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Blog: Are Your Sales Reps Pulling Their Prospecting Weight?

By Bridget McCrea

An integral component of any successful distribution team, the sales representative tends to walk a fine line between accountability and the “anonymity” associated with his or her job. Often left to their own devices, even the best reps can get into the bad habit of either not prospecting for new clients at all or failing to conduct effective follow up to ensure that as many leads as possible turn into paying customers.

“Don’t leave the important task of accountability up to your sales reps alone,” advises Dana Manciagli, a global career expert, speaker, and consultant in Seattle. As a former Microsoft general manager who oversaw the firm’s distributor sales teams on a worldwide basis, Manciagli says that a lot of sales managers give reps too much slack when it comes to accountability on the prospecting front.

In some cases, reps are more enthusiastic about selling than they are about reporting. “No salesperson likes to stop selling in order to fill out administrative paperwork – whether it’s electronic or on paper,” says Manciagli. “They know they need to, but it’s their least favorite activity.” In other situations, salespeople make meager attempts at ferreting out new business and then hope that their ineffective attempts don’t count against them.

“Prospecting is a very important part of a sales rep’s job, but many times – after selling more to existing or past clients – a salesperson’s attention wanders elsewhere,” says Manciagli. “It’s up to the distributor’s sales manager(s) to keep the salesperson on track and accountable.”

Manciagli says gaining visibility over sales reps’ prospecting activities is a critical success strategy for all electrical distributors. After all, future profits and organizational growth require a steady stream of new customers – not just a focus on existing or past clients. “You have to know what’s in the pipeline at all times and how those leads are translating into business,” says Manciagli. “That’s the future of your business.”

Performance = Higher Compensation
One of the easiest ways to get sales reps thinking harder about prospecting is by tying their compensation to such activities. “Tie compensation to the completeness and accuracy of their input,” Manciagli suggests. “The bottom line is, if they don’t get rewarded (or penalized) for it, they won’t do it.” Managers also need to pull their weight during this exercise by using the information gathered (from the reps) as part of their weekly reviews, monthly reports, and formal reviews.

By creating that paper trail, managers send the message that the information shared is important and valuable. “As a salesperson,” says Manciagli, “there’s nothing worse than feeling like you’re wasting your time gathering and submitting information that no one sees or cares about.” To make the information-gathering process even easier for salespeople, she suggests distributing tablets or another type of device that allows users to capture the data (number of contacts made, call or visit dispositions, follow-up schedules, percentage closure rates, etc.) on the fly.

“Put some technology into your sales force’s hands,” says Manciagli, who suggests either the iPad or the Surface tablet as good options that – for several hundred dollars apiece– can be used to mobilize a sales force. The devices can then be used to submit reports to sales managers on a regularly scheduled basis and without the need for face-to-face contact. Other good tools include customer relationship management (CRM) solutions, Excel spreadsheets, and mobile applications like Daylite Touch or FileMaker Go, both of which help reps handle day-to-day tasks and recordkeeping.

Keeping Score
Getting sales reps into prospecting mode sometimes takes more than just a few clicks of the mouse or taps on a tablet screen. In some cases, Manciagli says good old fashioned group meetings – and the peer pressure that they tend to create – work best when trying to motivate salespeople to up their prospecting efforts. A weekly sales meeting, for example, could center on discussions around current prospects, results, challenges, and other key points. “Sales reps tend to energize one another,” says Manciagli, “and managers can use this energy to help fill the sales pipeline.”

From those meetings and based on the progress of each individual rep, sales managers can begin to develop “scorecards” to help improve the team’s prospecting results. In How to Improve Sales Performance Using Sales Rep Scorecards, sales guru Swayne Hill advocates the use of scorecards and says companies should factor in these three steps when using them:

  1. Establish sales performance targets. To keep things simple, stick to two types of targets: performance and effectiveness. Performance targets are nothing more than sales quotas for a specific period and effectiveness targets are tied to activities/behaviors known to drive performance. In most cases, these two categories come down to:  Are you making your number and are you doing the right things?
  2. Summarize sales team performance. Once you’ve put together the sales rep scorecard (he says Excel is a good way to do this), create a link to a summary page to pull all sales reps together. You might want to track changes over time, year-to-date, period specific, etc., depending on your individual situation.
  3. Publish the scorecards to encourage competition.  While competition among engineers, marketers, or product managers may not be helpful, “it certainly is for your sales team,” Swain states. “The type of person who succeeds in sales is almost always competitive by his or her very nature and driven to win.” Fuel that spirit of competition by publishing team stats and comparing each sales rep’s score to the others.  

“Publicly reward and recognize those reps who are doing a great job and hold them up as ‘best practices’ in front of their peers,” adds Manciagli, who adds that with so many tools and strategies at their fingertips, there’s simply no excuse for any sales manager to not have visibility over a sales force’s prospecting activities. “It’s easy to gain the optics and oversight as to what’s going on with your team, and then offer the appropriate rewards, penalties, and/or coaching.”

McCrea is a Florida-based writer who covers business, industrial, and educational topics for a variety of magazines and journals. You can reach her at bridgetmc@earthlink.net or visit her website at www.expertghostwriter.net.

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