How to Avoid the Dull Sales Axe

I’ve been in sales for over 40 years now and, near as I can figure, salespeople only sell about five percent of the time! Oh, they’re all busy doing things, but selling isn’t one of them. They visit prospects, deliver literature, chat about the weather and sports, and talk about their weekend. When they can’t visit prospects, they send emails, network, surf the Internet, whatever.

It’s not that they’re lazy, or that they don’t want to do their job. Sometimes they simply lose their prime focus (selling) and find a thousand other things to occupy their day.

How about your salespeople?

Drifting in the Breeze

Some salespeople are like leaves in a light breeze. When they depart the office in the morning, they flutter off to wherever the first wind takes them.

Others have a great sense of direction and purpose. They know exactly where they’re going and what they’ll do when they get there. The only problem is that it often has little to do with their primary function – selling.

Before I continue, let’s pause here for a brief definition of selling:

Activities that cause the prospect to react favorably and profitably to your firm — a reaction that would not have occurred without your salesperson’s involvement.

Note the words favorably and profitably and without your salesperson’s involvement.

Sure, the prospect might be favorably impressed because the salesperson personally dropped off some information, but was it profitable to the firm? A courier or the postal service could do the same thing. Did the salesperson’s involvement really make a difference or was he nothing more than a talking catalogue?

Salespeople don’t deliberately set out to waste time. If asked, they will have a reason or rationalization for doing something that might be considered non-productive. Often salespeople don’t make the best use of their time because they haven’t honestly assessed what they’re doing and haven’t made the necessary changes for improvement.

That’s where a good sales manager/coach is critical. Not the kind that dumps on his team whenever business is slow, but the kind that will support his team’s personal sales goals and helps them find ways to reach them – a sales manager that will help his people work smarter rather than just harder.

Dull Axes

I’m reminded of the tale of the woodsman who stopped from time to time to sharpen his axe. He was far more productive than the other woodsman who continued to chop away at the trees long after his axe became dull and ineffective.

Are your salespeople’s axes getting dull?

Let’s face it, they probably all like to think that they’re doing their job exceedingly well and that they’re worth every penny you pay them. The truth is that often they could be doing their job even better.

So what can you do about it?

How to Sharpen the Axe

The very least you can do is set some measurable targets for your people so they can track their achievements. If you can’t easily set sales targets, then set activity targets. This means measuring the activities that will lead to higher sales.

For example, if I set a monthly sales target of $100,000, I may or may not be able to reach it. But I can do the activities that will cause it to happen.

If my average sale is $10,000, I know that I need 10 sales to make the target. If my closing ratio in 50%, I know I need to find 20 good prospects each month. If it takes me 5 calls to find one good prospect, I know that I have to make at least 100 calls to get my 20 good prospects. So I set my activity target at 5 calls per working day.

Is this guaranteed to work? No – but at least it gets me started in the right direction. Hey, even something as simple as a post-it note on the bathroom mirror to remind you of your daily commitment can make a difference.

This is where personal integrity and the sales profession meet. Salespeople can continue to kid themselves into thinking they’re doing their best, or they can take a step back and realize that they can do even better. It’s your job as sales manager to help them take that step back.

Unfortunately, you may find that some of your people ARE doing their best and it’s just that their best isn’t good enough. That’s when you may need an axe of a different type!

The Bottom Line

Help your salespeople sharpen their sales axe. Encourage them to be as good as they can be. Help them refocus their energies on what will make them and your organization profitable.

Help them make a difference to your company, to the sales profession and, most of all, to themselves. The company will grow, you’ll feel good, and they’ll thank you for it.