Sales Management Best Practices

For the sales manager, best practices involve a range of methods designed to keep sales reps focused and energized. Effective sales managers know how to steer these efforts toward the greater good of each sales campaign and drive up numbers on a monthly, quarterly and annual basis. According to an HBR study, 69% of sales reps who surpass yearly quotas rate their sales managers with high marks.

As such, the sales manager plays an effective role in the success of a sales team. To learn how to manage your sales force more effectively, read on for 20 of the best sales management practices.

1. Emphasize Results

In sales management, it is crucial to have a team of salespeople who are driven to yield results. To that end, you must emphasize productivity over mere activity. The former is the embodiment of energy while the latter is often a passive trait.

To ensure that your sales team understands this distinction, stress the importance of outcome over the length of hours that lie ahead. After all, one huge sale closing in the span of an hour is far better than 100 routed leads in an eight-hour shift.

2. Identify the Kind of Salespeople Best Suited for Your Current Goals

In the field of sales, there are basically two types of sellers — the builder and the grower. The builder will help you develop ways of selling a product and can even help launch an entirely new sales campaign. For example, if you are marketing a new, potentially disruptive technology, the builder will discover ways to sell this unknown product and essentially create a new market.

The grower, on the other hand, is capable of great sales closes, but only when the market for a given product and the applicable sales strategies have already been established. While the builder might seem more skilled, it can actually take discipline to be a grower because you have to follow established sales protocols. Consequently, the two forms of sales talent tend to be mutually exclusive.

Depending on the current situation of your company, determine whether your team would best be served by sellers who can create a market for unknown products (builders) or improvise around structured sales scripts for popular goods or services (growers).

3. Give Your Reps Feedback

Sales can be unpredictable due to the infinite number of reactions a subject might have to a given pitch or product. Therefore, salespeople must have the flexibility to maneuver around objections and turn negatives into positives. A key aspect of flexibility is the ability to self-assess and accept constructive criticism in the applicable areas.

As the manager of a sales team, you need to evaluate each salesperson on a periodic basis to determine his or her flexibility and willingness to self-assess. One effective method is to role-play a sale, where the salesperson demonstrates the product and you offer feedback through the eyes of a customer. Is the seller receptive to the feedback? Role-play is an accurate way to assess a seller's flexibility in a live sales setting.

4. Set a High Bar for Sales Staff

When your team has an ambitious yet realistic set of aims, it gives each seller a goal to aspire to on a daily basis. In effect, an ambitious yet achievable set of expectations helps each seller feel motivated and excited about the tasks at hand. For example, a stretch goal can serve as an added incentive to a seller's daily efforts. Consider using online sales mapping to help associate goals with specific areas of accountability or territories. Mapping tools can help goals to become more clearly defined and shared for an entire sales force.

5. Incentivize Excellence Among the Team

Salespeople feel motivated when daily and hourly goals are on the front burner. The goal itself does not have to be anything unique or outrageous, just something pertinent to the shift. For example, if you run a display feed of the current dollar amount and the highest close of the prior hour, it gives salespeople a sense of urgency and drive to excel. From time to time, offer a spiff to the first person to close above a certain amount.

6. Train Recurrently

In the field of sales, training should be an ongoing concern. In order for salespeople to do their best with each new campaign, it is crucial to examine past failures and successes and maximize that wisdom going forward. In doing so, the team develops a more refined set of methods with each campaign. Periodically schedule meetings that cover areas like competitive intelligence, territory planning and opportunity management. Shared sales territory maps are useful for stimulating discussions at these meetings.

7. Employ the Volume vs. Value Ratio

On a sales team, the most skilled sellers should handle the most high-stakes, yet low-volume, assignments. Tasks such as relationship building and referral converting require more time and are relatively difficult to procure but ultimately account for the end goals of any sales campaign.

Likewise, average sellers should handle the less consequential but higher-volume tasks. These tasks, such as lead generation, have a high turnaround but can ultimately yield serious prospects that can then be sent to the top sellers.

8. Modify Training to the Personality of Each Sales Rep

All people are different — a fact that becomes readily apparent in the world of sales. For example, some sellers think in linear, fact-based, sales-point terms and are liable to be thrown ajar by unexpected reactions and confusing questions. Other sellers have a more intuitive ability to "vibe" off of the customer's responses and steer a pitch to suit the unique circumstances of an interaction.

In terms of training, what helps one seller might not exactly work for another. Therefore, it is important to evaluate each seller's personality characteristics to determine how he or she can most easily achieve a high success rate.

Individualism should also be understood by the team as a whole so peer pressure doesn't develop based on the standards set by one or two "alpha" sellers. An accurate way to determine a seller's likeliest strengths is to have the entire staff take the Myers-Briggs personality test to see where each team member is on the MBTI spectrum. After all, the sales methods that suit an ENFJ will not necessarily work for an INFP.

9. Specialize Sales Reps Early

When the different strengths of individual sellers are taken into account, a sales team can be broken into segments of like-minded sellers who are best suited to certain areas of a campaign. For example, some of the sellers might be skilled at developing a rapport with small businesses. Others, by contrast, might have the knack for closing deals with large businesses. Determine these strengths early and group the members of your sales team accordingly.

10. Run a Transparent Sales Team

A sales team should be transparent in that everyone on the floor and in management can see the progress of each seller. This way, everyone knows who is performing best on a given campaign. When a seller breaks a record or closes a huge sale, those accomplishments can serve as realistic goals for others to match and possibly exceed.

