9 Steps to Building a Winning Sales Organization

Is your sales team performing far below potential? Don’t let excuses for poor performance hold your organization back. Follow these nine tried and true steps to help your salespeople, and your business, excel.

Is your sales team performing far below potential?

Mine was. In my first sales manager’s job almost 20 years ago, I inherited a ten-person sales team that was ranked dead last out of 64 offices. Our only producer was an 18-year veteran with the company. None of the other nine salespeople had more than one year of sales experience. Obviously, they/we were performing far below standards. The attitude in the office was pitiful. I heard lot of excuses for poor performance like “lousy territory” and “our prices are too high.” But what salespeople really lacked was a success role model.

Eighteen months later the office had moved up to number five, having posted the biggest increase in sales of any office in the company. Perhaps a few of the strategies I used will help you improve performance of your sales team.

Step 1: Do nothing
Do nothing. When you first arrive on the scene of a sales office in distress, don’t do anything. Take the time to understand your organization’s situation, gather information about the people involved, and…

Step 2: Analyze your problem(s)
Analyze your problems. My main problem was that my salespeople didn’t believe in themselves. They hadn’t yet experienced success, and there was no role model, a salesperson of whom others can say, “there’s somebody like me who’s successful.”

You may be thinking, “Hey, isn’t it my role as a sales manager to set a leadership example?” And, of course, the answer is “yes.” But the example you set for your people is not enough, because many salespeople emulate the actions of their peers. Since many salespeople play “follow the leader,” you’ve got to ask yourself which salespeople do your less experienced salespeople look up to? And, what kind of example are these “leaders” setting? You can get peak performance out of average producers if you can get average producers to emulate the success habits demonstrated by a leading salesperson. Clearly, I needed to find a leader. Fast.

Step 3: Find your success role model
In sports, when a player assumes more of a leadership role on a team, it’s called “stepping up.” Hopefully, you already have a few players capable of stepping up. If so, talk to them. Help them see the importance of their success example, and ask them to share more of their knowledge and experience with less experienced salespeople.

Unfortunately, I had to recruit a new salesperson to be my success model because nobody else on my team was capable of leadership. I knew that my next hire could play an important role in reversing the downward performance trend.

I had my new leader when hired Bill Zeeb. I told Bill, “if you stick with me, do exactly as I teach you to do, you will succeed.” Bill knew that I was counting on him, and he didn’t let me down. In his fourth month, he produced 200 percent of quota. Overnight, the attitude in the office changed from one of making excuses for poor performance to “what’s that Bill Zeeb doing?” Bill’s performance forced others to take a hard look in the mirror. That’s the day when they finally accepted responsibility for their own poor performance.

Step 4: Don’t tolerate mediocre sales performance
You’ve got to decide – you won’t tolerate mediocre sales performance. Far too often, poorly performing salespeople are allowed to continue their lackluster ways. A manager may not want to face the hassle of recruiting a replacement, or the manager may want to avoid confrontation. This is a big mistake. A successful sales manager doesn’t tie the ship to a poor performer’s anchor. Instead, successful managers take a “hands-on” role with more performers by providing the coaching and training the poor performer needs to improve performance.

Your objective is to bring those that are lagging behind to what I call “the intersection of choice.” By that, I mean poor performers must make a decision themselves to either a) recommit themselves to perform the necessary behaviors and activities, or b) leave the company immediately. Like my manager once told me, “There’s only one thing worse than somebody who quits and leaves – and that’s somebody who quits and stays.” The key question is this: if you knew then what you know now, is there anybody on your team you would not have hired? If so, get “hands-on” and escort that individual to his or her intersection of choice.

Step 5: Install performance standards
Install performance standards. You’ve got to communicate your expectations. So raise the BAR on everybody with standards that consist of Behavior, Activity and Results. A behavior standard, for example, could be to arrive in the office every morning before 8 a.m. An activity standard could be to make a minimum of 25 telephone prospecting calls every day. A result standard could be that a sales rep with seven to nine months sales experience must sell a minimum of $50,000 per month. On results standards, I recommend you set two standards. One, a lower “keep your job” standard. Salespeople who fall below the minimum standard for a three-month period are placed on probation. If sales don’t pick up in the next quarter, that person must be “dehired.” Another standard performance, is of course, a higher sales quota.

Step 6: Dehire those below minimum standards
Dehire those below minimum standards. Your salespeople will be wondering, “do you really mean it?” The first person you dehire will send a loud and clear message – performance standards will be enforced. If you don’t enforce them, your standards are meaningless.

Step 7: Coach, coach, and coach some more
Coach, coach, and coach some more. Don’t be a “desk jockey”. Get out and work with your salespeople. If the only way to grow your people and your business.

Step 8: Cultivate a better “quality of life”
Cultivate a better “Quality of Life.” Have more fun. We instituted a series of contests that got everybody focused on a team goal. For example, if we hit our office goal, salespeople who achieved their individual standards earned a round of golf with the others. Then there were blitzes where everyone would pair up and make a bunch of sales calls into two sales territories to generate leads. The salespeople who received the leads had to repay the group with a comedic skit. It was amazing to me how creative some of the skits were! The result: average sales per salesperson doubled, and turnover was reduced by 45 percent.

Step 9: Know what each salesperson wants
Know what each salesperson wants. Every person has his or her own personal motivators. Your job is to find out what they are and help the salesperson toward achievement. Sit down with each salesperson one-on-one. Try to learn something about each of them: what are their goals with your company and beyond? What is their past like? How can you help them be, have, and do more? For example, one of my salespeople wanted buy a house, while another wanted to play the top 10 golf courses in the world. Two very different goals, but both could be achieved faster by the salesperson exceeding quota.

Good selling!

The five biggest mistakes a sales manager can make

  1. Too  focused on closing deals instead of developing salespeople.
  2. Focused salespeople on “more calls” instead of “better calls.”
  3. Spend too much time sequestered in their office, instead of working and interacting with salespeople.
  4. Assume that because someone has been trained, they know how to sell.
  5. No common “language” of selling for diagnosing opportunities.

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