Essential tips for leading your sales team

By Henry Brown

Whether you operate in the digital realm or in the sphere that the cool kids call meatspace…there’s a good chance that your business involves the selling of something. Whether it’s a product you manufacture or merely your expertise, it’s likely that you employ a team of dedicated professionals to drive sales and propel your business towards success.

To some extent outstanding sales professionals are not made, they are born. They have a certain set of skills that are innate. They have confidence yet are not bullish. They have extraordinary intuition that allows them to instantly glean a customer’s needs, personality and negotiation style with unnerving accuracy. Sales is both an art and a science, a skill and a talent. But while sales professionals tend to be fairly self-sufficient, they tend to need to be marshaled in order to become a cohesive team. Here are a few tips on how best to lead your sales force.

Give them incentives that reward cohesion

Salespeople tend to think of themselves as autonomous units, and many sales team models actively encourage this mode of thinking. Whether they’re with you in the office or out on the road, they can come to consider themselves islands. They concern themselves only with their targets, their bonuses, their leads and their customers. When this happens you may have one or two sales professionals who are consistently high earners at the expense of the rest of your team.

They will see their fellow salespeople not as colleagues but as competitors. They will not stop to help a colleague who is lagging behind on his/her targets and may even actively try to poach leads or undercut others’ deals.

This can lead to a lack of cohesion, an unsatisfied majority of your team and uneven results for you.

With this in mind, it might be worth reconsidering your incentives and bonus structure. Even if you don’t take individual bonuses and incentives off the table, you could consider supplementing them with team-based incentives to encourage your team to share leads, trade tips and engender peer mentoring.

Give them an infrastructure for efficiency

Efficiency is the key to productivity in all of your departments, but it’s particularly important for sales teams. Every minute they waste is a minute that they can’t spend making money for your enterprise. It’s up to you to establish an infrastructure that encourages and rewards efficiency. This can mean a number of things, from ensuring that they have a comfortable working environment that’s conducive to concentration to having the right CRM for the needs of your business. It can mean giving them the flexibility to work from your office or on the road. If they are on the road, it can mean giving them a WatchCard so they don’t have to waste time driving around to find the right gas station. It can mean taking steps to measure, quantify and improve the efficiency of your pipeline. Salespeople are fairly self-sufficient but it’s still in your best interests to ensure they have everything they need to operate efficiently and smash their targets.

Build accountability into your processes

In today’s fast paced and extremely competitive business climate, no enterprise can afford to alienate repeat customers. After all, it costs five times as much to acquire a new customer as it costs to retain an existing one. As such, your sales team needs to have its sights set not simply on closing deals and shifting units, but also on ensuring absolute customer satisfaction. Gone are the days when a salesperson could make the sale at any cost and then worry about the consequences later.

Quite simply, there’s a reason why productions of Glengarry Glen Ross are not set in the modern day. In the digital age, businesses are far more accountable to their customers, and as such, your sales team needs to be more accountable, too. Many industries, like the auto industry, tie their customer satisfaction targets intrinsically to their sales targets. Thus, if a salesperson closes a deal, but receives poor results on the ensuing Customer Satisfaction Survey, they do not get their commission.

Lead, rather than micromanaging

As we’ve discussed previously, many sales professionals have an autonomous mindset and take some conditioning to settle into a team dynamic. However, if there’s one thing that will stifle a talented salesperson, it’s having the boss standing over their shoulder all the time. Small businesses tend to have smaller and more intimate working environments, but even if you share a small physical space, you need to give your team room to work their magic.

Micromanagement is a bad habit that should be avoided at all costs. While it usually comes from a place of deep care, passion and pride (after all, you want to make sure that everything is done in accordance with the values of your brand), it can really inhibit the performance and growth of your employees. What’s more, it can draw your attention away from the more strategic elements of running your business.

Lead, inspire and instruct when necessary, but never micromanage.

Don’t be afraid to get rid of toxic employees just because they make money

Some employees look great on paper. They have sterling sales records, they’re motivated, they’re charming and they know all the right things to say on paper. But when they start working for you, you realize that beneath their charming veneer lie some toxic attitudes and habits that can poison your team dynamic. They may be selfish, inconsiderate, unable to embrace teamwork and create discord in an otherwise harmonious workplace. They may make money for you in the short term, but employees like this are never conducive to long-term stability or growth. Let them go!

When properly marshaled, your sales force can propel your small business to extraordinary heights!


Henry Brown is an online marketing executive. When he isn’t talking shop, he’s roaming the streets of London, uncovering the extra-ordinary in the ordinary.

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