Likewise, transparency makes it easier to pinpoint which sellers are underperforming and allow management to take the proper course of action, whether this means retraining or termination.

11. Distribute Accounts Wisely but Fairly

While it might be tempting to reserve the more lucrative opportunities for the most skilled salespeople, it is important to share some of the wealth, so to speak. After all, new and unproven team members will want the opportunity to taste some of the finer fruit — and nothing provides more of an incentive than a demanding yet profitable account. With training and time investment, some of the newer sellers could swiftly emerge in the top tier of your sales force.

Sales mapping provides a visual layout of the most lucrative leads on a county-by-county, ZIP-by-ZIP basis. These layouts can be used to assign leads by skill level and match sales teams with territories according to hierarchy. In due time, reps in the second class could move up to the first.

12. Actively Engage the Sales Team Daily

For some sales teams, management becomes distant and remote due to the various factors in business. Consequently, these companies overemphasize metrics without really knowing the individual strengths of each seller. For salespeople, this is not the most inspiring state of affairs. In order to run an engaged and highly motivated sales staff, it is important to be out on the floor constantly to talk to the sellers and rouse their energy levels.

13. Keep Social Factors in Mind

Buying behavior is largely driven by emotion. Consequentially, few of the choices that buyers make are strictly down to logical concerns. As such, sales teams must take human factors into account with each campaign.

In addition to the arbitrary goals and objectives of a sales campaign, also consider the social side of each sales interaction. Train salespeople to understand the importance of the social aspect of each buyer/seller dynamic. This way, the process feels more natural and therefore more comforting to the buyer.

14. Hire Best, Build Slow

All good things come to those who wait, including sales managers. At the bottom end of the job market, low-paying sales jobs are constantly being advertised in the nickel ads and on Craigslist. These jobs have a high turnover rate because they are difficult and few people have the knowledge, skills and wherewithal to sell the products or services in question.

To some companies, it might seem sensible to sift through hundreds of prospective sellers to find a dozen who are truly skilled. Trouble is, time and resources are wasted training countless hopefuls who only last a month, if that long. While it might seem more productive to churn at high volumes, you can build a stronger and more dedicated team if you only select the best salespeople, even if it means taking longer to get a full team together up front.

15. Provide Guided Flexibility

If the sales process is too regimented, numerous variables could arise with a customer that could lead to a missed close for the seller. Alternately, a structure-less sales process could leave the salesperson with no clear path to turn a difficult lead into a sale.

To find the perfect middle, it is important to institute a form of up-to-the-minute tracking that allows you to offer suggestions and make adjustments in real-time. In prior decades, call centers would record each conversation and review the interaction with the caller. Today, mobile apps can be employed to help salespeople regain control in some of the most difficult interactions with customers.

16. Make Coaching a Key Priority

In professional sports, victory is down to two main factors — a skilled team of players and a charismatic coach. In sales, a similar dynamic is crucial for a team to meet its goals. Unfortunately, a lot of sales managers get so caught up in the managerial aspects of the job that they neglect the real-time sales environment.

As a sales manager, you need to get out on the floor during each shift to motivate the sellers, give pep talks and offer feedback and encouragement. In effect, you need to act as a coach — one who energizes salespeople, motivates them to aim as far and high as possible and takes their concerns seriously when they arise.

17. Recognize Eccentric Talent

Some of the most highly skilled salespeople are also the most eccentric. At call centers, for example, the callers who succeed at some of the more difficult campaigns are the callers who manage to excite random people over the most mundane and sometimes unpleasant issues.

Basically, it takes a unique set of characteristics to succeed in sales. In some cases, those successful sellers are hard to manage in the conventional sense because they thrive with methods that are beyond the typical regiments of a sales team. As a sales manager, it is important to recognize this talent and the value it brings, even if that means bending the rules within reasonable bounds.

18. Identify Problem Trends Early

In sales management, problem trends should be spotted early and rectified before an issue grows out of hand. For example, if a previously high-performing sales rep develops habits that lead to a slight dip in numbers, it is important to coach the individual and set things right before the habit becomes too ingrained and hampers quarterly sales figures.

19. Align Goals to Maximize Time

In sales, time wasted is money lost. The sales rep must spend time with each customer in order to close the sale. Likewise, the sales manager must spend time with each rep to ensure productivity. Evaluate activities within your organization to ensure time is maximized in areas that drive revenue. Eliminate activities that waste time and hold management and reps back from the activities that are most important for sales success.

20. Use Online Sales Territory Mapping

Today, sales campaigns are easier to conduct than ever thanks to online territory mapping, which allows sales teams to view localized target markets with color-coded visuals. With sales mapping, your team can zero-in on the hottest sales markets by state, county and ZIP code.

On a sales map, territories can be overlaid in hierarchical order and highlighted with an assortment of color-coding tools. Information on leads can be added in bulk into each territory via spreadsheets. This way, you can visually align the most lucrative clusters by neighborhood and assign your top sales reps to handle leads in these areas.

Sales Force Integration with Territory Mapping

Sales mapping has revolutionized the way sales teams conduct business with customers. With the tools and features of MapBusinessOnline, you can view market territories on large and small scales. For nationwide campaigns, leads can be grouped by state or region. For localized campaigns, leads can be entered and viewed by county or ZIP code. Territories can even be drawn manually around select ZIPs or counties and portions thereof.

Try MapBusinessOnline for your sales force's upcoming efforts. Register today for a one-month, no obligation free trial.