Five Common Afflictions of Sales Teams
Written by John R. Treace
I’ve been a part of many sales teams in my career, and over and over I’ve noticed five common afflictions that affect them, each of which reduces morale and sales performance. They can be found to some degree in most almost every organization. Smart management teams are aware of these afflictions and work to avoid their potentially destructive impact. Any one occurrence of these problems will not necessary hurt the sales effort, but if allowed to progress to extremes, or if multiple conditions exist at once, they can be extremely harmful.
Affliction 1: Wasting sales representatives’ time
One of the prime afflictions of sales teams is forcing them to spend time on non-sales tasks, for example making accounts receivable collections, managing product recalls, or filling out reports that do not directly relate to the sales process. Non-sales management often requests that reps perform these tasks, but great care should be taken before delegating them to valuable salespeople. If you, for instance, divert five percent of a sales team’s time to managing customer collections, you effectively reduce the number of feet on the ground by the same amount—and the reverse is true as well. Sometimes it’s necessary to assign non-sales tasks to salespeople, but before this is done it’s worthwhile to audit a company’s sales process to determine whether they could be assigned elsewhere. Finding as many ways as possible to remove unnecessary tasks from the sales team’s shoulders will result in sales increases that will more than pay for the adjustments in duties.
Affliction 2: Poor sales meetings
Another affliction of sales teams is poor or boring sales meetings. The objective of any sales meeting should be to increase sales—period. Every high-performing salesperson who attends a meeting will be thinking, “Is this meeting making me money, or is my time being wasted?” Powerful salespeople are self-motivated, and they intuitively know if their time is being wasted. If it is, management is hurting sales and morale. Wasteful or unnecessary meetings also send a clear message that management doesn’t know what needs to be accomplished to increase sales—and no good salesperson will have confidence in that type of leadership. The simple way to ensure effective sales meetings is to develop a statement of strategic intent that includes clear success metrics. This statement will define in specific terms what needs to be accomplished and the metrics needed to determine whether the goals set in the meeting were accomplished. It takes a deep understanding of the business, the market, and the competition to write an effective statement of strategic intent, and managers who can’t write them need a better understanding of the business. The bottom line is that powerful sales meetings produce sales and keep morale high.
Affliction 3: Poor strategy
Ineffective marketing or sales strategies will always negatively impact the sales team, and this is especially true for teams selling commodity products or services. A player with small market share who enters a commodity market without a well-defined and well-implemented strategy can be assured of certain death. These types of companies usually say, “It’s a huge market, and we can grab some of it,” but it’s not that simple. The sales team will recognize ineffective strategy and will lose faith in the managers who developed it. If the players on a sports team lose faith in the coaching, the path to winning will be difficult, if not impossible; the same is true with sales teams. Don’t let lackluster or nonexistent strategy cause this lack of faith.
To compound the error, companies often try special promotions to save sagging sales on products that are ill-conceived or supported by poor strategy. Special promotions can be very effective, but managers should never call for a pointless charge of the light brigade. Sending the sales team on a promotion in support of a poor product or service is a severe tactical error. A successful sales effort hinges on good strategy, and companies that fail in this regard severely handicap their sales teams.
Affliction 4: Capping or reducing income
Powerful companies have managers who do not get envious when large paychecks go to the sales force. Managers who are resentful of this often respond to rising sales income by reducing commissions, capping earnings, reducing territories, or removing products. These are all practices to be avoided, as they destroy morale, which hurts sales. When it is absolutely necessary to cap or reduce reps’ earnings, it must be done carefully. If it’s done carelessly, management will send the message that future earnings for the sales team have been limited. Powerful salespeople want to leverage today’s efforts into greater sales and income for tomorrow. If their commissions are reduced, earnings capped, or territory removed, they will feel like that ability has been taken away, and the high performers will quickly look for employment elsewhere.
Affliction 5: Favoritism
We all have favorites in life and that’s normal, but playing favorites with individuals on a sales team is very destructive. Salespeople want to work for companies that keep the playing field level for all. If select salespeople are given extra incentives, special attention, benefits, or favors not afforded others, management is sending a clear message that there is a privileged class within the team. This is one of the best ways to lessen team spirit, as reps will spend their time trying to move into that special class and not trying to close sales. Managers can’t buy the loyalty of a team by strengthening a small political power base within a company. Playing favorites within a sales team causes problems for all team members (even the favored ones), but keeping the playing field level will pay big dividends.
Wasting time, poor sales meetings, poor strategy, capping income, and playing favorites are, with few exceptions, situations to be avoided. They are destructive to morale and they lead to poor performance. Effective managers will be careful to avoid these situations, and astute salespeople will bring these practices to the attention of management for correction.
About the Author: John R. Treace has over 30 years experience as a sales executive in the medical products industry. He spent over 10 years specializing in the restructuring of sales departments of companies that were either bankrupt or failing. Investor groups and venture capital firms hired him to manage turnarounds of pre-IPO companies. In 2010, he founded JR Treace & Associates, a sales management consulting business. He is a member of the National Speakers Association and earned a BS in Psychology from the University of Memphis.
