How to Manage a Sales Team
Managing a sales team is no easy feat, especially when you consider the importance of its role in your company’s success. On top of monitoring quotas and meeting target metrics, you’re also in charge of getting the right people on the bus, coaching them, and upholding team morale.
As the sales team leader, you have the potential to make or break your sales organization. The role comes with plenty of pressure, but by following sales team management best practices, you can set yourself and your team up for success.
How to Hire for Sales
Most people in sales fail. They don’t have the drive, they can’t handle rejection, or they otherwise lack the “it” factors that make for a successful sales rep. Hardcore Closer’s Ryan Stewman cites the 80/20 rule, arguing that 80% of people in sales either fail or are just barely making it. Even worse, he says his personal experience puts that ratio closer to 95/5.
This is a major challenge for sales leaders because it means that the majority of your current and future employees likely won’t make it long-term with your company. In fact, turnover in sales is the highest of any industry. At a 27% average rate, it’s more than double the average of the rest of the workforce.
Hiring for sales is unlike hiring for any other role. Many leaders make the mistake of hiring based on a proven track record. And that’s important, but it doesn’t guarantee the person will be able to sell effectively in your organization. Organizational fit is also critical, as each person in your organization affects the company culture, team morale, and the ecosystem at large.
As a sales leader, your role starts with hiring the right people. The best salesperson is one who is gifted in sales AND who can adapt to the way your company sells. Make sure your hiring process for sales reflects both of these priorities.
Invest in Culture
Every company is defined by its culture, but the best companies are the ones that take a vested interest in how their culture impacts its employees.
In fact, according to one survey, company culture was ranked as the most important factor for sales job seekers, followed closely by management effectiveness. Surprisingly, base compensation was rated as the least important factor on the list.
Most sales leaders know that culture should be a priority, but many struggle with what a good sales culture looks and functions like. And it’s true that “culture” is a vague concept. You can’t measure culture like you do sales volume, opportunities, and conversions.
Still, there are a few common characteristics that can give you a starting point.
Strong leadership is everything in sales. You might not be hopping on every call yourself, but your reputation is still always on the line.
Your sales reps are the ones dialing the phone and talking to prospects, but you’re the one who is ultimately responsible for their success. When they aren’t meeting quotas or they’re making the same mistakes over and over again, you’re the first person they’ll ask for help – and they’ll expect you to deliver.
Career Growth Opportunities
Getting a steady paycheck isn’t the only motivator for sales reps. Employees want to feel valuable in their role, which is what makes offering professional development opportunities so compelling. You benefit from this as well, as these trainings will help your reps pick up new skills and strategies that can boost their numbers.
No one wants to come into a job that sucks the life out of them. Your team chose to work for your company. They want to feel inspired, empowered, and optimistic about that decision.
Plus, putting some effort into developing the right environment may take care of the hiring aspect for you. You’ll get qualified candidates beating down your doors when word gets out from happy employees that YOUR company is the place to work.
Invest in Systems and Processes
Systematization is the secret to successful sales organizations. Good systems remove much of the guesswork for sales reps and can help newcomers ramp up production faster.
Systems also give team members a clear path to follow to remain productive throughout the day. One report notes that 64% of a sales rep’s time is not spent on revenue-generating activities. Instead, they waste time looking for sales collateral, performing admin tasks, and catching up with co-workers. Systems won’t stop your team members from indulging in water cooler conversations, but they can help reduce time spent unnecessarily on admin.
It’s worth noting that whatever systems you create should make things easier for the rep, not just create more busywork. Sales reps have explicitly called out CRMs as one of their biggest frustrations, spending more than 9.1% of their time in their CRM, trying to manage tasks.
A new process is only as good as the people using it. When you implement a new process or system, it’s important to gain buy-in from your reps so they’ll readily adopt it. Show them how the process will benefit them, and provide plenty of training and onboarding until it becomes second nature.
Let Reps Play to Their Strengths
Good sales leaders have a natural ability to recognize others’ talents, but great leaders will find ways to let them focus on their strengths.
For example, someone who excels at selling a particular product may be better off selling only that product, rather than trying to become your company’s jack-of-all-trades. Focusing in this way allows them to get to know your product inside and out and become the resident expert on it within your organization.
Every salesperson can become an expert on something. When they’re confident in their ability to sell, they help to create predictable, repeatable success for the company. Find out what interests them and what unique talents they bring to the role, then find a way to let them thrive.
Focus on Building Good Sales Habits
The most successful salespeople are those that practice good sales habits without fail. Their methods have become so ingrained in their routine that they don’t have to think twice about doing them – and they continue to perform these habits because they know they work.
