Turn Your Defective Sales Team into Rockstar Sellers

Sales Wars is pleased to bring you a guest blog post from Sales Jedi Colleen Francis, best-selling author and founder of Engage Selling.

Dysfunctional: the word comes up in conversation every day, usually in relation to crazy families, nutty reality show contestants, and all-around gossip. But what if this adjective also describes your sales team? Your group of dysfunctional sellers is preventing you from getting the results your company needs to move forward. How do you identify the root cause of the problem, eliminate it, and turn your team into high-impact sellers?

Like they always say, the first step to a solution is admitting you have a problem — and believing it can be fixed. Keep an eye out for these five telltale signs within your sales team, and your company at large, to determine if dysfunction is causing your team to be defective:

1. A Weak Emphasis on Sales

Product management, development, and engineering are the main focus of your company. However, the CEO or head of sales has a background in finance, product management, or development — not sales and marketing as needed. The company as a whole may therefore not be sales-focused and that can definitely trickle down to your team.

2. Lack of Visual Data to Drive Results

Take a minute to look around. Are sales targets written on the walls and whiteboards? Tacked to cubicles? If not, there’s a lack of focus on those numbers for your team. And that’s a problem.

3. No Use of the Sales Pipeline

Ask your sales team and managers to define their funnel — what they’re working on and what’s closing soon. Question them on their revenue forecasts and margins. If they can’t give you simple, concise answers, they’re not functioning smoothly. In fact, the topic of hitting targets, bonuses, and commissions should be frequently discussed within the team. If it’s not, they’re not focused on selling.

4. A Lack of Drive

Get a feel for your sales team at the end of a month or quarter. Activity should be almost frenetic at this point with your team glued to the phones and selling. If reps, however, are taking 90-minute lunches and chatting away at the water cooler — when hitting their targets is on the line — you’ve got a problem within the team.

5. Gossip, Rumors, and Blame

Dysfunction comes in the most obvious of forms as well. Much like high school, gossip and rumors on the sales team can lead to nothing but trouble and indicate that the team is off focus. Playing the blame game is a problem as well. When your team points a finger at shipping, support, or finance for their losses, you need to root out why they believe they’re not accountable.

When it comes to high-performing teams, they don’t have time for gossip. If they hear something they’re not sure is true, they go directly to the source and get the answer. They don’t make decisions based on rumor or gossip, which is a sign of a defective team.

There are times when dysfunction isn’t that harmful for your team. This depends on how many of the tell-tale signs above you’ve found and to what degree they’re affecting sellers. If your team is hitting its targets and acting legally, morally, and ethically, does it necessarily matter if someone’s a bit quirky or has some strange work habits? Perhaps not. But in all other cases, it’s important to identify the source of the problem so your team can focus on its purpose: selling and results.

Time to Clean Up

Once you’ve identified the signs of dysfunction on your sales team — and determined it’s a problem that’s inhibiting your ability to generate revenue — it’s time to take immediate action to turn the situation around. This could range from simple steps like clearer communication or the tweaking of goals, to more drastic measures like eliminating problem staff members or making changes to your compensation plan. The following three steps can mitigate dysfunction on your sales team:

1. Concentrate on Positive Results

Highly-functional sales teams focus on the pipeline, build camaraderie, and surge forward at month and quarter end. They’re extremely results-oriented and they focus their office work and activities on obtaining those results.

If your sellers aren’t hitting their goals, the first step is to manage your team by walking around the floor. Make sure the room isn’t quiet, and listen to the conversations going on to help you determine why your reps aren’t hitting their targets. Is it because the pipeline isn’t filled, or because they have poor closing skills? Dig deep. If the pipeline’s not full, decide what the core issue is. Consider whether the problem is willingness or ability. Are your reps being lazy or ineffective? Or are they working with a bad product or problematic sales process? Whatever is preventing your reps from having a full pipeline and closing deals, identify and eliminate it.

