17 ways to improve your sales

Here is the definitive guide to putting some pep back into your salespeople

Everyone’s a salesperson

Your best salespeople aren’t necessarily your salespeople. In fact, anyone can be a salesperson or at least spread the message about what your business has to offer. To take a very simple example, what happens if a potential customer winds up speaking to someone in IT support? That person should at least be able to point them in the right direction. To this end, everyone in your business should know what the company offers and what the business’s key messages are. Give everyone the skills to identify opportunities and know what to do if they spot one. Not all great sales ideas come from salespeople.

Energise them

Create physical energy and excitement in the place they work. Apart from at the very top end, salespeople thrive on buzz and there is nothing worse than a sales department that has the vibe of an accounts department. You want people jumping up when they’ve completed a deal and you want chatter going on at all times. People feed on the atmosphere around them and it helps them to give good phone.

Reward them

“For managers,” says Jonathan Bunis, COO of Espotting, “it’s very important to be relentless with rewards for excellent execution”. You cannot, he says, reward at the end of the year or even the quarter. Do this and the relationship between good performance and recognition becomes nebulous. Salespeople have ‘immediate satisfaction’ personalities. Moreover, there is nothing wrong with a bit of theatre. “I once went to a meeting in Chicago. One guy there was a salesman doing a particularly brilliant job. As we sat there the CEO walked in with two Brinks Mat heavies and dumped $45,000 in cash in front of him. It sat there for the whole meeting and I’ve never seen a better example of motivation.”

Give them goals

There’s nothing worse than having your sales team shooting at a fuzzy target. “One of the prevailing truisms in my experience” says Bunis, “is the clear and unquestionable clarity of the goal for a sales rep.” They must know what is outstanding, what is very good, what is average and what is poor – and it can often be as simple as a whiteboard with targets on it. ‘They need to be goals that the team and individual buy into and understand” says Bunis, “as long as that’s the case it almost doesn’t matter what they are”.

Make targets realistic

“Many companies such as ours,” says Ross Hugo, the MD of holidaylets.net, “have to keep abreast of the fact that their market is cyclical”. So, in this case it would be ludicrous having the same targets in February and March which is as busy as June by which time most people have already made vacation arrangements. On a more general note, set targets too high and commission-based people will be demotivated; set them too low and you’ll be paying out stacks of cash. “Each month,” says Hugo, “we have to sit down with the team and agree realistic targets based on what both parties think is achievable.”

Use a variety of approaches

Make sure you approach prospects in a number of different ways. Probably the best is to ask existing prospects for referrals: there is nothing like the dropping of a name known to both parties to break the ice. You may also want to use direct mail, telemarketing or even partners with businesses who are after the same target but with whom there is no conflict of interest. Exhibiting and or sponsoring events that your prospects are likely to attend can work well too.

Get it write

Everyone agrees on this. Nothing puts off a prospective client more than a simple error that has been overlooked. Normally it is a spelling mistake. However, a simple transposed i or e can undo the good work of a dozen hard phone calls. It not only looks sloppy it does nothing to engender belief in the quality of your product(s). So try and create a culture where people proofread each others’ letters. A series of ready-made templates could be set up. Either way you’ve got to eradicate it. Clients know theirs no excuse for this kind of sloppiness.

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Do your presentations represent you?

Take a look at your presentations. Are they well designed pieces of communication – or are they covered in old logos and 071 phone numbers? Have they been designed professionally or just evolved ad hoc over the years? What do they say about your brand? Even the best salespeople need good tools.

Check the chemistry

Not everyone gets on with everyone else. This is as true of salespeople and customers as it is in other areas. “As I expand my sales team,” says Paul Brett MD of Powerdesk, “I will be hiring a variety of personalities for this reason”. Moreover people are good at different things: some people may be great at cold calling and opening accounts; but they may not be the best to necessarily maintain these relationships. Sometimes you might actually want to work contrary to this. If, say, a negotiation isn’t really going anywhere or a relationship is going flat, you may want to send someone more abrasive or challenging in to stir things up a little.

