Build a winning sales team that’s the envy of the industry

Top sales teams don’t just ‘happen’, they’re the result of careful planning, training and motivation on the part of management. Use these strategies to build a highly successful sales force.

Develop a Strategic Sales Plan

This is the roadmap that will tell the department where it’s going, and without it the Sales Manager can’t send his troops in the direction that will deliver the best long-term results for the organisation. Translate the company’s Strategic Business Plan (typically set at board or executive level) into a strategy that’s specific to the sales area. This can include information such as new market segments, product categories or geographical areas that the board has decided it wants to target. For example, a manufacturer of pool tiles that has been operating exclusively in Gauteng decides that it wants to expand into KwaZulu-Natal. The Strategic Sales Plan then provides for the opening of a Durban office and the appointment of a regional sales manager and two sales representatives.

Develop a Tactical Sales Plan

This follows on from the Strategic Sales Plan and will become the Bible by which the sales team operates on a daily basis. It identifies the people responsible for implementing particular activities and achieving turnover and sales targets. The tactical detail answers questions such as: ‘who’; ‘what’; ‘where’; ‘when’; ‘why’, and ‘what happens thereafter’. “As part of this process, it’s important that daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly goals are agreed upon,” advises sales trainer Ian Rheeder. Following on from the above example, the pool tile manufacturer’s Tactical Sales Plan for KwaZulu-Natal would include specific areas and potential clients to be targeted in the province, as well as individual and group sales targets.

Build a Winning Team

Salespeople are by nature competitive and results-orientated, which doesn’t always make for an ideal team environment. Indeed, there was a time, not too many years ago, when management placed little emphasis on building harmony within the sales office. “Sales management was based on aggression, hard-sell tactics, bluster and a fair emphasis on whipping the cowering sales force to ever-greater effort,” explains Cape Town-based business consultant, Johan de Villiers. “But modern leadership in the sales environment is more about placing an emphasis on behavioural soft skills such as co-operation, inter-group development and empathy. These, in turn, lead to greater productivity, better group dynamics and, indirectly, to increased sales.” According to De Villiers, sales managers should therefore encourage self-discovery, constructive observation and feedback among team members. Most people work well short of their true potential, so a group with a culture of self-discovery is likely to become a winning sales force by allowing its members to fulfil their real potential.  De Villiers suggests using a psychological tool called the Johari Window (Luft, J; Ingham, H. 1955. “The Johari Window, a graphic model of interpersonal awareness”, UCLA) which can be used to enhance harmony and co-operation within a group. Among other things, it encourages the sales team to openly discuss each other’s ‘blind spots’ so that these can be reduced/eliminated and each salesperson becomes more productive. “Salespeople known to be thick-skinned generally have a large ‘blind spot’,” De Villiers observes.

Set Realistic Sales Targets

It’s common for a sales force to be set an annual target which is divided equally into 12 months. But this is frequently unrealistic because it fails to recognise that there are ‘high’, ‘low’ and ‘shoulder’ months. Staff then become demotivated, anticipate bad months before they occur, and enter the field already despondent and unprepared. “Set realistic targets, especially for the tough times,” advises sales & business consultant, Frank Tilley. “Difficult periods can usually be predicted, because historically they have affected the business at the same time of year on previous occasions – so budget for them.”

Set Incentives

All salespeople are motivated by personal achievement and reward, so it is a good idea to constantly set incentives over-and-above the normal commission structure. Examples could include: a spot prize for the first person to bring in a new account after a certain date; an added percentage or two of commission for anyone who exceeds their target in a ‘low’ month; days off on Friday and/or Monday for anyone who sets up a certain number of new client appointments within a specified timeframe; a dinner voucher for the first sales person to reach their target for the month, etc. A successful sales force is one that is continually incentivised and motivated.

Think Long-term

Encourage the sales team to look after the long-term needs of their clients as well, as this will be to the benefit of everyone in the long run. Make them aware that, at times, it’s okay to call on a customer without selling to them in order to diagnose their service needs, find out about the client’s ongoing plans, unexpected difficulties and anticipated budgets for the months ahead. ‘PR’ activities like this can be of particular value in keeping the sales force busy and motivated during ‘slow’ months.


Strategic Marketing Magazine