For a time, I attached the following quotation to my e-mails: “Never confuse activity with results.” (Lou Gerstner, CEO of IBM) While this applies to every person in your company, today I am going to focus on the sales force. During the last 7 years I have met and worked with hundreds of Chief Executive Officers. Regardless of whether their sales growth was high or low, many of them had the potential to double and triple that growth. The scary part is that most of them did not know it.
The most common thief of sales growth is distraction. Based on my experience, I estimate that on average, employees lose 40% of their time to distractions. This number ranges between 30% and 60%, depending on the company they work for, and can reach as high as 70%, depending on the individual. Distractions can be classified into two types: 1) leadership and organization; and 2) individual-specific. The leadership and organization distractions can be categorized into poor sales support, customer service mishaps, products that do not meet client needs, bad sales management, and poor communications. “Individual-specific” distractions refer to daily mental or situational conditions faced by the salesperson.
Part I deals with leadership and organization because these have a more dramatic impact on growth than most companies realize. Most companies’ systems and processes do not allow their salespeople to run at full stride, and in many cases hold them back. What is your senior management team doing to help remove distractions that interfere with the performance of your sales force? You should be holding weekly meetings to address the issues, and here are a few of the questions that need to be answered:
- What product issues regularly come up that your salespeople have to continually address?
- What customer service and account maintenance issues do your salespeople regularly deal with that you can assign to someone else so your salespeople can spend more time qualifying, hunting, and closing?
- When you listen to your salespeople, can you identify some of the personal biases that affect their sales performance and could be remedied through coaching?
- Does your compensation system motivate your salespeople, or is it a distraction?
- Which of your people were hiring mistakes and are taking too much time to manage?
- Is your sales manager demotivating your salespeople, and is he/she a good manager?
- Does your sales manager spend at least 80% of the time managing, and, within that 80%, is the right amount spent coaching, motivating, holding salespeople accountable, and recruiting new salespeople?
Ultimately, your organizational processes and systems need to be established in such a way that you hire, develop, and support top performers. Success can grow dramatically by removing distractions and keeping your salespeople focused on selling. I find that many organizations unwittingly do the opposite, thus compromising growth. While we cannot win every sale, every minute spent by a salesperson on a distraction is a guaranteed no sale. Please stay tuned for part two of this article which will focus on the “individual-specific” distractions that affect your salespeople.