2. Assess Each Team Member

It’s a cliché, but it’s true: one bad apple can spoil the whole bunch. In many cases, this issue can be one you inherit from a previous sales leader. However, a problem employee still needs to be dealt with. Use these tools to manage the issue.

Take a look at the individual members of your team and how they’re behaving in professional situations. Are the reps taking their jobs seriously, or are they playing games and enjoying themselves — possibly at the expense of the company’s reputation or relationship with clients?

Signs that you’re going to have issues with a particular team member include a resistance to forecasts or measurements; often, they’ll claim they don’t have time to measure because they’re “too busy selling.” If a rep has a heavy reliance on a small number of accounts or they complain about changes to marketing, product, or process, they may be part of the issue on your team. In some cases, these issues may be inherent to someone’s personality (as opposed to something you can solve by training and mentoring), and that may mean they’re not going to be a good fit for your team.

3. Examine the Work Atmosphere

In large part, you can create your own dysfunction by putting the wrong compensation plan in place, fostering extreme competition, or leading by the stick — punishing or penalizing without ever rewarding. When it’s time to assess the health of your team, don’t forget to look inward to see what you could do better.

In sales, compensation is king. As much as it can motivate employees, it can also create an extremely hostile environment when done poorly. Changing your compensation plan part way through the year or changing rules or territories unexpectedly can create this type of negative environment. It encourages your reps to fight, hoard deals, hide deals, or game the system. In the end, your sales team will most likely behave the way you pay them to behave. So give some attention to your compensation plan and ensure you’re paying your employees for the habits and achievements you want to see.

Hiring can make a difference to your team’s environment as well. Bring in the right people for the type of sales your company makes. A rep who’s excellent at closing multimillion dollar deals with long sales cycles may fail on a team that needs monthly results with smaller revenues. Fit and skills are important, so keep your sales process in mind when hiring, and don’t get dazzled by impressive numbers that aren’t relevant to your specific business.

How to Create a Top-Performing Team

Even if you’re able to get the dysfunction out of your sales team, it doesn’t mean you’ve necessarily created a high-impact team. Here are strategies that will help move your team in the right direction once you’ve cleared out the dysfunction:

1. Generate Enthusiasm

Develop leads at every stage and ensure your team is confident about the pipeline.

2. Promote One Focus at a Time

Be focused and consistent in reinforcing a single concept for a selling period (typically a quarter) so your team knows exactly what they should be aiming for.

3. Shields Up During Crunch Time

Make sure the entire company knows not to bother your team or create non-revenue-generating meetings or activities during the last week of the month or the last week of the quarter — respecting that killer sales time for your team. Rally the entire company around the fact that the sales team is generating revenue.

4. Celebrate Big and Small Victories

Reward your team verbally or with an email when deals are won or saved, or when reps hit their quota. It’s as important to let the team know when they’re doing well as when things are wrong or need to be corrected. Make progress public within the team and the entire company, and celebrate both big successes and small victories.

5. Double Up Your Coaching

Sales VPs should meet with reps one-on-one for about 30 minutes each week to run through deal analysis and talk in confidence around their pipeline. To foster camaraderie, teams should also meet once a week to share ideas.

6. Don’t Compete with Your Team

If you have your own territory as a sales leader, you’re essentially competing against your reps. Pass off your accounts to your team and coach them on how to improve their performance.

Ridding your sales team of dysfunction can be a difficult process — but making it successful should be energizing and fun. By examining your practices, your people, and yourself, you can develop a rockstar team that performs and generates revenue for your company.

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Colleen Francis

Colleen Francis

Colleen works with business and sales leaders to synergize the sales DNA of the organization to seize market opportunities. Whether designing strategy to target a new market or working with a team to improve its productivity, Colleen's results have attracted clients such as Merck, Abbott, Merrill Lynch, Royal Bank, Dow, Adecco, Trend Micro, NCR, Chevron, and thousands of other global organizations.

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