While I’m writing this article for sales managers, the information it contains is targeted at salespeople – your salespeople.
To a great extent, the North American educational system does a fine job at preparing people to become employees, although some people might argue otherwise. There is nothing wrong with this approach to education because most people end up as employees somewhere.
To be successful in sales, however, it’s best to have a bit of an entrepreneurial flair, combined with some business knowledge, something that’s not generally taught in our school system.
Running Your Own Business
The best salespeople know that they are running a small business within a business. As a sole proprietorship, you might call it “Me Inc.” Or they may be running a partnership in which case it’s called, “Me, Myself, & I Associates.”
Smart salespeople know how lucky they are. Here is an organization (your company) that is prepared to back them in setting up their own little sales business. You give them a protected territory and a good product or service to sell. You even give them seed capital in the form of a salary or draw against commissions to hold them over until the sale is complete. You also provide all the administrative support to help them run their little businesses. What’s more, as their sales manager, you sit on their board of directors and are there to offer assistance and guidance to help them be as successful as they can be. What more could a small businessperson ask for?
Anyone who has run his or her own business knows how challenging it can be and that, as the owner, you put in long hours and lots of extra effort. Good salespeople can and will do the same.
Categories of Salespeople
I tend to put people in one of three categories: people who make things happen, people who watch things happen, and people who wonder what’s happening.
Salespeople can fall into these three categories as well. We have the go-getters who can smell an opportunity a mile (or kilometre) away and go after it with a keen sense of purpose. Then we have the salesperson with a poor sense of smell who doesn’t mind walking a couple of blocks if you assure him that it’s a sure sale. Finally, we have the salesperson who smells bad, struggles to find the door let alone a sales opportunity, and who is quite satisfied to take an order if one comes along.
As sales managers, we always strive to build a team of salespeople who fall into the top category. And if you ever have a team that consists solely of top performers, immediately go out and buy a lottery ticket because this is your lucky day! Most of us are going to have a sales team that is a mix of the three types of salespeople. Those salespeople who fall in the top two categories are your best bet for people who are prepared to see themselves as being semi-self-employed within your organization.
Building Their Businesses
There are a number of things you can do to nurture this concept within the team. First, have a discussion about the concept of seeing themselves as mini-businesses. Show them the parallels between what they do now and the running of a small business. Help them see that it is in their (and your) best interest when they maximize their sales efforts and minimize expenses.
They need to have an even better appreciation for how they manage their time and their sales. They need to look at every opportunity to make sure that the efforts required to make the sale are worth the return. Profitable businesses think in terms of profits, not just gross sales, and it’s the same with good salespeople. They don’t want to spend time on an opportunity that isn’t profitable, no matter how large the gross dollar value. Give them the tools to do this properly.
Things to Do
First of all, make sure most of your people are on board with the concept. Not everyone will buy in and that’s not important because the others will eventually come around when they see the success of others.
Secondly, ask them what they need to get on with the running of their mini-businesses and do your best to accommodate them. Of course, you will get some outlandish requests. Salespeople are like that. In fact, some are like children and they’ll push until you establish the limits. Salespeople and businesspeople never get everything they ask for but they’ve learned that it never hurts to ask.
Third, provide continuing guidance but avoid micro-managing. As a sales manager, part of your function is to act as a resource, coach, and mentor to the team. It’s okay to tell people what needs to be done but once you go beyond that and start telling people how to do things, you’re in danger of micro-managing and that really annoys people with an entrepreneurial bent. Be a leader and assist, don’t tell; and guide, don’t manage. Remember, we manage processes, but we lead people.
Those salespeople who embrace the concept of Me Inc., are likely to find new freedom and be quite excited about managing themselves for increased productivity. Plus, their income is likely to reflect their successes and this also means an impact on your company’s bottom line.
The salespeople who aren’t too sure about the concept just yet and who are watching things happen are likely to come around as they see the success that others are having. By the way, it only takes one or two of your people to take up the challenge and start having some solid successes before the others come online.
Hopefully, any of your salespeople who fall into my third category (wondering what’s happening) may actually move up the list and become better performing members of the team. What have you got to lose?