Understanding the Strange Sales Animals

Understanding the Strange Sales Animals

May 14th, 2013 // 4:58 pm @

Devil Sales PersonThere is in many organizations a cultural gap between the salespeople and the company. In most cases this causes no more than low level antagonism between the parties, but in more extreme cases can cause a significant fall off in the sales teams performance. It is worth trying to understand this gap, and how it can best be managed.

The first issue is to understand what sales people do is fundamentally not normal. Their role is to push themselves into potential customers space where they are not inherently welcome, and try to make the customer do something different from what they planned to do. This is the very essence of selling, and it is at odds with many of our social norms, and needs a particular set of personality traits to be successful at.

Every salesman will deep in his heart remember standing outside a customer, and his inner being screaming at him to turnaround and not make the call, and having to force themselves through the door.

What drives them through the door is not a set of skills, it is a type of personality, and often a fairly unusual one. All the great salespeople I have known were in need of at least some therapy. They are often at a deep level seeking love or approval, often absent in their early life, and getting a sale is approval, and that is what drives the best of them. They will tell you it is the bonus cheque, which is obviously nice, but that is also a form of approval and validation.

Many salespeople do not have these characteristics, but they tend to be the significantly less successful ones.

If one accepts this, it is easier to see why they struggle to fit into companies, and why they are so hard to manage.

Staff within companies rarely like their sales teams, they are seen as people who are out of the office doing stuff, the nature of which is unclear, getting paid well, getting bonuses for selling a product which many inside the company believe is so good it could sell itself.

Company leaders have naturally a strong belief in their product, the leap from that to “Why do we need sales people” is an easy one. However even the best product needs sold, customers need to have the benefits that are clear to the company explained to them, and even the biggest company with massive market share and brilliant products, needs the interface with the customer managed.

Companies and sales people see the same world in which they operate but from very different perspectives, for example:

  • Customers or potential customers. The company see’s these as company customers to be allocated to sales people, as they believe best. Sales people see these customers as “theirs” and often resent any movement of accounts or in some cases resent any contact with customers unless it is through them.
  • The customer buys our great product is’ how a company see’s its sales. Money and thought has been invested in developing products and that is what customers are buying. Sales people see and need to believe customers are buying from them as individuals, this they need to validate themselves and to get the recognition they seek.
  • Bonus’s. A company will see these as payments for the achievement of specific targets, which it sets in line with its goals and market conditions. Sales people see these as a right, and will often project their bonus’s into the next fiscal period and see this as theirs and any change in the scheme as “robbing” them of their money. I ran a company in the online media market when we were growing 45% every year in a market growing 30% a year, and still had the question from salespeople as to why targets had to change.

I have worked as a salesperson, and I was a hard working and organized one, but never great, as a sales manager, as a sales director and as a CEO, and my view of all the above is to say that the companies view is the truth. However to sales people their view is reality and to make a sales team work well, one must work with that reality.

There are a number of regularly make mistakes made by companies that exacerbate these different views, and cause conflict:

  • Management needs to respect and be seen to respect the difficulties of what sales people do. By the nature of their personality they need positive emotional stroking to keep their confidence high, and their self-belief strong.
  • Sales people need sold too, I have always tried to actively sell our products to my sales teams. Because if they believe in the core benefit of your product to the customer that will come across to the customer as the sales person talks to them.
  • When considering changes to account responsibilities look at the benefit, and the cost of the disruption that will inevitably follow. If you believe the benefit is worth the disruption make the changes clear and most importantly timely. Making such changes half way through a bonus period is disastrous.
    • It is in the area of bonus’s that the biggest management mistakes are made. Bonus schemes must be if they are too work:
      • Simple – I used to have a very forceful sales lady who pinned the one page bonus scheme above her desk alongside her credit card bill, with the amount she needed to sell to pay the bill highlighted. She rarely if ever missed that number.
      • Paid Quickly – If you want to use money to change behavior then the cash reward should be as close to the action (The sale) as practical. Sales people getting cheques months after the sale when they can not really remember what they sold is a nice reward it will not drive a change in activity.
      • Communicated at the start of a sales period – Sadly I have seen too often sales people half way through their bonus period still waiting for their targets. This is for sales people very damaging, both intellectually, as they do not know what they are aiming at, and emotionally damaging as it communicates a lack of perceived importance in what they do, not helpful for a group of people seeking validation.
  • Communicate with them. Sales people are often away from the office and are not party too much of the unstructured communication that flows in any company, they need clearly communicated with on a regular basis.
  • Training. Training for sales people operates on two very distinct levels. Firstly the obvious one is teaching them new skills, but secondly and much more importantly building their confidence. A very good trainer once told me “At the start of the upcoming course the average sales person knows three ways to close and uses two, at the end of the course they will know five and probably still use the same two they are comfortable with when they arrived, but they will use those two with more confidence”

Selling things to people is a weird process; the people who are great, are that way because of their personalities not trainable skills. With training a normal sales person can be made better and more confident, but you cannot train that special brilliance you see in great sales people.

To get truly great sales people you need to accept they are rare, are emotionally driven and will be hard to manage. But when you find them manage the hassle they will cause, because they are worth it!

Category : Blog &Key Business Success Drivers

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