Building a Better Sales Team

Even before the downturn, a shifting business landscape made competitive sales teams a driving factor behind success. An increasingly shrinking customer base in today's cautious buying environment makes it even more critical for an organization to have an effective sales team.

Adding sales personnel or increasing the effectiveness of existing sales staff may drive a company's growth, but making these improvements can be a challenge, particularly when faced with budget constraints or uncertainty about future fluctuations in demand. Addressing a company's sales system to determine if and how sales efforts should be changed depends on specifically set goals — whether increasing profit margins or improving the market potential for a new product.

According to Entrepreneur.com, enhancing a company's sales strategy requires evaluating the efficiency of an existing sales team to decide if changes are needed. In some cases, even a sales team that seems adequate for handling any foreseeable increases in demand may benefit from additional training or alterations to the compensation structure.

A sales force that is operating at maximum capacity under the existing number of accounts, however, may require the hiring of additional staff.

Before instituting any changes, Entrepreneur.com recommends deciding what the sales force needs to do for your company. For example, a firm may expect salespeople to handle only larger accounts and leave smaller orders for customer service systems, while others may need the sales force to serve as the outward face of the company, engaging closely with clients and interacting with delivery or repair service offers.

After determining the requirements and expectations for the sales force, the next step is to evaluate sales productivity. A simple method is to divide the volume of sales by the number of sales staff to determine the average per employee, but it is important to remember that some salespeople will be more productive than others.

On the other hand, some of those who are highly productive may be targeting the wrong profit lines or mishandling accounts that could become more profitable in the future, thus reducing the long-term benefits of a sales relationship in favor of short-term gains.

"Companies are looking for profitability over growth, which often means they require fewer sales people to get the same or better result. They are re-evaluating their priorities and forcing sales management to be accountable and do more with less. They are looking to put a structure in place that has the highest likelihood to prosper," Inc.com explains.

Productivity may not always reflect the actual effectiveness of a sales team. A structure capable of maximizing a company's sales potential must adapt to the changing business climate, and part of that involves understanding the changing ways in which new sales are accomplished.

"Sales rep turnover is higher, new rep ramp-up times are longer and despite the fact that more leads result in initial meetings, a lower percentage of initial meetings result in presentations. And fewer presentations are leading to deals closing," according to the first of a two-part whitepaper from sales training and research firm Landslide Technologies (free registration required).

In the context of a sales team, this means that a greater degree of collaboration and a streamlined approach to pursuing potential revenue are key factors in improving sales performance.

"Sales teams at most enterprises today have evolved into geographically distributed teams engaged in non-face-to-face selling to their prospects. Their success increasingly depends on the ability to communicate and collaborate effectively with team members as well as prospects," according to Part II of the Landslide Technologies whitepaper.

Inc.com recommends establishing a sales accountability system to better maintain expectations for salespeople and managers, as well as using a systematic approach to track sales volume indicators, skills and competencies within the team.

"Show your employees that you are in tune with the changing times and are willing to put structure around sales. A sales structure is not all that different from the ones you probably have in place for your factories, warehouses and other functions of your business. Make sure your employees are clear on their roles within the structure," Inc.com advises.

When it becomes evident that additional salespeople are needed for a team to meet rising demand, new employees can be hired to augment the sales staff.

"To hire the right salesperson for the job, you have to understand and be able to describe what the job is. That means clarifying whether this sales position is intended to immediately generate sales or perhaps develop contacts for a sales cycle that may stretch into months or years," Entrepreneur.com advises. "Do you want someone who is a closer or one who takes more of a consultative approach?"

Determining the specific role a sales team should play within an organization and gauging the productivity and workload of the current sales staff can help a company decide if and how to improve its sales force — whether through additional hiring or structural changes to increase sales efficiency. In either case, stepping up sales effectiveness and strengthening a team's success rate can make an enormous difference to the company as a whole.

Resources

Build a Stellar Sales Team

Entrepreneur.com, 2009

How to Stay Relevant in Sales

by Patrick Stakenas

Inc.com, Aug. 27, 2009

Sales 2.0 Whitepaper: Part I

Landslide Technologies, 2007

Sales 2.0 Whitepaper: Part II

Landslide Technologies, 2007

Put Your Sales Effort on Steroids

by Miriam Marcus

Forbes.com, April 30, 2009



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