to Get 'Em to Do What You Want 'Em to.
That's probably the question I'm asked more than any
other. Frustrated distributor CEO's and sales managers
express that thought over and over, in one way or
another. They're talking about their salespeople, of
course. They harbor a feeling that some of their
salespeople just aren't doing what they want them to do,
and they don't know what to do about it.
If that thought occasionally passes through your mind,
"What do you want them to do?" I often reply.
At this point, you're probably thinking, "What an
obvious question. We want them to sell a lot, of
But that response is too vague and coarse to hold any
real meaning in today's world. A few years ago, it was
OK to direct your salespeople to "Go forth and sell
a lot," but today that direction is not sufficient.
Salespeople are capable of more than that. And, the
world in which your company operates has changed
significantly in the last few years. Our economy has
grown increasingly complex, many markets are maturing,
the demands and expectations of your customers are
growing, your customers' choices of ways to satisfy
their needs are multiplying, and information technology
is growing more powerful and user friendly. All that
means that you need to more finely direct your sales
force than at any time in the past. Successful sales
management in the approaching 21st century world
requires a more sophisticated answer from you than just
"Go forth and sell."
I learned that lesson the hard way in my days as a
distributor rep. I was doing a great job selling in my
largest account. That one customer accounted for about
30% of my total volume. Sales were increasing monthly,
and my visibility and influence in the account was
growing. If my boss wanted me to "Go forth and sell
a lot," I was doing it!
Then, one dismal Monday afternoon, I was sheepishly
greeted by my primary contact person, and informed that
I was to see the Director of Purchasing. The news from
the director was short and to the point. The Materials
Manager had signed a prime vendor contract with my
arch-competitor. Over the next 90 days, they would be
fazing out all of my business and turning it over to my
competitor. All of my contact people were disappointed
and not in favor of this move, but it had been
negotiated by people in higher places.
The moral of the story? I was doing a great job of
"going forth and selling a lot." But I should
have been getting to know the administrative people and
my contact's bosses. If I had been directed to do that,
instead of being focused on getting the easiest sales, I
may have been able to ward off the end-around by the
I realize that a case could be made that I should have
known to do that on my own. After all, don't good
salesmen know to do those kinds of things? No. I didn't,
and I was a heavy hitter, high-income straight
commission salesman. But I was driven by a straight
commission compensation program that rewarded me for
gross profits in the short term, and I never thought to
cover all my bases by calling on my customers' bosses.
But that's just one example. Here's another. One of my
clients owns a small but rapidly growing equipment
distributorship. Every month his salespeople must count
certain pieces of equipment in their territories. Each
month he selects a piece of equipment, and requires his
sales force to count how many of those there are, where
they are, how old they are, what brand they are, and
when they are scheduled to be replaced.
He uses that information to make territory and product
line forecasts, as well as a basis for developing more
sophisticated joint marketing plans with his
partner-vendors. I'm sure you'll agree -- that's good
information to have. But don't the salespeople do those
kinds of things on their own? Do they really need that
kind of precise direction from management?
Take a little self-test. Consider each of your
salespeople, one at a time. Ask yourself, "Is
...(salesperson's name).... systematically collecting
that kind of market information on his or her own?"
If your answer is a 100% "yes," will you
please write to me so that I can note your sales force
as the single national exception?
Those two examples illustrate just two of hundreds of
possible behaviors you could expect from your sales
force. In each case, the company's long-term strategic
interests were best served by directing the sales force
to behaviors that probably wouldn't happen in the
absence of that direction.
So, the first step in getting your sales people "to
do what you want'em to," is to decide "what
you want'em to do."
Ideally, those things proceed directly from your
strategic plan. For example, if your strategic plan says
that you want to penetrate a new market segment, then
you should expect your salespeople to make X calls per
month on that segment, or create X new customers within
that segment, or do X amount of sales with that segment,
or achieve X amount of gross profit with that segment.
The first step is to develop your strategic plan, and
then to create expectations for your sales force that
directly support that strategic plan.
What, you don't have a strategic plan? That's too bad,
you're definitely at a disadvantage. But, you're not
disqualified. Just start at step two, and create precise
expectations for your sales force. Develop a list of the
three to ten most important things you want them to do.
Bringing in a certain amount of sales or gross profits
should be one of them, but only one of them.
Next, make sure that your list of expectations are
easily, accurately and fairly measurable. This can be
difficult. Much of your ability to manage your sales
force depends on your ability to measure sales
If you're highly automated and use effective sales force
software, it'll be a snap. If you're not effectively
automated, it'll be much more difficult. For example,
one of my clients wanted his sales force to call on new
prospects. His business was growing, and his salespeople
were happy. But he was sure that there was additional
market share to be had in accounts that were not being
cultivated. He felt his straight commissioned
salespeople were content to call on their friends, and
weren't doing the harder work of calling on new
prospects. He wasn't automated, and didn't believe his
veteran sales force would accurately and thoroughly
complete weekly call reports.
