Like any seasoned sales professional working in the industry for more than 20 years, I’ve managed to learn a thing or two about running a successful sales department. Granted, my greatest lessons were derived from my greatest mistakes, or more to the point, all of my lessons are hard lessons. If someone were to ask me my most important pieces of advice collected over the years, I would give them these top 10 solutions to common mistakes seen all too often in sales departments:
1. You need more coverage than you think. Managers often realize they need a greater sales capacity by the time it’s already too late. The general rule of thumb is that you always want to have more quota coverage than expected because it’s almost guaranteed that some representatives will over-perform and some will come out under the mark. Consider staffing 25% more quota coverage than your operating plan financial metrics call for every quarter.
2. Think ahead. In terms of general business, it’s a good mantra to have, but it is especially helpful when it comes to hiring. I’ve learned that the most effective tactic is to hire six months ahead of the curve because takes at least that long to ramp up a sales rep to be profitable.
3. Hire the best. Stand to hire successfully every time. Be patient and disciplined to hire the right person rather than just fill the spot, which is what we all want to do, because recruiting and interviewing is a time suck. It’s also hard to tell whether a rep will be effective based on an interview alone, which is why it’s a good idea to hire three reps, assuming two will work out.
4. Telesales has advantages. It’s typical to hit a 70% to 75% success rate when hiring for telesales because the role requires fewer variables than field sales. It’s also easier to train and manage quality assurance because employees are centralized in one office. Missteps in hiring become apparent faster than field sales because of a shorter sales cycle. For telesales, I recommend hiring only four months ahead of the curve.
5. Create a real training plan. One of the biggest mistakes I have seen is when sales managers let training fall to the wayside after spending a great deal of time in recruiting. No one is set up for success if no functioning training program is in place for your reps. Create a repeatable template training plan that allows for the responsibility to be distributed across the team. This prevents the burden from falling on one person, and it lets new reps get to know more-established teammates and gain a perspective from multiple viewpoints.
6. Make mistakes. Sales reps can’t learn without making mistakes, and unfortunately, no one has the ability to learn everything in two days. It’s best to build a training program that lasts four to six weeks, with only a couple hours’ worth of new material each session. Between curricula, reps have to get on the phone and “touch the market,” make the mistakes and get feedback from supervisors to really absorb and put the material into action. A good sales rep learns far more from lost deals than successes.
7. Hire the novice. I’ve seen managers seeking new talent look only for the salesperson with a 15-year track record in the same market, a person who has made their number every year for 10 years. My advice is to recruit salespeople with only a couple of years’ experience who are hungry, eager to learn and view the position as a great next step in their career track.
8. You don’t need a rep with a perfect contact list. Another mistake I’ve seen is hiring managers going after the “golden Rolodex.” The sales rep with a fully stocked, perfect contact list is essentially a sales unicorn. It’s very unlikely for someone to come in with a large set of solid contacts and close at a high volume. It’s possible in some markets, but even if it exists, it’s not always effective because typically that rep has already sold a multiyear deal to that contact. Instead of chasing a myth, build a connected infrastructure for lead generation, product and marketing that builds awareness for sales reps to sell. If you need someone with a magical list of contacts, then you need to rethink your marketing and lead-qualification process.
9. Being in the office matters. Having reps work in a central office and travel to customers makes more sense than having remote reps near the customers. Being in a physical office offers conveniences for the rep and client, as well as much better communication and absorption of company culture. Conversations over coffee and impromptu meetings are things you can’t replicate virtually. Working in an office encourages people to become energetic about the company, which translates more fluidly into sales tactics.
10. Face-to-face makes a difference. Despite mature video conferencing technology, nothing provides the trust required in sales more than a face-to-face meeting. The power of one in-person meeting is often underestimated, especially with a large product or commitment. Chances are the person making the decision wants some level of trust with their salesperson, and a face-to-face helps build that trust. The old mantra still holds: “People buy from people, not from companies.”
Bonus item: Think you’ve got all the answers? I sure don’t. Sales and go-to-market strategies are constantly evolving because your market is moving, your competitors are responding and technology is changing. Apply lessons you’ve learned, but be ready to be hit across the forehead with a two-by-four if you think you know it all. The market has a way of level-setting all of our confidence.
Rob Eleveld is vice president of sales at WhitePages PRO.