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How to build a premier sales staff.

In today's competitive business environment, a strong sales team can be a company's greatest asset. Forget the stereotype of the used-car salesman; picture instead an intelligent problem-solver, a highly trained professional. Building and maintaining a team of such professionals is one of the most important investments a company can make in its future, says Mannie Jackson, senior vice president, Development and Customer Alliances for the International Home and Building Control Division of Honeywell Inc. in Minneapolis.

Jackson believes that at the core of any strong sales organization is an empowered salesman or woman. That's why when Honeywell sales professionals finish their training, they are empowered to fully represent the company and to be completely responsible for all phases of their sales. If a decision has to be made, the salesperson has the responsibility to make it.

Honeywell's salespersons are trained to listen and also to value what the customer says. According to Jackson, a truly productive sales pitch is one where the customer talked 80% of the time.

To help Honeywell fine-tune its sales team, the company sets aside a hefty training budget. Jackson explains: "Fifteen cents out of every dollar is the cost of acquiring the business. Of that 15 cents, 20% to 25% goes for training, either formally or on the job."

Sales Managers Must Be Motivators

Successfully training and motivating a sales team takes a real commitment from management. It became the mindset of the team--a winning mindset. As division sales manager for Avon products from 1975 to 1978, I oversaw a team of 18 district managers. Their job was to recruit appoint train and motivate the 2,200-plus representatives who were independent distributors, not Avon employees.

When I took over the division in 1976, we ranked 69th in annual sales increases per manager out of 112 divisions nationwide, and 17th out of 18 in the district. Sixteen months later, we were No. 5 in sales increase per manager in the United States, and No. 1 in district. We developed into a winning team.

Our second initiative was to use each staff meeting as a training session. Every session followed the 70-20-10 rule: * Salespeople already know 70% of what is taught. They may not be doing it, but they know it. It is the manager's job to bring that information to the top of their minds in a new way, to have them take ownership of it and teach them how to apply it. * Salespeople get 20% of their information, ideas and techniques from each other, so they need to be given the opportunity to teach each other to share problem-solving techniques. * The manager is responsible for 10% of the information needed by his or her sales staff, which needs to be presented in a timely and innovative manner.

Sales Managers Must Understand Their Jobs

Although there are many similarities in sales managers' responsibilities from company to company, the job will vary. For example, in your organization the role of a successful salesperson may require the ability to listen analytically and raise questions when necessary. In another company, the ability to supply information and make formal presentations may be important. These are two significant but very different traits.

A company's sales style should be documented and incorporated into a training manual and emphasized at training sessions. Skills-building is essential and successful techniques must be constantly reviewed, reevaluated and updated.

Sales Managers Must Be Propely Trained

One misconception about the sales manager's job is that the manager must be gregarious and persuasive. That is not always true. Sales managers often spend a great deal of time alone. If the manager has an extremely high need for interaction, he or she may prefer being with people when the job may require being alone (planning, organizing, solving problems or writing reports). The most important traits of a sales manager are: a will to win, the desire to achieve and an enjoyment of the challenge.

As a sales manager, you need basic management training to learn how to be a good supervisor. Start the process with an analysis of the skills any manager needs to be successful. Determine where your strengths are and what skills you need to develop. You must pay attention not only to the technical aspects of the job, but also your most valuable resource--your staff--as you move toward meeting objectives. Some managers have trouble understanding the difference between managing sales quotas and sales personnel. Although beating your sales quota is important the majority of your time should be spent managing sales personnel, the resource that drives the numbers.

Bill Ransom, general sales manager for WPTA Television in Ft. Wayne, Ind., believes firmly in managing personnel, placing training second in importance only to recruiting the right person. Ransom is responsible for eight sales representatives who sell air time for the affiliate station, which is owned by Granite Broadcasting (No. 24 on the BLACK ENTERPRISE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100). The average experience of his eight sales representatives is 4 1/2 years. He explains, "It takes two weeks for the bonding process to take place, and for the new salesperson to understand his or her responsibilities."

To help his staff members develop and excel, Ransom stresses his Ten Keys To Success in Sales plan in his in-house training programs.

1. Dress. The new recruit must understand that first impressions are lasting ones, and that he or she should always dress appropriately.

2. Speech. It is important that representatives prepare their presentations and be compelling. Nothing takes the place of role-playing and rehearsal.

3. Straight Talk. Salespeople should never promise what they can't deliver. He advises his staff not to overstress benefits, but instead to be up-front and straightforward.

4. Courtesy. Good manners must be practiced at all times with all people.

5. Time. Without good time management a salesperson will never be successful and will always be stressed out

6. Entrepreneurship. Reps should be creative in ways to call on people, to present the product and sell the benefits.

7. Empathy. Identifying with the client is critical. Listen to what the client has to say, and then help solve the problem or improve the situation.

8. Ego. Sales professionals must understand that rejection is not personal. To be successful, reps must be able to bounce back quickly and keep on with the job at hand.

9. Self Drive. Salespeople must be "driven" by their own efforts or the need of their clients.

10. Relationships. The first purchase made by any client is the "buying" of the salesperson. The client must feel comfortable with the salesperson or the business relationship will suffer. The client will reject the "foreign" behavior.

Ransom feels that the absolute minimum time he needs to spend training each new recruit is two weeks. It is not seen as a percentage of the budget, but as a chunk of time--an advantage because the training is not an optional budget item. "Training is essential," says Ransom. "If you want to be successful, then training is the key to your success."

It's important to treat sales representatives as individuals. Tom Quick, in his book, Making Your Sales Team #1 (AMACOM, a division of American Management Association, New York, 1992, $19.95, paperback) writes that managers must pay particular attention to the importance of individualized training. "Management is one-to-one," he explains, "a truth many managers overlook, much to their regret, when they don't get the response they want." He feels that many sales representatives need approval and explains how to master the delicate art of handling the stars--getting the "stratospheric" performances from them without damaging egos. He also presents tactics for maximizing the potential of medium-level performers: a counseling session with a six-step sequence that gets right to the problem. Designed to improve lackluster performance, Quick advises managers to:

1. State the problem.

2. Get the salesperson's agreement on the problem.

3. Listen to the salesperson's assessment of the situation.

4. Consider extenuating circumstances.

5. Design an action plan for improvement

6. Get the salesperson's agreement on the action plan.

To achieve premier results--expect greatness, train your managers well, train your sales representatives, commit to the time necessary to train effectively, and then recognize your sales team. You'll be unbeatable.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Earl G. Graves Publishing Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Randall, Iris
Publication:Black Enterprise
Date:Feb 1, 1993
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