Busting The Biggest Myths About Sales Teams
For any executive, being familiar with the commercial activity of their company is key. But how many general managers truly know how their sales team dedicate their time? After over 10 years research analyzing sales activities across four continents and in several different industries and markets, I’ve seen a huge discrepancy between managers’ impressions of how their sales team operate and the reality. This can have disastrous consequences, especially if a firm starts getting into difficulties. After all, having incorrect assumptions about how your sales team operates hinders your ability to come to the correct diagnosis which, in turn, means you won´t be able to suggest the right path to turn your company around.
To help avoid this, below I’ve outlined the biggest myths about sales teams that I’ve encountered in my research, and offer some suggestions for how managers can better understand their sales teams:
Myth no.1 Gathering data on averages helps you make good decisions.
It is tremendously risky to extract averages from the data you hold on your sales teams as the basis for management action, as there can be such a large discrepancy between the sales data of each individual. For example, the number of contacts made by a pre-seller can vary considerably in a company, from around 10 visits a day, up to seventy-five in some cases. This means that only looking at averages can distort completely the real picture of how your sales team operates.
Tip: Instead of relying on averages, make sure to look at individual data on sales activities. Histograms are a useful tool to help with this.
Myth no. 2 All sales roles behave similarly.
It might seem obvious, but a surprisingly high number of managers see all sales roles as behaving similarly and therefore set similar activity objectives.
However, a sales agent’s average day will look significantly different from that of a pre-seller, a van-seller or a tele-seller, for example. If the activity data is very similar for all roles in your sales team, it is likely that something in the sales strategy is poorly designed.
Tip: Each sales team role must have thoroughly differentiated and predetermined activity objectives. For example, it is critical as a manager to decide if you want someone to do many visits, but “lighter” (such as that often carried out by sales agents), or fewer visits, but more in-depth (typically a job for a pre-seller).
Myth no. 3 A good sales strategy will work everywhere.
In a similar vein, it is surprising how many companies and executives don´t take properly into account the differences between markets.
The most common mistakes I’ve seen of this type is either to group markets together (e.g. a company will have a similar strategy and objectives for all emerging markets and another for mature, developed markets even though the countries within the groups can be vastly different), or to view a given industry as functioning the same in all markets. This is especially worrisome, given that the same industry in a different market functions completely differently. For example, in the consumer goods industry, the success rate of sales visits in Asia is significantly lower than that of other markets.
Tip: It is important to be aware of differences between markets and be familiar with the underlying reasons for why this is the case. Taking the example earlier of the consumer goods industry in Asia having lower sales, ask yourself why this is the case: Are sales visits too quick, perhaps for cultural reasons? Are your sales people traveling too much? Only by delving into the causes will you be in a better position to solve any problem, given that in one situation or another the decisions to make will be radically different.
Myth no. 4. Sales people dedicate most of their time to selling.
Most managers seem to think their sellers spend the majority of their time selling. But the reality is that the majority of sellers only spend 20-45% of their time at the point of sale, and within that, the time spent with the client can be anywhere from 9% to 25%.
Sales forces should be precision missiles directed from company management with a clear vision of what is expected of them. If the role of the seller is to listen to the market, that of the manager is to keep an “ear” on the sellers. So knowing exactly how your sales team dedicate their time is essential.
Tip: There is only one way to truly know what your sales teams are doing: get out of the office and hit the road. When was the last time you got on a delivery truck or went on route with a distributor? The more you know about your sales teams day-to-day, the better.
Now more than ever, managers are facing an extremely competitive context with often increasingly narrow margins. There are no shortcuts. The reflections above only intend to serves as inspiration: tips and advice for how to obtain the necessary information from our sales forces to help make better management decisions.
The extent to which you are able to frame the activity carried out by your salespeople within a more global picture and integrate it within the operational plan for the company (logistics, operations, marketing) will bring you closer to having an effective and efficient sales strategy and a thriving company.