent per year, a self-inflicted increase to nearly 40 percent will kill any chance you have of hitting your number in the next two quarters.

You could train them again, you could initiate marketing campaigns to increase their lead flow, you could fire their manager, you could fire them, you could manage their activities more closely to make sure they are working or you could apply more pressure to them to sell more. But these responses are try-it-and-see actions, and all the while, time and money are flying out the window.

This scenario is not simple, nor is it typically corrected by one or two actions. What’s the answer? It depends on the actual problem or problems your team is facing, which probably boils down to one or more of the following seven areas.

1. People

People have a natural desire to be successful. So, why do so many underperform? It could be the work environment or other factors out of their control. It could be their hard-wired behavioral traits – their DNA, if you will, may not allow them to perform the task for which they were hired. They may have a great desire to perform but were not given the traits they need to perform the task at hand.

2. Systems

In sales, the most common system in place is the CRM (customer relationship management) system, which uses technology to organize, automate and synchronize sales, marketing, customer service and technical support. CRMs are usually designed not for salespeople but for managers. Salespeople who don’t understand why they need to enter data into the CRM when they could be spending their time selling will avoid it by any means possible.

3. Metrics and Reporting

Be careful what you measure and report to the sales team. Measurements and reports drive behavior. Are your measurements too trifling or too general? Do you measure activities or results? Do you measure all salespeople the same way? Sales metrics that drive one kind of behavior in some reps will drive a different behavior in others. If you have a seasoned rep who consistently makes quota and is a model employee, do you really care how many customer meetings she has per week? What about a new hire who has yet to sell anything and has been at the company six to nine months? Can you tell anything from looking at his year-to-date attainment? What about the rep who made quota the last three quarters but has not sold anything this quarter?

4. Sales Tools

Think about how much time your sales enablement and marketing teams spend building “sales tools.” Now, think about how often your salespeople use a tool to help them with an upcoming customer meeting. Your salespeople don’t search for the tools they need? Is it because they don’t think they will find a tool to fit their specific situation? Have you spent money on web portals, data repositories, libraries of information, custom sharing technology … which salespeople don’t use?

5. Knowledge, Skills and Abilities

Knowledge is familiarity, acquired through experience or education, with a topic. Skill is the ability, acquired through practice, to use knowledge to improve performance. Ability is the aptitude to perform at a high level. Do your salespeople possess the appropriate level of knowledge to sell your product or service? Are they practicing their skills? Are you consistently reinforcing your company sales philosophy, methodology and processes? Remember, your people are either growing or going!

6. Sales and Marketing Disconnection

Why do so many salespeople think marketers live in the sky, and why do so many marketing professionals think salespeople are not smart enough to use what they have created? Product marketing teams often build content that’s too focused on the technical benefits of the product and doesn’t include the business challenges that align to capabilities. Strategic marketing teams build content to use across many different media, and then sellers then must take that collateral and use it to have a single conversation with a single customer at a single time. The truth is that most salespeople are not wired with such ability.

7. Buyer and Seller Misalignment

Much has been written recently about the changes in the way buyers buy. Does that mean buying was the same for 100 years, and then the internet changed it all? The internet has changed the availability of information today, and buyers often gather all the information they need to make a decision without speaking with a salesperson. But here is something that has not changed in centuries: Salespeople must listen to what buyers tell them and what they are asking of them.

Early in my sales career, the top salesperson in our company told me this, “CJ, if you listen very closely to your prospect, they will tell you exactly how to sell to them.” Each buyer is different, just as each salesperson is different. Some buyers are transactional; they know what they want and won’t let you guide them in any other direction. Some, believe it or not, still appreciate the value of a good salesperson.

The Point Is…

If you have the right people selling for you, who have adopted the simple systems you have deployed, with the correct behaviors, driven by good metrics, and using the easy-to-find sales tools to the best of their abilities, as a result of proper onboarding and reinforcement of your company’s sales philosophy and methodology … and marketing develops content based on what salespeople will use … and salespeople listen to buyers who all want to buy differently than they want to sell … you can increase the number of salespeople performing to your (and their) expectations.

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