Stop Torturing Your Sales Teams

Jan 24, 2019

I’ve been a part of many sales teams in my career, and over and over I’ve seen them suffer from five common afflictions, each of which reduces morale and sales performance. These problems can be found to some degree in most almost every organization. Smart managers are aware of these afflictions and work diligently to avoid them. A single occurrence will not necessary hurt sales efforts, but if allowed to progress to extremes—or if multiple conditions exist at once—the impact can be quite severe.

Affliction #1: Wasting sales reps’ time
Too often, salespeople are forced to spend a lot of time on nonsales tasks—making accounts receivable collections, managing product recalls, or filling out reports that do not directly relate to the sales process. Nonsales management may request that reps perform these tasks, but great care should be taken before delegating them to valuable salespeople. It may be worthwhile to audit the sales process to determine whether these duties could be assigned elsewhere. If you divert 5% of a sales team’s time to managing customer collections, you effectively reduce the number of feet on the ground by the same amount. 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: Ineffective 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 helping me make money, or is it a waste of my time?” Wasteful or unnecessary meetings are bad for morale and sales. They also send a clear message that management doesn’t know what needs to be accomplished to increase sales—which erodes the sales team’s confidence in the leadership. The simplest 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 increase sales and keep morale high.

Affliction #3: Poor strategy
Ineffective marketing or sales strategies always negatively impact the sales team, especially 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 introduce special promotions to save sagging sales on products that are ill-conceived or supported by poor strategy. 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.

Affliction #4: Capping or reducing income
Top managers are not envious when the sales force receives large paychecks. Managers who are resentful may respond to rising sales income by reducing commissions, capping earnings, reducing territories, or removing products. These practices should be avoided, as they destroy morale, which ultimately hurts sales. When it is absolutely necessary to cap or reduce reps’ earnings, it must be done carefully. Management must not send the message that future earnings for the sales team will be limited. Powerful salespeople want to leverage today’s efforts so they’ll enjoy increased sales and income tomorrow. If their commissions are reduced, earnings capped, or territory removed, high performers will quickly seek employment elsewhere.

Affliction #5: Favoritism
We all have favorites in life and that’s normal. However, playing favorites with individuals on a sales team can be very destructive. Salespeople want to work for companies that equal opportunity for all. If select salespeople are given extra incentives, special attention, benefits, or favors not afforded to others, management sends a clear message that there is a privileged class within the team. This is one of the quickest ways to dampen team spirit, as reps will spend their time trying to move into that special class instead of 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). Keeping the playing field level will pay big dividends.

All of the common sales team afflictions outlined above are destructive to morale and lead to poor performance. How many of them exist in your organization? Effective managers will be careful to avoid these situations and to take quick action to correct them, should they occur. Additionally, astute salespeople will bring these practices to the attention of management for correction.