Alex Rodriguez: Do You Want Him At-Bat or Serving Popcorn? (Building a Salesforce Part 5)
Imagine this: You are the coach of the New York Yankees. It’s a playoff game and the score is tied. You’re at the bottom of the ninth with two outs. Your star player, Alex Rodriguez, is on deck, and just before he steps into the batter’s box, you call a time out and ask Alex for his help.
“Concessions are slammed,” you tell him. “There are so many orders with only so many concession workers and they could use the help.”
“No problem,” says Alex, “we’re all a team. Whatever it takes to help the team.”
I know. It’s a ridiculous scenario. But isn’t this what some of us do with our salespeople every day?
We pull them from the game -the role they were made for and the role you hired them for - and take them away from what they do best.
We began this series to uncover tips on how to build the strongest sales force, we discussed your commitment to being a coach; how much to consider paying your team, and three KPI’s that will make you a better coach.
Today, we’re looking at one of the most chronic problems that affect even the best of sales organizations: liberating your sales team from non-sales activities.
What, exactly are the right sales activities in this business?
One important productivity question to ask yourself during the day is, “What’s the most important thing I can be doing right now?” But for salespeople, this question is too vague, you can justify many actions as “sales activities,” so let’s be clearer.
The two critical questions to ask yourself about sales productivity are these:
- Does this action (I’m currently doing or about to do) advance an opportunity?
- Or, does this action (I’m currently doing or about to do) close a sale?
Tack it on your wall. Write it on a sticky note and put it on your computer. Tattoo it on your arm. Whatever it takes to orient your mind to focus on the right tasks.
For sales leaders, the question for you is: Am I equipping my team with all the resources they need for sales success? Am I giving them genuine at-bat opportunities or am I limiting their growth potential?
There are four support essentials to setting up your team for success:
- Training: Distributors default to excellent product training (product knowledge sessions via supplier visits and tradeshows) but most distributors invest little-to-no training in skills development. Product training is imperative but skills are crucial. Would you send a young Alex Rodriguez to a baseball equipment show and not a batting clinic? No.
- Equipment: Do they have the right tools to do the job well? Even Alex Rodriguez can’t hit a homerun if he steps up to the plate with a drumstick instead of a bat. Do they have the software and systems that are mobile, a flexible work environment, and the freedom to focus on sales activities?
- Marketing Resources: We covered this in detail in our last article but do they have killer marketing resources or they left to their own to come up with marketing campaigns? Marketing is not a sales activity; marketing supports sales activities. A lot of creative salespeople can and should contribute to the overall marketing plan and strategy but salespeople can get lost in the weeds when it comes to marketing planning and they mistake marketing tactics for sales tactics, the two are distinct disciplines.
- Support: Post-sale activities like order tracking and follow-up, supplier communication, and client communication about order status, are all production activities and require the meticulous skills of a production team and project manager. Any activity following a closed sale is a production activity and not a sales activity. There are exceptions and extraordinary circumstances, but in this business, post-sales activities are not at-bats.
As a coach, those four essentials might give you a list of priorities to work on. Do you need to invest in more skills training? It bears repeating: not product training; skills training. Sales conferences like Rainmaker and Unleash are excellent conferences to consider, and you could consider our own industry-specific training conference, sessions.
Do you need to reconsider your support structure to ensure your team can focus on winning the sales game? As a sales leader, it’s your responsibility to ensure that your sales team is freed to be at bat, free to play to their strengths. When you bog your sales team down with non-sales activities you create a cap on their sales growth. Ultimately, this leads to massive frustration with you and the rep. You expect the rep to produce more sales; the rep expects you to provide more support and thus begins the vicious cycle of blame. Also, one key figure that many distributors ask is, “When should I hire more sales support for a sales rep?” This number is dependent on average order size but generally speaking, a sales rep requires additional project management support when they hit somewhere around $700,000 in sales. For help in restructuring, check out our article How a Systems Change Can Ignite Sales Growth for more ideas on how to consider restructuring your sales support team.
Many distributors will plateau at a level of sales success with their sales team. Because they’ve experienced enough success, they will think they have a recruitment problem when in actuality they have a support problem, they quickly come face to face with the law of diminishing returns: by hiring more salespeople into a support system that isn’t actually built to scale sales success, they not only prevent sales growth in the individual rep but they actually slow down the entire business growth trajectory.
And like Alex Rodriguez selling popcorn and expected to win the game, it’s an abysmal waste of talent and resources if salespeople are not freed to focus on selling.
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