Managing a sales team requires you to help your reps not only build good habits, but also trust them to work.
One of the biggest sales habits you should focus on is establishing a sales cadence that’ll hold your team accountable for their performance. Following a proven cadence will predict their success, and any deviations from that cadence could indicate why they didn’t hit their sales targets.
Another priority should be setting follow-up goals and metrics. Some studies show that it takes up to 18 calls to connect with a buyer, but many sales reps give up after following up just once. Further, nearly 80% of all sales require five or more follow-up calls after a meeting. Teach your salespeople not to take silence or missed connections as an answer.
Forge Sales and Marketing Alignment
The digital era has reshaped the buyer’s journey. These days, consumers want to research and explore solutions on their own before involving a sales rep. In fact, some sources note that, by the time buyers reach out to sales, they’re already more than halfway through the sales cycle.
This a major shift from where we were just a few years ago. The buyer is in control of the process and empowered by mobile connectedness and on-demand information. As a result, sales organizations are being forced to change their approach to the way people buy.
Because of this pivot, marketing is playing a greater role in the buyer journey than it has in the past. There’s a greater emphasis on the content they create and the audience they create it for. Salespeople essentially have less time to impact the customer, as they’re entering the journey at a much later phase.
For these reasons, forging sales and marketing alignment has never been more important. Salespeople need to understand the marketing aspect and vice versa, so that marketing is generating leads that sales has a chance of selling. Make it a priority to work together with sales, paying particular attention to how you can support each other’s goals.
Visibility Is Key
Monitoring performance isn’t about making sales reps feel pressured. Rather, it should help leaders know where to direct their efforts. Sales leaders need visibility into what sales reps are doing so that they’re better able to provide coaching and catch issues before they become problems. This places a level of accountability on the employee, but also gives them confidence that leaders are invested in their success.
Fortunately, there are different tools you can use to understand your sales team’s activities. Getting ultra-specific on what your entire sales cadence looks like and what information you need at every stage can make it easier to decide between the hundreds of sales enablement and tracking tools you could use.
Effective sales management also means looking at the right metrics that accurately depict your sales performance. These metrics are unique to you and will vary by organization, but most companies include the following data points to gain visibility into the sales cycle:
Time Spent Selling
Your sales rep’s time is their most valuable asset. You have to know how they’re spending it. Tracking this metric helps you to identify the biggest time-zapping activities that could be eating up your team members’ schedules and giving them less time to sell.
Lead Response Time
How quickly are your reps following up with inbound leads? Research shows that leads that are contacted within five minutes are 100 times more likely to be reached and 21 times more likely to enter your sales cycle. Contact rate and lead quality significantly drop between five and 30 minutes after receiving the lead.
Drift performed research on 433 companies and found that more than half of companies didn’t respond within five business days, while 7% responded within the first five minutes. Be the latter, not the former.
Opportunity Win Rate
Not all of your opportunities will result in wins, but you can aim to win bigger and lose smaller over time.
Your opportunity win rate is simply the number of sales divided by the number of opportunities in a given time frame. Tracking this metric over time will help you better predict your long-term win rate, set challenging yet attainable goals, and perform better sales forecasting for your organization’s leaders.
Cost Per Acquisition
Sales come at a cost, and knowing how much you’re spending to acquire customers can help you remain profitable. This metric is especially useful for new businesses that want to increase their valuation or scale quickly.
Customer Lifetime Value
Not all customers are worth the same amount to your organization, nor should their initial purchase value be all they ever bring to your organization. For these reasons, measure not only their customer lifetime value, but also note trends when their buying habits change so that you can intervene before they churn.
Effective sales leaders should feel comfortable knowing how to use these and other metrics to create valuable opportunities for their sales teams, as well as to identify patterns and trends so that they know where to adjust their process.
Never Underestimate the Power of Praise
Commissions aren’t a substitute for rewards or recognition. Your top performers deserve to know they’re doing more than turning the sales wheel.
Take the time to recognize top performers and major achievements. Help your reps set individual goals, and praise them when they clear them. Success is contagious. When you praise one person, the rest of your team will feel more motivated to meet their own goals.
Be the Leader You Always Needed
Managing a sales team shares many of the same challenges as sales itself. Yet the complexities of balancing skilled individuals with the organization’s ecosystem takes a special person. Find your way as a sales leader by becoming the leader you always needed.
Prioritize the right people, develop a strong culture, and track everything. In time, the rest will fall into place.
What are your top priorities in managing an effective sales team? Share your experiences in the comments below: