Each fiscal year begins with the same nightmare: the sales counter is once again reset to zero. And what’s worse the goal for the new year is higher than the previous one and includes an additional growth percentage to hedge the wage and tax increases, the effect of inflation, the rising costs of raw materials, etc.
At the same time the market is increasingly competitive and selling is also much more difficult. We are not talking only about the effect of the crisis, which has waned considerably the size of most of the markets, but also about the emergence of substitute products, new competitors, new market channels, etc.
Sometimes we may be tempted to think that a good solution to achieve the desired sales growth can be hiring more salespeople. In some cases it may work, but unfortunately it is quite often expensive and unrealistic to find well trained salespersons willing to help us get results in the short term. Therefore, before opting for this alternative, it seems reasonable to make sure we've done everything possible to ensure maximum productivity of the sales force we already have.
Before passing the responsibility for meeting sales goals to field salespeople it is important to align them with the marketing plan. A good research of current customer base and an appropriate segmentation will help the sales representatives to know what to sell to each customer and how.
Commercial activity requires good planning and for that there is nothing better than to incorporate it into the daily salesperson work.
When dealing with a few clients, but with a significant business potential, it is highly recommended to develop an account plan (typical in B2B environments) where you fix your strategy and decide how you are going to attack that customer, what products your are going to sell and through which people. If the customer is really important you should include the specific sales funnel and the status of every single opportunity that may exist.
In the case of the sales reps who have to deal with many customers or prospects the daily work can be planned through activity monitoring tools (time management, number of cold calls or visits to be carried out, etc.)
Another powerful tool for sales productivity growth is the incentive scheme that has to drive the activity of every single salesman in the right direction. Very often we find that incentive plans are not properly designed and end up blurring commercial activity and generating many inefficiencies.
Of course we assumed that the main responsibility of a salesperson is meeting the targets, but at this point it is also important not to forget the sustainability of our business. Therefore when evaluating sales reps we have to ensure we incorporate practices that encourage business development in the medium and long term. If we are too short-sighted, we can end up making the mistake of promoting only short-term sales and ignore more substantial sales processes that require longer decision times.
So the incentivation plan must not only respond exclusively to sales targets. You should also consider the strategic objectives of the medium and long term: a sale today that generates customer dissatisfaction is usually a very bad deal. If we see our sales force as a key part of our customer loyalty strategy, we have to ensure and encourage actions that are designed to improve customer satisfaction and generate better customer experiences. And you should incentivize them as well!
Traditionally this concept has been linked to large organizations with a large number of salespeople. However today there are many platforms accessible to small and medium enterprises . They allow to minimize the time that sales reps spend on administrative tasks or reporting activities. Many typical suppliers of these solutions for large companies (eg Salesforce) have services tailored for SMEs in their portfolio. There are also many solutions specifically designed to be used through applications for mobile devices (smartphones and tablets).
Regarding technology as a facilitator of business productivity, we must not forget the 2.0 world. One of the main values of a salesperson is his contacts network and how he is able to manage on a day to day. Well, at this point social networks can help maintain a quality contact especially in the B2B world where you can not always access easily to the most influential or decision-making person. Social networks are also a source of information of the first magnitude to get to know more about the competitors and, therefore, to improve the approach to the customer.
According to a recent study by Google and Millward Brown, social networks are used by 41% of experts and professionals to find information quickly, by 37% to collaborate and share knowledge, by a 34% to manage their networking and relations and by 31% to reduce the volume of emails received. Undoubtly these are all aspects which contribute to a considerable improvement in productivity.
As José Miguel Bolivar says, "productivity is not measured by the number of things you do, but by the quality of the decisions you make." The implementation of a GTD model (Getting Things Done) may generate an improvement of up to 30% on a sales staff productivity. Just make your own calculations about what this may mean in terms of new sales...
If we accept that satisfaction generates productivity then we will accept the importance of a proper talent management of our salespeople. There are plenty of studies that show that a high level of employee engagement dramatically improves sales figures and margins. Our number one priority when designing professional development plans, loyalty and motivation schemes, etc. must be the commercial staff. After all who is going to make the sales counter work once again? Our salespeople, of course.