Treace is the author of the new book, Nuts & Bolts of Sales Management: How to Build a High-Velocity Sales Organization. He is a columnist at Inc.com, has contributed countless articles to top media outlets and industry publications and has been quoted as an expert by Wall Street Journal's FINS blog, Investor’s Business Daily, Financial Post, BNET.com, and The Globe and Mail. For more information, please visit www.treaceconsulting.com.
Six issues at the top of tax and finance leaders’ agenda
New Deloitte research reveals that tax leaders are under increasing pressure to add strategic value as companies accelerate business model transformation, from undergoing digital transformations to rethinking their supply chains or investing in green initiatives.
According to Phil Mills, Deloitte Global Tax & Legal Leader, to “truly deliver value to the business, the tax function needs to rethink its resourcing model and transform its technology infrastructure to create capacity and control costs”.
And the good news, according to Mills, is that tax and business leaders have more options at their disposal to achieve this.
Reflecting the insights of global tax and finance executives at global companies, Deloitte’s Tax Operations in Focus study reveals the six issues at the top of tax and finance leaders’ agenda.
Trend 1: Businesses seek more strategic counsel from tax
Companies are being pushed to develop new digital products and distribution channels and accelerate sustainable transformation and this is taking them into uncharted tax territory. Tax leaders say their teams must have the resources and skills to give deeper advisory support on digital business models (65%), supply chain restructuring (49%) and sustainability (48%) over the next two years. This means redrawing the boundaries of what tax professionals focus on, and accelerating adoption of advanced technologies and lower-cost resourcing models to meet compliance requirements and free up time.
According to Joanne Walker, Group Tax Director, BT Group PLC, "There’s still a heavy compliance load today, but the vision for the future would be that much of that falls away, and tax people become subject matter experts who help program the machine, ensure quality control, and redirect their time to advisory activity.”
Trend 2: Tipping point for resourcing models
Business partnering demands in the tax department are on the rise, but 93% of tax leaders say their department’s budget is remaining flat or falling. To ensure that the tax function can redefine itself as a strategic function at the pace that is required, leaders are choosing to move increasing amounts of compliance and reporting to a combination of shared service centers, finance departments, and outsourcing providers that have invested in best-in-class technology.
Trend 3: Digital tax administration is moving faster than expected
in addition to the rising focus of the corporate tax department partnering with their business counterparts, transformative changes to the way companies share tax information with revenue authorities is also creating an imperative to modernize operations at a faster pace. Nine in 10 (92%) respondents say that shifting revenue authority demands on digital tax administration will have a moderate or high impact on tax operations and resources over the next five years—and several heads of tax said the trend is moving faster than expected.
"It’s really stepped up in the last couple of years," says Anna Elphick, VP Tax, Unilever. "Tax authorities don't just want a faster turnaround for compliance but access into a company’s systems. It's not unreasonable to think that in a much shorter time than we expect, compliance will be about companies reviewing a return that's been drafted by the tax authorities."
Trend 4: Data simplification and lower-cost resourcing are top priorities
Tax leaders said that simplifying data management (53%) and moving to lower-cost resourcing models (51%) must be prioritized if tax is to become more proactive at delivering strategic insights to the business. Many tax teams are ensuring that they have a seat at the table as ERP systems are overhauled, which is paying dividends: 56% of those that have introduced NextGen ERP systems are now highly effective at supporting the business with scenario-modeling insights. Only 35% of those with moderate to low use of NextGen ERP systems said the same.
At Stryker, “we automated the source P&L process for transfer pricing which took a huge burden off of the divisions," says David Furgason, Vice President Tax. "Then we created a transfer price database to deposit and retrieve data so we have limited impact on the divisions. We are moving to a single ERP platform which will help us make take the next step with robotics.”
Trend 5: Skillsets are shifting
Embedding a new data infrastructure and redesigning processes are critical for the future tax vision. Tax leaders are aligned — data skills (45%) and technology process experience (43%) are ‘must have’ skills in a tax department of the future, but more traditional tax specialist knowledge also remains key (40%). The trick to success will be in tax leaders facilitating the way these professionals, with their different backgrounds, can work together collectively to unlock lasting value.
Take Infineon Technologies, which formed a VAT technology and governance group "that has the right knowledge about how to change the system to ensure it generates the right reports", according to Matthias Schubert, Global Head of Tax. "Involving them early was key as we took a greenfield approach, so we could think about what the optimal processes would look like and how more intelligent systems could make an impact
Trend 6: 2020 brought productivity improvements
Improved productivity (50%) and accelerating shifts to remote working (48%) were cited as the biggest operational benefits to emerge from COVID-19-driven disruption. But, as 78% of leaders now plan to embed either hybrid or fully remote models in the tax function long term, 34% say maintaining productivity benefits is a top concern. And, as leaders think about building their talent pipeline and strengthening advisory skill sets, 47% say they must prioritize new approaches to talent recognition and career development over the next two years, while 36% say new processes for involving tax in business strategy decisions must be established.