A Selling Perspective: Five Keys to Exceptional Employee Performance in the New Millennium

By Fabrizio Balestri

The sales profession has undergone a technological revolution since the turn of the century. With today’s tools and tracking, you could conduct business almost entirely electronically: via texting, emails, instant messaging, and digital voicemails. This has resulted in a sales force that is more detached than ever, both from clients AND from the companies they represent. However, despite this trend toward detachment and isolation, we find that the best sales exchanges are still done at a personal level—where the sales professional can bond with the client or buyer, where relationships are formed and tested over time, and when the sales professional identifies his or her personal success with the company’s success.

But how do you find and keep an engaged, motivated sales team, particularly in light of today’s age of free agency and fleeting loyalty? These Five Keys can help you get started:

1. Give your Team Ownership

As a business manager, you know the sales professionals you DON’T want on your team when you see them: the Hired Guns of the industry, known for jumping from opportunity to opportunity, wherever the next paycheck beckons. Hired Guns don’t stick around… but business owners do. So, change your perspective on your sales team. Consider them as owners of your business, and allow your sales professionals to make decisions for their unit.

As the CEO for a national sales-driven company, I created a program for our sales leaders called “You be the CEO”. Every sales professional was given a budget that they could easily track, along with a sales goal that was challenging, but achievable. We all know that part of a sales professional’s job is to spend money on clients, but once our team members had a clear picture of what it cost the business to support them in their efforts in developing clients, everything changed. It was no longer a question of how much business did a sales professional bring in, but how much profit did that sales professional generate. It shifted their thinking almost immediately, leading to a Culture of Performance.

2. Cultivate a Culture of Performance

As part of the “You Be the CEO” initiative, every sales professional was given a CD which contained all of the costs associated with their particular position including salary, benefits, cost of travel, etc. It also gave them a tool to calculate their quarterly bonuses based on anticipated sales. Sales professionals received profit information on each product that they were responsible to sell, and learned very quickly that expenses could erode any profit if they were not careful. Given that exceptional sales professionals are competitive by nature, they started measuring each other on profit, not volume. We had people asking each other, “How much net profit did you generate for the organization this quarter?” Discussions ensued as to why one approach worked, while another held hidden costs that ended up damaging overall results. The transformation in our people was extraordinary—and our bottom line quickly reflected the results, leading us to a 15% decrease in expenses which led to increased profits over the previous sales cycle.

3. Don’t Just Give Lip Service to Empowerment—Live it.

Just about every sales seminar you can attend these days urges you to “empower” your employees. But what does that mean? Today’s sales professionals are some of the savviest business people around—because they can control their own career. However, with business changing so rapidly, a slight miscalculation or bold risk could quickly backfire on even the shrewdest professional, possibly leading them to make more cautious decisions going forward. Don’t let this happen! Encourage your employees to take smart risks, and make them feel as though they own a piece of the business, that their ongoing development is more important than a single decision that proved in error. Give them the ability to make choices and make mistakes. Treat those mistakes as valuable learning tools and a clear cut path to improvement.

That said, the empowerment path is intended as a tool, not a crutch. Just as with any business owner, sales professionals must be held accountable to the overall success of the business. So when an employee’s path to improvement grows too long, it’s time to go.

4. Generate Enthusiasm as a Strategy for Success

The best sales professionals are driven by much more than money, although financial rewards are a critical component of their overall passion for your organization. But equally vital is to make your employees feel as though they are part of a winning team. Communicate with them regularly and consistently, both in good times and bad. There is nothing more important than keeping your employees in the loop from the very beginning. If business is slow, they will work harder if they know and believe in you. If business is good, reward them as highly-valued members of your company’s family. I cannot overstate the importance of personal loyalty—if you build it into your program, your retention numbers will jump… and stay high.

5. Give Your Team Permission to Be Exceptional

Who are the people who are driven to do exceptional work? Those who can predict the results of that performance. I mentioned this above, but it bears repeating: Reward Exceptional Performers. Make a big deal out of their successes. It doesn’t have to be money in every case, but it does have to be consistent, meaningful and public. This team of people can help your organization soar to heights you can barely imagine—so formal, regular recognition should be a critical component to not only the annual sales meeting, but monthly meetings, company newsletters, formal letters of support from executive management, etc. Invite in your top performers to your next board meeting. Pay them to speak to your customer service teams, just as you would an outside speaker. Honor their work and their efforts by listening to their ideas. People want to feel good about doing something over and above expectations, and it’s your job as a manager to let them know how much you appreciate it… in front of others.

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