His sales cycle (capital equipment) was long, and he
didn't want to wait until he saw actual sales numbers.
Those sales could occur 12 to 18 months after the first
sales call. He determined to measure his sales forces'
activity, (calling on new prospects) not the results
(sales to new prospects).
We struggled with a way to easily, fairly and accurately
measure the activity of calling on new prospects. As we
discussed the possibilities, we realized that every
customer's name was on the database. We also noted that
every quote was produced by a sales assistant in the
office, who typed each quote individually for all the
Bingo! Suppose we had the sales assistant keep track of
quotes made to companies not on the database?
We couldn't measure sales calls made to prospects, but
we could measure the next best thing -- quotes made to
new prospects. The system would be easy, accurate, and
Having decided that, it was an easy step to give each
salesperson a quarterly expectation for the number of
"quotes made to new prospects." Our strategic
initiative, "Gain market share," turned into a
measurable expectation for each salesperson,
"Generate X quotes per month to prospects not on
Let's review: Step one, develop a strategic plan. Step
two, create a set of the 3 - 10 most important sales
behaviors. Step three, fine tune them until they are
easily, fairly and accurately measurable.
Here's step four: Measure and reward the behavior you
want. That can mean anything from publishing and posting
those numbers every month, to revising your compensation
formula, to making their pay dependent on performance of
those activities. For example, you could measure the
performance of the entire sales force each month, and
post it conspicuously for everyone to see. In my
business, we measure five sales activities, combine the
individual numbers, and post the composites for everyone
to see. We post monthly totals, year to date, this
year's goals, and last year's monthly totals, year to
date, this year's goals, and last year's numbers.
As an alternative, you may measure and post each
salesperson's performance individually. You can report
each salesperson's performance to him/her alone, and
talk about it in monthly conferences.
Another technique is to make those numbers a topic for
discussion at monthly sales meetings.
But if you really want to add some power, refine your
sales compensation plan to make each person's pay
dependent on performance on those numbers. This is not
an article on sales force compensation. That's an entire
series of articles on its own. (Call or fax me a request
and I'll send you several of my articles on sales force
compensation). However, it's been my observation that
most sales compensation plans do not reward the behavior
that they say they want. The company's executives say
they want salespeople to do one thing, but their
compensation plan rewards them for doing something else.
For example, you may be paying your salespeople straight
commission based on gross profits. Yet, you may be
expecting them to open new accounts, promote certain
product lines, or emphasize certain accounts. When you
pay them purely by commission, you reward them for the
easiest, richest sales. So, your compensation plan says
one thing, while you say something else. No wonder it's
To encourage your sales people to do what "you
want'em to," line your sales compensation plan up
directly with your strategic plan. Directly reward those
three to ten behaviors that you developed earlier.
Consider a performance-based plan that pays them for
implementing the company's strategies.
Finally, step five is the single most powerful way to
manage your people once you've done all this homework.
Hold "accountability-holding, goal-setting,
quarterly or monthly conferences with each of your
At these tune-up conferences do these things, in this
- Hold them accountable for doing what they said
they were going to do. Simply ask, "Did you do
what you said you were going to do?" "Why
or Why not?" "What did you learn?"
"What are you going to do differently next
- Help them set goals. Ask, "In light of the
compensation plan, the company's expectations, and
your situation, what will you be trying to
accomplish in the next quarter (month)?"
- Help them create a strategy. Ask, "How are
you going to do that?" Make them answer in
detail and have them commit that answer to writing.
- Finally, ask "How can I help?" and
"What do you need to help you do it?"
About Dave Kahle, The Growth Coach®:
Dave Kahle is a consultant and trainer who helps his
clients increase their sales and improve their sales
productivity. He speaks from real world experience,
having been the number one salesperson in the country
for two companies in two distinct industries. Dave has
trained thousands of salespeople to be more successful
in the Information Age economy. He's the author of over
1,000 articles, a monthly ezine, and six books
Secrets of Time Management for Salespeople and Transforming
Your Sales Force for the 21st Century. He has a
gift for creating powerful training events that get
audiences thinking differently about sales.
His "Thinking About Sales" Ezine features
content-filled motivating articles, practical tips for
immediate improvements, useful resources and helpful
tips to help increase sales. Join for NOTHING on-line at
You can reach Dave at:
The DaCo Corporation
3736 West River Drive
Comstock Park, MI 49321
Phone: 800-331-1287 / 616-451-9377