Sales Success Comes through Attitude and Execution
By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD
People often ask, “How can I get more sales?” Increasing sales stands as a primary concern at most businesses. No one has ever told me their company closes all the deals they want.
I wish they would ask me easier questions: “How can I improve quality?” “How can I increase revenue?” “How can I reduce turnover?” I’ve dealt with all these issues, but the sales dilemma is trickier.
Sales managers seek a quick fix, a simple strategy. It’s as if they expect me to say, “Invest X dollars in Y process to produce Z sales.”
But there is no magic solution. If there were, I’d start a sales and marketing business. My clients would merely tell me their sales goals for the month, and I would fill their order. But it’s not that simple. Selling is complex.
Though there are many sales strategies and marketing channels to pick from, they don’t count for nearly as much as implementation. Implementation matters most.
The Sales and Marketing Success Formula
Here then is my ultimate sales and marketing success formula:
Sales and Marketing Success = Personnel + Attitude + Execution + Management
Sales staff is the first element in the success formula. Without the right people in place, nothing else matters. This starts with finding the ideal person for the job. Over the years, I’ve hired many salespeople.
What is true for all job candidates is even more valid for sales applicants: you see them at their absolute best during the interview. In fact, even mediocre salespeople know they must give their best sales performance during the interview. If they can’t sell themselves to you, how can they ever sell your product or service to someone else? To cut through all of this, I have a few key questions I like to ask sales candidates:
How much did you make at your last job? If they made six figures, but can only earn half that at your company, they’re unlikely to work out. They’ll be unhappy with their lower compensation, develop a negative attitude, and leave as soon as a better-paying job comes along.
Conversely, if they barely cracked the poverty level at their last position, they may be out of their league to produce at the level you expect. Ideally, their target compensation working for you should be 5 to 25 percent higher than what they made at their past job.
How much would you like to make at this job? The response to this is most telling. Why? Because if it’s unreasonably high, they won’t be satisfied working for you. On the other hand, if it’s lower than what you are prepared to pay, then they’ll coast once they hit their target compensation.
Look for a salary expectation that’s consistent with what you can deliver but will still motivate them.
Would you like to work straight commission? I don’t advocate that anyone earn a straight commission. However, I pose this question to throw them off track and gauge their response.
To make this work, don’t ask the question directly but back into it. If they’re at all good with sales, they will have already regaled you with their accomplishments, assured you that they’ll be your best salesperson ever, and pledged to produce at a level beyond your wildest expectations.
And, if they have moxie, they may even say you’d be foolish not to hire them or they may suggest your company will fail without them. (Yes, I’ve heard this from sales applicants.) Given all of this, they assert that you must pay them top dollar.
At this point, I lean forward and whisper, “I don’t normally offer this, but based on your track record and past performance, I think you’re worthy of special consideration. I suggest we consider a compensation plan where you’ll be highly rewarded for your results and given an open-ended opportunity to exceed your compensation goals.”
Then I pause before I ask, “How would you like to work for straight commission?”
First, watch if they can smoothly react to an unexpected question. Next, see how they retreat from their prior boasting. Often a more realistic picture emerges. Last, their counterproposal will reveal what they expect for base pay and how much they’re willing to put on the line in the form of commissions, incentives, and bonuses.
If this offer offends them, simply apologize and say that, based on what they said, you thought this idea would appeal to them.
Never once did I have a boastful sales candidate want to work for straight commission.
Having the right sales staff, however, is just the beginning of the success formula. They also need to have the right attitude. How many times have you seen salespeople talk themselves into a bad month?
The thinking goes like this: “Last year this month was bad. Is it always bad? I better brace myself for a bad month.” It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, and then they have a bad month.
Another self-defeating attitude is negativity. Consider, for example, the salesperson who says, “Direct mail? That won’t work!” And with that attitude, it never will. Or how about, “That didn’t work last time, and it’s not going to work now!”
Are they willing to try new things? If they’re open to innovative ideas, then they have a much greater chance of success than if they’re closed-minded.
Strangely, all too many salespeople would rather continue to do what has failed in the past than try something new.
Linked to attitude in our success formula is the proper execution. In fact, without the right attitude, successful execution is impossible. I’ve seen ideal marketing plans flop because of poor execution. Conversely, I’ve seen the most ill-conceived strategies succeed brilliantly because the sales team diligently, steadfastly, and consistently implemented them.
Quite simply, there needs to be a plan. Then meticulously follow the plan. And hold those involved accountable for their work. This brings up the fourth element: management.
The glue that holds the success formula together is management. Good management starts with hiring the right salespeople, giving them excellent training, providing them with proper compensation, and motivating them to produce.
Follow this with a sound marketing plan and a supportive environment in which to implement it. Finally, sales management means an ongoing time investment to encourage, observe, teach, and adjust what your sales staff does.
Succinctly put, management keeps them on task and holds them accountable.
Seldom is a salesperson successful without ongoing managerial attention. They need encouragement when they are down and applause when they make a sale. Keep them responsible for their schedule and liable for their results. This takes considerable time and effort. As such, proper sales management is not just one more hat to wear, but a full-time job.
Successfully managing salespeople is challenging work. It takes time, perseverance, and dedication. But then, don’t all things that are worthwhile?
Sales Management Success Tip
Find the weak link in your company’s success formula. Then implement a plan to fix it.
Peter Lyle DeHaan is an entrepreneur and businessman who has managed, owned, and started multiple businesses over his career. Common themes at every turn have included customer service, sales and marketing, and leadership and management.
He shares his lifetime of business experience and personal insights through his books to encourage, inspire, and occasionally entertain.