When sales stop, so does your business. And regardless of your organization's structure, those who perform the sales function must be nurtured because the activity of sales is wrought with failure, rejection, and frustration. To keep salespeople engaged, they must be encouraged and supported.
What follows is a list of operating principles that have been helpful to many organizations. See if any would be beneficial to your sales team.
1. Establish a "reality" perspective. I recently came across as quote attributed to Michael Jordon, the basketball superstar who owns seven championship rings. The quote says "I've missed more than 9,000 shots. I've lost nearly 300 games. I've missed 26 game-winning shots. I've failed over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed." The idea is that success does not come without failure.
This mindset also has a parallel in baseball. All baseball players go to the plate expecting to get a hit, but even the best hitters succeed only one time in three. The key to success is consistent effort, no matter what the most recent results. Think if of it this way: The best hitters in baseball fail two-thirds of the time.
In the same way, sales people should expect a sale with every presentation but accept the failures that inevitably occur. Success comes from not giving up.
2. Provide specific encouragement. Paired with the need to keep a reality perspective is the need for encouragement. As mentioned, salespeople encounter rejection on a regular basis, so keeping them encouraged is vital. Mark Twain may have been able to "live for two months on one good compliment", but my wager is that salespeople need to hear encouragement more often than that.
The key here is to make your encouragement specific. Avoid the generic "good job" or the Vince Lombardi "Get out there and do it" hoo-rah. Instead use phrases like "I really like the way you're doing 'X' lately," or "you showed a lot of perseverance landing that account."
Specific encouragement (especially from the boss) is fuel for a salesperson's soul. It takes extra effort to notice and mention these specifics, but the results are worth it.
3. Treat your team as a team. Pitting one sales person against another to foster competition (and hopefully increase sales) is a quick way to create division, passive-aggressiveness, and strife. Therefore, eliminate internal competition and position your sales staff as being on the same team.
Yes, doing this requires more thinking (ie, more work), but sales teams do better over the long run when they function as a team, not when they're avoiding opportunities to help someone else make a sale. Take time to focus your words and attitude on a team concept, and develop ways to reward team behavior.
Granted, it's much easier to set up internal competition, and doing so can often provide quick results. But team thinking gets much better results in the long term, so stay vigilant. To help, make this one of your mantras: The other company is the competition, not the coworkers!
4. Eliminate the question "why?" Although it's quick and efficient, the word "why" is a trigger word that usually puts people on the defensive. Besides, it's often used to focus solely on what's already happened, and none of that can be changed. Asking questions with "what" and "how" often requires more work (and are therefore less efficient), but they're practically guaranteed to be more effective.
Example: Instead of asking a salesperson "why didn't he buy?" (which is easy and efficient), a more effective (and probably more accurate) question is "what were the person's main objections?" The purpose of both questions is to identify the path needed to educate the customer and minimize his or her fear of buying. The problem is that the "why" question puts your salesperson on the defensive, whereas the "what" question makes it more conversational and works better to move the sale along.
5. Keep it fun. The task of selling is often accompanied by pressure and negativity, but the burden to produce and the continual rejection can be offset with good-natured humor and a light atmosphere. By developing and nurturing an atmosphere of fun, your salespeople get reinvigorated and enjoy coming to work.
If you know your sense of humor is akin to wet cardboard, seek out a class on stand-up comedy. You probably won't get your own late night talk show, but the skills you learn will add greatly to your ability to keep things fun. I know several people who have done this with great success.
Bottom line: The principles on this list require exerting more effort than the easy, efficient practices that are commonly used. But if you want the results your team is capable of producing, you'll find the time and effort to be worth it.