Are Your Sales People In the Right Seat On the Bus?  

Nov 8, 2022, Written by Jim Miley

improve sales team performance

One of the most common needs expressed by small business owners is improving their business’ sales performance.  It may be expressed as help with sales management or implementation of a better sales CRM system or even just facilitating improved accountability amongst the sales people.  When you boil it down, business owners commonly feel they should be getting better results out of the sales team.

Business owners often feel they are grasping at straws as they search for the best way to energize sales performance.  

As you search for solutions to your sales puzzle, various tools and training options will be presented as the best answer.  

We’ve got great CRM systems, consultative solutions focused selling techniques, digital contact marketing lead generating support, sales automation tools with funnel management and yet, one of the most common needs expressed by business owners is improving their business’ sales performance?  

There are so many “gadgets” out there all billed to drive explosive sales growth so with all these silver bullets pouring into the sales environment, it seems like some other business priority should be moving ahead of sales management?  

The Fundamental Purpose of Your Sales Team

If your business has a sales team, you should consider the answer to the question, “what is the purpose and primary objective of your sales team?”  

Off the cuff, this seems like a silly question.  Of course, the primary objective of our sales team is to sell our products and services… plain and simple.  But the devil shows up in the details of  exactly how to get there. 

Something happens when our sales team goes to execute in the real world with real people and real competitors.  The CRM, the selling techniques, the marketing support, don’t replace the need for human performance from the individuals on our sales team.  

Said another way, your sales team is made up of unique individual people.  We can try to homogenize them into one mold by only hiring certain DISC profiles, teaching them to use the same sales technique and measuring with the same scorecard. But they will still be unique individuals with differing skills.    

I love sports analogies for business strategy and tis the season so will go with an easy American football parallel.  Think of your sales team as the offensive unit of your business.  What is the purpose and primary objective of the offense?  

Most would agree the primary objective of a football team offense is to maximize points scored against a given competitor.  

The objective of the offense is not to run the fastest, lift the most weight nor even have the best statistical performance.  It’s too common for individual players to become obsessed with their own stats and seem to place the team performance lower on their priority list.  Similarly, a coach can become overly committed to running a certain offensive scheme where the defense may be offering better opportunities if the offense executed a different strategy. We have a wide receiver capable of scoring on any play but we won’t throw the ball as we “need to establish the run.”  

The offensive team objective is to score as many points as possible; if the defense is soft on the passing game, throw the ball.  

Most business leaders would agree that the fundamental purpose of the sales team is to maximize sales production in a given market.  

The objective of the sales team is not to make the most sales calls, generate the most proposals, provide the best customer service, populating our CRM, etc.  These are activities or tactics toward the end goal of generating sales revenue.  

Sales Managers Should Adapt to Achieve

So how does a football analogy relate to sales management?  Many business owners and sales managers wind up in a place where they are far more concerned about individual statistics amongst the sales people than the overall success of the current strategy for the business.  

If you focus on every team member contributing in the exact same way, week in and week out, with rigid compliance to a pre-determined game plan, is it surprising that most of the players are out of compliance or underperforming?  

Some players are better runners, some are faster, some are stronger, some catch the ball well, some block well but can’t catch…. Some sales people penetrate new accounts well, some network, some are strong technically, some build relationships while others provide excellent service over time.  Note that aspiring to build a team where everyone possesses the same skills may not be realistic nor most effective.  We often need the different skills for various parts of our business strategy.

If a Sales Manager is determined to view the sales force as a homogeneous group with no regard for the unique individual capability to contribute to the plan in similarly unique ways, you might feel like you’re herding cats.  It’s difficult to manage a good lineman if the game plan calls for him to regularly run deep pass routes.  

In the best seller, Good to Great, Jim Collins made “putting the right people in the right seats on the bus” a famous business metaphor.  Apply the seats on the bus metaphor within your sales team.  Don’t shy away from adapting your sales strategy to best utilize the individual talents of your sales people.  

I don’t want to wander too far off the main topic in this post but a factor in my recommendation of adapting your sales strategy to consider individual skill sets is that recruiting or developing skills in a sales team is much more difficult and expensive than taking advantage of skills you already possess; especially in the current labor market.  

Back to the purpose of the sales team.  If the purpose of your sales team is to maximize sales revenue in a given market, you should adapt the varying capabilities of your unique sales people to their highest and best use in your market.  

Your business can benefit by giving yourself permission to have differing individual objectives amongst your sales people; therefore, differing expectations and performance metrics.  By adapting to the capabilities of your sales team, you optimize to have the right people in the right seats on the bus.  

Put Your Sales Team In the Right Seats On the Bus

To put the individual sales people in the right seats, you have to see the sales people as individuals and see that there are different seats on the bus.  

To get started, try looking at your sales team from the following perspectives:

  • Look at your market, customers and competitors as distinct seats to be matched to the best sales solution from amongst your team members.  
  • Be creative in coaching your existing sales team to target opportunities best suited to their strengths.  
  • Consider a sales person’s weaknesses in their territory/account assignment and objectives

I have found great success as measured by overall sales performance by adapting sales assignments to achieve results.  This includes helping otherwise mediocre performers to make strong contributions while enabling “the horses” to run free for growth; the business always needed and benefited from both.

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Jim Miley

As a Business Coach, Jim brings a broad background of operational and sales management skills and expertise to help small business owners grow their business and reach their highest potential. He has 30 years of field-proven professional experience.

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