Selling Microsoft

Building a Sales Team That Manages Itself

Turn your company's benchwarmers into sales scorers with these tips.

It's the dream of every Microsoft partner's sales leadership: "We'll hire the best people and let them go sell so that we can focus on running the business. After all, they should know what to do."

As a result, many fall into the same trap: They hire those salespeople, turn their own attention to other aspects of the business and then check in months later to find a disturbing lack of results.

The good news: It is possible to turn that dream of a self-managed, high-performance sales team into reality. But doing so requires a well-coordinated approach, and success depends upon clearly defining expectations and providing salespeople with the tools they need to reach their goals.

Any effective self-management initiative will be based on these three assumptions:

  1. Assuming that salespeople can manage themselves with no direction will lead to failure. A completely hands-off approach will result in missed opportunities, untapped markets, wasted sales and marketing budgets and cash-flow problems.
  2. Failing to set clear expectations will create frustration for everyone. Managers and salespeople must agree upon targets for monthly and quarterly activity levels and well-defined margin/revenue goals.
  3. Pledging to "inspect what you expect" is critical for self-management success. This means validating that all salespeople can sell, understand your offerings and represent your organization professionally. When combined with a couple of simple tools, this mindset ensures that your sales team is as effective as possible.

Begin by having salespeople create individual, six-month business plans describing their goals, training needs, quotas and forecasts as defined by specific clients and products. Plans should also include sales-activity goals and coordinating local marketing activities with Microsoft marketing programs. This creates a road map that everyone can review regularly to gauge progress.

Next, have each salesperson prepare a quarterly account-planning document listing up to five specific steps or methods for opening or further penetrating specific accounts. This tool allows salespeople to define important aspects of each account, including key contacts, competition and past successes. With that information, they can develop account strategies, including specific sales tactics to be executed during the time covered by the plan.

It is possible to turn that dream of a self-managed, high-performance sales team into a reality.

These tools allow managers to monitor current -- as well as past -- performance, measuring results against each salesperson's desired objectives and coaching as necessary. They can also help ensure that your sales organization is consistently building pipeline values that provide enough prospect opportunity to exceed individual quotas or personal goals. Everyone understands what's supposed to happen; everyone can monitor how well current activity measures up to planned approaches and results.

Because these tools are developed by individuals, salespeople will "own" their activities and can work steadily toward achieving their goals. At that point, they become self-managed.

Finally, salespeople should meet with key management-team members, including the CFO and vice presidents of marketing and production, to review the new processes. Individual salespeople should also present their business and account plans to their colleagues to document their commitment to the team and create potential for collaboration and even a little peer pressure.

These personalized plans' real power becomes evident when they're measured against actual performance. When salespeople face quarterly reviews in which they must discuss how successfully they met their targets and recommit to their new plans, they truly "get it." They understand what it takes to achieve their goals and how specific planning leads to improved performance. As you lead them through this process, you'll see self-management take hold, moving from concept to practice -- and from dream to reality.

About the Author

Ken Thoreson is managing director of the Acumen Management Group Ltd., a North American consulting organization focused on improving sales management functions within growing and transitional organizations. You can reach him at ken@acumenmgmt.com.

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