Building the Inside Sales Team
Whether your sales team is using qualified leads or just cold calling, inside sales is a numbers game. Of course, you expect more results from the team using the qualified leads but well established sales metrics will always reveal the true salesman from the person simply wasting time in a cubicle.
The Simple Facts
Many companies have had moderate to excellent results with their initial sales forays. Usually the reason is a single dedicated sales person who instigates and develops the inside sales program and formulates the inside sales techniques. Unfortunately, this person is not always a manager. Completely competent as a salesperson, they are singularly inadequate at managing their associates as sales people.
Two problems arise from this fact. Without an effective sales manager, the company is unable to correctly assess the inside sales team and, as such, is unable to meet the increasing demands of the business.
Before attempting to implement a successful inside sales program, the prudent sales director or business owner must first evaluate the status of his current program. The identification of current inhibitors of success are key. An inside sales program can be sabotaged by the most innocuous of actions such as repeated interruptions to gossip or the invitation to have a cup of coffee in the break room. These distractions must be eliminated.
In addition, the entire sales process of the organization must be examined to reveal every aspect of the selling process from how potential clients are identified through upselling efforts to final deal consummation. Glitches in the process must be promptly addressed and solutions proposed.
Next, and most importantly, the entire organization must be supportive of the inside sales process. This support ranges from the simple courtesies of staff on the phone to the timeliness of the delivery crew. Expectations can be set but, not effectively met, if management enforcement is lax. It is simply indisputable that the success of the sales staff is often at the mercy of disinterested parties.
Overview of the Critical Elements for Success
As mentioned, the proper company culture must be established to support the inside sales team. In addition, further refinements and structures must be instituted to specifically engage the attention and drive the results of the team. In particular, a results oriented manager who communicates expectations and measures results against a predetermined set of metrics and then delivers relevant and useful feedback is integral to a successful inside sales program.
Concurrently, a set of tools must be developed to aid the team in its efforts. Pre-tested content and effective scripts are uniquely relevant to overcoming the most common customer objections. Lastly, a concerted effort must be made by the HR department to recruit and hire the best possible people. There is only so much that a sales manager can do with inferior talent.
Proper Culture and Team Structure
The ideal sales manager is not just a “Superman” or woman of sales. Certainly, he can actively implement the scripts and procedures that he espouses. Nevertheless, his role is actually to assess his salespeople and then coach the less able and inspire the more capable. To the staff, his days seem spent in the sales office and not on the phone, yet, he arrives before everyone else and leaves after them.
The exceptional sales manager has one other equally important responsibility. He must proactively create an interest and intensity within the sales force for selling the product. The driving force behind this process is the concept of the campaign.
The sales manager, from years of experience, can determine the best and most easily sellable features of the product. The resultant “sweet spots” are then used to craft a tailored, structured campaign to market and sell the product. Emails to drive phone calls, scripts to capture responses and reference material to overcome objections must all be in place before the campaign is launched.
The Model Sales Day
To reinforce the concept of a structured approach, a prototypical, model sales day is established. Sales people are encouraged to exhibit certain behaviors and accomplish certain goals. This will become the standard for this campaign and all subsequent ones.
Extraordinary salesmen do not live by the clock, they live by their results. Unfortunately, the less capable must be prodded into performing the bare minimum. In a well run sales office, eight hours of productivity is the minimum expectation of every sales associate.
Whether the activity is reactive, that is, answering phone calls or proactive in making them, a salesperson must be able to perform unsupervised, sales related activities for at least this amount of time. A competent sales manager will build incentives, specifically contests, around this framework but nothing replaces self-motivation.
The simple reality is that a sales manager must understand his team’s motivations and reward them appropriately. Similarly, he must judge them and let the laggards know that they are not producing.
Sales Metrics and Their Proper Use
Many sales teams suffer from the delusion that they are performing at an exceptionally high level even though management considers them as incompetent. This disconnect results from management’s unwillingness or inability to deliver constructive feedback about ongoing sales activities. Sales people must be told, directly and simply, how they are performing.
It is ignorant to deny that sales people are human with human motivations. They will always do what is easiest and what is in their best interest. It is management’s job to align the interests of the company with those interests of the salespeople. Only then will both enjoy an a mutually beneficial sales relationship.
It is an oft stated business mantra that revenue is king. This fact is highly questionable as many companies with billions in sales go out of business every year. This simplistic statement attempts to elucidate the fundamental truth that, in general, volume defines productivity. There are a multitude of other factors that determine if that volume is actually profitable, but that need not concern us here.
The real truth about inside sales is that everything is measurable and history provides a valuable guide to the future. In short, properly measured sales metrics never lie. In fact, targets can be set, met and overwhelmed. A good sales manager sets realistic goals with excellent compensation plans and lets nature take its course. True sales leaders naturally gravitate to good compensation plans and, like clockwork, both the sale person’s and the company’s goals are aligned.
Lagging vs. Leading Indicators
Obviously, everyone is interested in results. That’s what you get paid for. However, as a motivational tool, results are extremely inefficient as they are a lagging indicator of performance. You can analyze them until the end of time but there is no remedying the result. Instead, a good inside sales manager concentrates on leading sales indicators such as pipeline activity. These allow the manager and team to adjust to conditions on a day by day basis.
It may seem inconsequential and even tedious but tracking outbound sales calls and inbound responses yields significant and verifiable results. At the risk of beating a dead horse, insisting that sales people meet their hourly, daily and weekly quotas is just plain common sense. In addition, response to online activity is an excellent indicator of productivity. The fact that your customers have gone to the trouble to download a demo or send an email response indicates a higher than usual level of interest. It is imperative that a sales team capitalize on these opportunities.
Simply stated, the pipeline is the number of clients actively interested in the company’s product. There are various stages in the pipeline process, each stage indicates a progressively more interested customer and is therefore more likely to conclude in a sale.
Specifically, each stage has a certain likelihood of success regardless of the actions of the salesperson. Historical data will indicate this likelihood. The goal of the sales team is not to meet this expectation but to exceed it and the sales manager must set goals to promote this result.
A cultivated culture of competitiveness will communicate and reinforce these goals. Competitive salespeople want to be challenged. They want high goals to prove their mettle. Do not waste this mostvaluable asset, their enthusiasm, by setting goals at inordinately low levels. In short, define each goal, set the expectation or metric in written form and then hold your sales team accountable for reaching those goals.
Delivering daily feedback is immeasurably helpful. A simple whiteboard with posted results does this job quickly and admirably. Weekly results posted to the company intranet can fuel the team’s competitive spirit and the yearly recognition awards with their substantial bonus is always a reminder of good things to come for those who can produce.
Don’t forget that constructive feedback is far more helpful to your steady producers than to the laggards. People naturally know if they are performing or not. What they do with the information is the real test of their tenacity and commitment.
At some point, decisions must be made about underperformers. Allowing low performing salespeople to remain part of the team is results in lower morale, less enthusiasm and, yes, dare I say it, poorer overall revenue.
Sales metrics are the prudent sales manager’s tool for culling the herd and lessening his exposure to underachievers. Ninety days is a suitable time frame to determine whether or not a candidate can regularly meet their quota. In particular, leading indicators are just that when it comes to poor performers.
The Next Step
Now that you’ve built a successful team that has the desire, the work ethic and the ability to be taught, you need to arm them with the best sales tools. Check out “A Guide to Inside Sales, Part II - Equipping the Sales Team.”