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.