8 Strategic Tips on How to Sustain a High-performing Sales Team
By Tal Riesenfeld
In sales, you are only as good as your last deal. Every day, week, month, or quarter is a fresh start where, once again, your team needs to gear up and deliver.
Great sales leaders are able to push or pull a team whether they are at 120% or at 50% of their goal, and they are able to recruit and maintain high-performing sales teams over a long period of time.
There is no silver bullet for sustaining a high performing sales team, but here are a few things that I think are important:
You win the battle on the battlefield
Any great sales leader has had to be a top self-contributor in the past, which means that she or he has what it takes, and, deep inside, loves the kill.
Alas, when climbing up the sales management ladder, many sales managers find themselves spending more and more time sitting behind a desk managing through spreadsheets and analytics.
While a solid sales plan is a necessity, sales leaders are measured on their team’s performance. Great sales leaders lead by example, pitching in the most difficult meetings and taking the hits with the team.
It’s critical (though hard) to find a strong sales operations manager, but when you have one, look for parts of planning you can outsource.
If you have team leads, make sure they, just like every other salesperson, have personal sales goals. By doing that, you are keeping them sharp on the pitch and setting them up for success.
As a sales leader, do what you need to do to make sure you find yourself in the front lines — you win the war on the battlefield with your team — not behind a desk.
$$$ isn’t as important as you think
Contrary to what most people think, a great salesperson’s top motivation isn’t money, but a much more basic thing: it’s the need to win.
While most will not openly admit it, the best salespeople also love a tough fight, whether it’s a challenging client to close, they are displacing a competitor or because the velocity of deals needed for hitting the goal is high.
Ideally, though, it is all of the above. They thrive on winning, and when they do, they want to get fairly compensated. If you are a smart sales leader, you build a plan that is easy to understand and monitor — and you never cap the upside.
A strong uncapped seller can produce like two salespeople, at the cost of one and a half (you pay base salary only once no matter how good they are).
Spend time on building a simple compensation plan that is aligned with your goals, and give your team the tools and freedom needed to win; monitor performance and always be present if they need you.
Remember: the wolf climbing the hill is always hungrier than the wolf on top of the hill so if you set challenging goals and have the right type of salespeople, you will enjoy seeing them fight hard and yes, get compensated, when they win.
A plan is a basis for change
Demand that your salespeople ALWAYS have a plan for the next few weeks. Yes, I know your salesforce is experienced, and know what they’re doing, and you don’t think they’ll appreciate this “micromanagement tactic.”
I am also experienced, and yet, if I build a plan, I am focused on executing or updating it instead of winging it in real-time.
How many times has one of your salespeople gotten a “hot lead” that caused them to drop everything to pursue it, only to end up losing that deal and screwing up their whole plan for the week? A plan is a basis for change.
If your salespeople are as experienced as you think they are, great — let them change the plan at any point in time without updating you, but help them by ensuring that they have one.
If you can, make sure that the plan is ready on Friday evening. You just saved the seller from spending Monday morning in the office building a plan – great salespeople will appreciate that they have a plan that allows them to sell 5 days a week instead of losing Monday morning to planning.
Clear, transparent, weekly tracking
If you did a good job setting clear sales goals for your team that do not require a Ph.D. in order to understand, the next step is to create a culture of transparent weekly reporting towards that goal.
Years consist of quarters, and quarters of weeks — each person on your team should at any point of time understand how they are tracking towards the goals, and understand how that what they are doing today and tomorrow gets them closer.
If you manage this correctly, the compensation meeting at the end of the quarter is simply used to review the cash that the seller will see in their bank account. That’s important: clear pacing towards a goal is what really helps drive daily and weekly performance.
I also believe that the sales team’s goals and tracking to goals should be something that everyone on the team, or even in the company, can see. I know some salespeople cringe at the thought of their numbers being put on the board, but my philosophy is that every seller will have a bad month or two, and ultimately, character and salesmanship is measured when you are behind the ball.
If you are killing it, great — your colleagues will see it, and if you are behind — not fun — but your colleagues will still see it.
If you are the right kind of seller, being at the top or bottom of the list should motivate you to improve or to or keep doing well. It is as simple as that. And if you can’t handle the heat, get out of the kitchen.
Just enough running space
Every seller will want more “running space” and it always feels like the low-hanging fruit is on the neighbor’s side of the grass. It’s not and one of the sales team’s worst enemies is the “sack of money waiting for them in the vast uncharted territory where no seller has ever ventured to before…”
The problem with new territories and verticals is, well, that they are new… and all the time the team has spent in the past signing deals, building verticalized case studies and customer referrals doesn’t really help in the new territory or vertical.
So make sure that your team has just enough runway for growth. Make sure that they’re challenged but not overwhelmed. New things can be hard. Traveling can be a time drain.
Protect your team’s time, and they will thank you for pushing them to take another good look at their possibly less exciting but familiar, territories when they hit their numbers.
Your job is to help them focus and to make sure they have enough running space to hit their goals, but within bounds so that they can deliver results.
You are not alone!
Sales jobs are harder than they look. Always being measured, always on the road, always waiting for that response from the prospect that never seems to come on time. There is a lot of “alone time”: being alone on a plane, eating dinner alone, driving a rented car for hours, in an Uber on the way to the hotel in the middle of nowhere.
This solitude is even harder for salespeople who are social creatures by definition.
Technology is a great help in this area. Now more than ever, you can feel connected to your colleagues and team even if you are in a different state and time zone.
At Sunbit we have WhatsApp groups so that teams can communicate in real-time. It’s a great way for our salespeople to share what’s going on where they are, celebrate customer wins, and put names to faces as if you were in an office together. These quick messages create both a sense of togetherness and motivation.
Technology, in a split second, reminds your team that they are not alone, in a world where we have never been more physically apart.
Share the big picture, to help keep focus
Great sales teams want to do much more than just sell great products – they want to represent a great company, brand, and vision. They want to understand the business, the economics behind it, the product road map, and what the long-term strategic priorities are.
You have to find a way to provide this information. If you don’t have full visibility to these things, bring in the executives that do. Magic happens when the team that represents your company multiple times a day is aligned on strategy.
Despite what some might think, sharing the full strategy with the team actually helps them to stay focused on the day-to-day tasks. The hardest thing for a seller to do is to walk away from what seems like an amazing opportunity, but once the long-term strategy is clear, then the discussion is a very easy one: If the opportunity is aligned with the long-term strategy, it’s a go.
If it isn’t, what might have once been a long painful discussion with emotions and seller frustrations turns into, “While this might seem like an interesting idea, it’s not aligned with where we want to go. Let’s focus on our core strategy so we can win!”
Smart salespeople that understand the big picture are better, happier salespeople that sell more.
ABH (Always Be Hiring!)
If your team is doing great and they are hitting the targets there will be pressure to grab more market share and to grow faster, and you will need to recruit more sales staff. If your team isn’t doing well, then it’s definitely time to hire before you find yourself working on your own CV.
Bottom line, you should always be hiring! I’ve never met a sales leader who thinks that they have too many great salespeople just waiting to join when they’re ready. At any and every interaction you have with a customer, partner, prospect, always be on the lookout for those elusive purple unicorns!
Behind every strong company, you will find a fierce sales team fighting the daily, weekly, and monthly battles. And if you look very carefully you should find a sales leader that is busy recruiting and maintaining that team.