A strategically balanced performance management plan is a key component of effective sales management. The most successful approach not only enables sales managers to identify opportunities for team improvement based on analyzing past activities and results, but to also identify preemptive action steps and strategies that can impact future results.
Avoiding the Rear View Mirror
Managers who place all or too much focus on analyzing past performance and then initiating improvement plans after-the-fact miss the opportunity to salvage what otherwise might be a sub-standard month, quarter or trimester.
Circumstances and competitive offerings within the marketplace are constantly changing. While the practice of reviewing past performance and using the data as part of a performance improvement plan is necessary, this “rear-view-mirror” approach can be costly (in terms of lost opportunities) if it encompasses ones entire sales management approach.
While there are different ways to accomplish a more balanced approach or sales management system, here’s a well tested example consisting of five key components:
- Team building and team motivation are best accomplished when addressing the team in group mode. Therefore, planning and conducting regular team meetings is the first component of the system. Meetings should be scheduled at regular intervals – i.e., weekly, bi-weekly – and conducted on the same day and time each week or month. All team members must attend.
The manager must create a compelling agenda for each meeting, and must keep the discussion at “group” level – individual issues or strategies will be addressed in step #2. In addition, the material presented must be value-added so the team leaves each meeting with practical, useful information that will help them sell more, improve customer relationships, maintain a positive attitude and be more aware of the big picture.
The best method we’ve seen to accomplish this on a consistent basis is very simple – create and work with an “agenda template” and create each meeting’s agenda day-by-day, adding relevant information based on input from senior management, personal experience, observing Reps in the field, research and interaction with external resources and contacts.
- The second step involves scheduling regular individual (one-on-one) strategy or coaching sessions with each team member. These should also be scheduled at regular intervals and conducted in a consistent manner. The most successful managers create a regular “mini-agenda” for these sessions, so that in addition to addressing specific situations or customer issues that might arise, every discussion also includes a review of the key metrics associated with your organization’s sales process, such as call volume, key account visits, pipeline status and so on.
A specific action plan should be set at the end of each session. The manager should follow-up on this plan (see step #4 below) regularly, and should also begin the next session with a review of the previous meeting’s action plan.
- Step three requires the manager to spend at least one day per month in the field with each field-based sales person or working side-by-side with inside sales reps. Some managers will spend portions of days with various reps, and this is an acceptable alternative if geography makes it feasible. Either way, it is important for sales managers to observe sales people in the field. The practice provides unique insight into each Rep’s skill level, development needs, attitude and work ethic, and also keeps sales managers in touch with the marketplace and with the sales process. Field time also enables managers to develop relationships with key contacts within key accounts, which can be significant in times of Rep transition or turnover.
Field observation days also serve as a great source of input for team meeting agendas. If one Rep is having trouble with a specific aspect of the process, it is likely other Reps are struggling in the same way – addressing these real world challenges in a group environment often promotes creative thinking across the team, and promotes team spirit as well.
- Step four requires sales managers to make proactive contacts with Reps on a seemingly spontaneous basis. Many people compare this to Hewlett Packard’s well-known practice of Management By Walking Around (MBWA).
Given the structural variations associated with a sales division or team, these interactions can consist of phone calls, emails, texts, voice mails or personal visits. The only two requirements are that they be initiated by the manager and that they include an inquiry based on interest (rather than confirming compliance) about at least one specific activity that the manager and Rep had previously discussed – possibly a big sales presentation or appointment, the resolution of a customer service issue, etc.
The practical value of these impromptu inquiries can be immense, as they impact both results and attitude – Rep’s generally appreciate their manager’s interest, which tends to reaffirm the importance of the Rep’s work and effort. However, for this step to be effective the manager must be careful to send the right implied message – that is, the inquiry is being made in an effort to help or due to interest (or both), and not to confirm compliance or to check-up on the Rep’s work.
- The final step is to create an organizational system to keep track of these activities. Many managers use a simple spreadsheet with multiple tabs. Others, who are more field-based, use a three-ring binder with tabbed sections. Either option is effective as long as it is kept up to date. Some of the best systems include the managers “to do” list, which promotes daily use of the organizational tool.
Because the sales process takes place in so many diverse locations (customer offices, prospect offices, restaurants, on the phone, electronically, at networking events, and so on), and because it involves so many different people with varying needs, it is essential for sales managers to keep track of a wide range of activities as well as team morale and work ethic.
In an article published by about.com, Human Resources, HR Expert Susan Heathfield said, “…the true goal of the performance appraisal is employee development and organizational improvement…, [so] consider moving to a performance management system.”
By taking a systematic as well as balanced approach to performance management, and by assessing what has “been done” as well as what is “being done,” managers can maximize the impact of their efforts on sales Rep development as well as sales results.