Sales Standards for Better Sales Results
By Bryan Feller
The vast majority of sales teams today work without a plan. In a
basically hit-or-miss environment, it’s amazing when they actually
land sales contracts. Even when a sales force is hitting quota,
company management often believes that they are operating at a
fraction of their potential.
The bottom line is that sales is not the disciplined group of
professionals that management wants them to be. Many people
attribute this lack of discipline to the “sales personality,” and
argue that attempting to infuse order and structure into their world
would surely result in failure. Management, however, understands
that absence of order in the sales team is one of the highest
opportunity costs in the organization.
The Power of Sales Standards:
Is there a way to put discipline into the sales function without
breaking its spirit? Won’t discipline kill the motivation of a good
Good sales people are typically high-energy, relationship-oriented
people with a low tolerance for structure. Their talents lie in
handling the nuances of multiple relationships in an uncertain and
dynamic environment. It’s hard to be successful while following
strict (and restrictive) rules in a high-stakes game with shifting
goals, fierce competition, and multiple layers of decision makers,
influencers, and spoilers to navigate.
Sales Standards are the answer. Sales Standards are not policies and
procedures. They are a set of best practices, lessons learned, and
minimal operating procedures that help create discipline and that
form the baseline for team learning. They offer the right structure
for high performance as well as discipline, and also allow the
freedom to adapt and improvise as needed.
The Seven Building Blocks of Good Sales Standards:
Sales Standards can take many forms. To be effective, they have
these common sections:
This section discusses the corporation, areas of business, and
strategy. It needs to tie corporate strategy to a compelling
“dream” that can really motivate the sales team.
This section covers “how things work” with topics such as
territories, marketing support, team procedures, and performance
measurement. “Sales operations rhythm” is a key topic. It
defines the timing, tone and objectives of periodic sales
meetings. It also includes the manner and method of management
spot checks. Another key topic in this section covers coaching
to support their continued development. A coaching standard that
includes simple forms and steps can ensure that coaching takes
place on an ongoing basis.
Getting the right people on the bus (and the wrong ones off) is
one of the easiest ways to improve the performance of the whole
sales force. This section of your Sales Standards should spell
out in detail how you market for new sales positions, what
pre-hire assessments you use, the interview process, structured
interview questions for each step of the process, and the
hands-on skill demonstration tests candidates must pass.
Tools & Technology.
This section outlines the basics of your sales management
software system, and is as much about data entry consistency as
about instruction. The important items to include here are
screenshots and how-to’s for entering new prospects into the
system, forecasting, contact management, report creation, and
any other key system use.
There is no one right way to prospect; different personality
styles are better at different approaches. This section should
contain all of the “best practices” your team uses, directly
from the people who have been successful using them.
The Engagement Cycle.
This section should diagram the critical milestones in your
engagement or sales cycle. It should also provide guidelines for
account management. This helps everyone who touches the customer
coordinate with each other in order to win the sale.
This section covers how to qualify prospects, position your
services, and close business. It should include lists of
questions to use at each stage of the sales cycle and for
approaching different types of buyers. It should also include
“how to” scripts for positioning your products, selling against
competitors, as well as closing techniques.
You Have Them, Now Use Them:
When you have completed your Sales Standards, make the document
tangible. Print, bind, and distribute it the “old fashioned” way.
Use version numbers with different covers for new iterations, and
make sure people destroy or return old copies. People will take the
document far more seriously when formal updates are employed. You
can have an electronic version on your intranet, but this is not a
substitute for the printed document.
When you are ready to launch your Sales Standards, hold a series of
meetings with your team to review the document. Expect resistance,
but don’t succumb to it. If you don’t take communicate clearly at
this point, no one will take the standards seriously, and you won’t
establish the discipline you want to achieve.
Refer back to the standards in every meeting. If an issue is not
addressed in the standards, add it to the document. If there are
loopholes that allow individuals to take advantage of others on the
team, close those loopholes. If you have a recurring problem with
poor coordination between sales and service, send the team back to
the standards the next time the issue comes up. After a while,
people will catch on and get in the habit of referring to the
standards when resolving issues.
Create a standards review committee that meets at an interval
appropriate for your business. Their role is to review and update
the standards based on feedback from the sales team. This helps
establish the Sales Standards as the primary repository for best
practices and lessons learned.
These tips for creating and using Sales Standards will go a long way
toward decreasing the opportunity cost of an undisciplined sales
team. Over time, you will see measurable benefits that provide a
clear return on the time and energy spent on this key element of an
effective sales force.
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