When was the last time you...

  • Received an account update full of glaring generalities?

  • Gave into a salesperson, lowered the price, and still lost the business?

  • Counted on the "superstar" to hit a home run and found out he struck out?

Most of us have experienced these frustrating situations and have had to deal with the consequences. In today's marketplace of increased complexity, constant pressure is placed on the sales team to deliver the numbers, but too often sales managers are expected to select, shape, and coach their team to excellence with few tools—and they often fall short of giving the quality support that is required to develop a team of top performing professionals.

There are many challenges in leading a winning sales team. Our research has identified three key challenges that sales managers most commonly face.

How are you currently approaching these situations, and are you getting the results you are looking for?

1. Reversing the 80/20 Rule

"The sales results of my top performers run significantly higher than those of my average producers. Our team pretty much reflects the 80/20 rule.''

It may be a challenge to build a sales force of all "20 percenters" but doubling this group is certainly within reason. The good news is that the top 20% are not doing anything superhuman, and their behavior patterns that influence their success can be defined and replicated.

Accepting that 20% of your salespeople bring in 80% of your revenue is like accepting that 80% of your manufacturing machines are, on the average, producing one-fourth of your most productive machines. That output level would never be acceptable; it would be absurd.

Building a uniform selling system is required to define the quantity and quality of activities for individuals to produce at top performing levels. This system will enable managers to monitor and measure improvements in the team's performance.

2. Severe Pricing Pressure

"Even though we provide a highly technical and complex solution, we find that our prospects, and even our most knowledgeable customers, are forcing us to compete as a commodity with severe pricing pressures."

The more complex the situation becomes, the more customers and salespeople alike try to simplify things. To the customer, the simplest differentiator is price, and in the absence of a quality decision process to help them understand the value of your products and services, they will tend to focus on it and use it as the criterion when making their decision.

Your customers should be looking at their situation in ways they have not thought through before and quantifying the consequences of not having your solution. Your role is to guide them through a collaborative decision process, much like doctors would as they diagnose a patient.

If you help your customers/patients come to an understanding of the severity of their situation, they will be willing to invest in resolving their problem.

3. Resistance to Changing Behavior

"I realize I'm supposed to be the coach, but even after repeated coaching sessions, my salespeople keep bringing issues to my desk that should have been easily handled without me. They just don't get it!"

They get it, but if you keep doing it for them, they have no incentive to change.

Go beyond proactive to inter-active. A proactive manager gives the salesperson direction and a plan, assumes the salesperson will execute effectively, and waits for the results to roll in: management by assumption. By the time the results are reported, it's too late to provide productive guidance. It's like an athletic coach handing out the game plan, asking if there are any questions, and then heading back to the office to work on administrative details as the team takes the field.

To use an interactive approach, first reach agreement with the salesperson on an action plan that defines specific behaviors, in terms of the quantity and quality of their sales activity. Then interact with the salesperson regularly and "course-correct" as you move forward.

* * *

Sales leaders who can meet these three challenges will replace frustration with confidence and direction for the individuals on their team and themselves. The results? A high-performing team producing more profitable and predictable revenue streams.

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image of Jeff Thull

Jeff Thull is president and CEO of Prime Resource Group (www.primeresource.com) and the author of Exceptional Selling: How the Best Connect and Win in High Stakes Sales (September 2006), The Prime Solution: Close the Value Gap, Increase Margins, and Win the Complex Sale (Dearborn Trade Publishing, 2005) and Mastering the Complex Sale (2003).