Make them talk to people who matter

Salespeople often call the monkey when they should be calling the organ grinder. “One of the most important things”, says Colin Wells, chairman of JBS, “is to speak to the decision maker.” Salespeople, especially newer ones, tend to call one level down as they think it’s an easier call. “In fact”, continues Wells, “the decision maker is often a far nicer person than those below him or her and as they have the authority will often say “bugger it, where do I sign”. So do some research find out who this person is, then call them.

Encourage feedback

Channels should be provided for your customers to tell you how they feel about your products or service, whether it is through your website, your salespeople or face to face. But you should be careful about how you interpret this. Bear in mind that happy customers usually don’t give you much feedback – the vast majority comes from the dissatisfied. So while you should always respond, especially to those who are unhappy, you should think twice about changing an offering that has a silent satisfied majority. As for positive feedback: well that’s great, you should use it as a testimonial.

Understand your target market

“Make sure your product or service gives them a significant number of benefits,” says David Horwood, CEO of Ihotdesk, “and show them the return on investment which must be believable.” It’s not rocket science, but you have to make this very obvious – and if it isn’t you probably need to look at reworking your offering. “Look at your product or service through your prospect’s eyes” says Horwood. Get a focused database of clients too: cover too many, and you waste time.


A poor personal appearance is to a person what a misspelled word is to a letter: it makes a very, very bad impression indeed. This person is representing your company and their shoes are scuffed, their jacket has shiny patches and the thin end of the tie is too long – what does that say about your brand? But bad clothes, bad hairstyles and bad facial hair make your business look like a bad company. You should make it clear to people who visit clients that appropriate standards of appearance are expected. If someone insists on dressing poorly, well, it’s difficult, but you really have to take them aside for a quiet word. And this is doubly true of an employee who has B.O. If you really couldn’t bring yourself to say the necessary ask a makeover consultant to come in for half a day this might be a solution.

Tell them to listen

“Salespeople,” says Wells, “tend to be glib and they try to change people’s minds.” The fact is that selling has little to do with persuasion – especially if it’s aggressive – as people rarely change their minds. Successful selling requires a much more measured approach if it is to be successful. Your salespeople should start by standing back and listen from the outset so they can find out what it is that their customers really want, what problems they have and what solutions they need. “Then,” says, Wells “show it to them. Don’t start out by shouting in the dark. Show empathy. Understand what turns them on, then work on how you can deliver that. That’s the essence of sales.” Successful sales spring from carefully nurtured relationships, it is vital you make sure your salespeople give them a chance to grow before wading in with products and price lists.

Train them

“Our sales and marketing people all do a basic technology training” says Brett, “We also keep them up with current market trends.” This is crucial – there is nothing worse than a customer talking to a salesperson who knows absolutely nothing about what they’re selling. And in esoteric or high tech areas this can be a real problem: for while everyone knows something about, say, magazines, not many people outside the sector know much about database management software. Plus, training sends out a morale-boosting message to your staff – that they are worth investing in. TALK TO THEM Salespeople are real people too and, like everyone else in the business, they need to feel wanted and appreciated. “You’ve got to keep talking to them,” says Hugo, “all the time. Give them feedback and take an interest in what they’re up to. Just stopping by for a chat is a great uplift.” On a related note, if you have good news or want to recognise someone, for God’s sake do it in person, not by email. It means 10 times as much if you actually walk the five metres over to their desk.

Talk it over

You need to hold meetings, perhaps monthly, to work out what went right and what went wrong. In this instance it might be a good idea to take case studies, say, a deal that was very successful and one that was a disappointment. Analyse both cases and look for lessons that can be learned. Encourage your people to work as a team and share their experiences and tips. Also salespeople can be pretty cagey and jealously guard their prospects and techniques. Encourage a culture of openess where people share and ask for advice.


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