I learned a valuable lesson a few years back.  I was managing a sales team of thirteen B2B sales people in the recruitment industry (They weren’t quite as green as Gary’s list, but we had a few rookies in the mix).  We had a Monday morning breakfast meeting every week where we would talk about the week that was, how we are tracking for the quarter, the plan for the week ahead etc…  Following a period of over-performance, I would tell the team about how great we were doing and pump up the individuals who performed well etc…. So to, after a ‘slower’ results period, I would talk to the team about how we as a team were underperforming and what we all need to do to correct the situation, but remaining vigilant in giving recognition to the top performers. Situational & Behavioral Interviewing for the Sales Profession

The problem was this: Although a team is a team, when things are going badly, not ‘everyone’ is to blame.  So to sit your team down as a whole and tell them they need to pull up their socks, is not an ideal thing for the ‘top performers’ to be a part of.  The message you’re giving to those top performers is inconsistent with their results. “Why do I have to listen to this, I doubled my budget last month!” they may think to themselves.  I learned during an exit interview with one of my better performers that he felt exactly this way. 

If you have a sustained period of underperformance, the message can also get very old and have a detrimental impact on morale across the group, including your top performers. 

The other down side to addressing the entire team with negative messaging such as this is that you give underperformers an excuse: “Oh, so we’re all underperforming. It must just be a tough market.  Although I would like to improve my situation, I don’t feel any pressure to, because we are all struggling. He can’t sack all of us”.  I learned that ‘misery loves company’ and it can breed. 

I’ve since learned to isolate negative messages to those that need to hear them.  This saves the top performers from needing to hear about it and tends to ensure that underperformers have less company and make fewer excuses.  This creates more expectation on them to correct their situation and in my experience, they are far more likely to do so in this environment.  The top performers are also happier and feel more recognised.  The entire team has a more upbeat place to work, resulting in better retention and engagement across the board and higher morale.



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I Love My JobA talented young sales executive I know keeps talking to me about this company she has joined.  She’s overtly passionate about this place and can’t stop bragging about how much she loves her job.  It’s rare to find someone who genuinely ‘loves’ what they do.  I’m not sure I’ve seen this level of passion in anyone else before who doesn’t actually own the business they work within.  So I’ve been asking her, “What’s so special about this company and this job that makes you so passionate about it?”  I’ll try to summarise her response for you below as a case study on how to create an engaged sales force.  But before I do, the additional part of this story is that she has just been promoted to a higher level strategic sales position and her position is now available!  Click here to see the details and apply.

So why does she love working there so much?

She is empowered to manage her own territory in an autonomous fashion and she is robustly supported in every facet of her role.  She keeps ‘banging on’ to me about the professional development opportunities she has been given; she just keeps on learning.  She recently went on a trip to the US for a global annual conference the company has.  She is being vigorously trained in strategic solution selling skills that have taken her professional selling ability to heights she didn’t realise were possible.  She tells me the culture is a mature, flexible culture that allows their valued staff to achieve a work life balance, however she does work hard.  But she loves the work because she is winning.  She is also recognised; she recently won a top sales accolade within the company.  The overwhelming message I get from her is that she is always learning and being challenged.  Just as she felt she was mastering her role, she has been promoted and given a new challenge.  The new role is a more senior sales position selling to larger clientele.  She also tells me she could never imagine leaving and those around her say the same.

It sounds to me like this company is doing a lot of things right.  The sales managers and directors I work with often tell me how difficult it can be to retain top sales talent, so I though I would share my friends story about this company with you all and throw in a cheap plug for her position as Harlow Group have been engaged to source her replacement.

So, do your sales staff say this about your organisation?  If not, here are a few questions worth asking yourself:

  • Are your sales people still learning? 
  • Are they engaged in the company’s mission and goals and do they understand their role in achieving those outcomes? 
  • Are you supporting them in becoming successful; providing leads, getting out on sales calls with them and coaching them?
  • Are you recognising all the successes your people achieve along the journey?  Do your people feel recognised?
  • Can you tell your sales people what is next for them once they conquer the position they are in?
  • Do you actually educate and mentor your sales people on a documented, proven sales methodology that you and the company are passionate about?
  • Do you take time out to get the team together outside of work and is it special and memorable?
  • Do you allow your team to work autonomously within boundaries, without hounding them about their KPI’s each day?
  • Do you provide a working environment that attracts and retains experienced professionals who are seeking a work life balance and some flexibility?
  • Are your sales people supported by marketing initiatives that are strongly aligned with the sales team?  Are you able to provide the occasional warm lead to your sales people as a result?

These are the things that my friend’s employer does to keep her and the rest of the sales team engaged.  And apparently it’s working!  OR, are you falling into some common traps I often see?  The things that I hear from outgoing staff that have driven them out of an organisation.  Such as:

  • Are you measuring and talking about activity expectations and focusing on reminding those people that are not meeting their KPI’s that they need to pick up their game?  OK, but are you ‘truly’ supporting them to overcome the challenges they are facing in achieving your expectations?
  • Are you showing people how ‘you’ sell, but not working from a proven, documented selling methodology.  Do your staff feel they are being professionally educated to build their overall sales skill-sets and career?  Do they feel they are being invested in?
  • Are you neglecting your top performers?  Is your time being drawn by the underperformers in your team?  Are you hoping that the top performers will look after themselves and stick around because they are making good commission?

There are plenty of other traps; we could be here all day.  It’s great to hear a real world scenario of an engaged sales force as a case study for how to achieve this highly sought after environment.

If you’re interested in learning more about my friend’s  job, the company and potentially applying for the position, click here.  They are a NASDAQ listed global software vendor.



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