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3 Tips for Improving a Struggling Sales Team

Posted Tuesday, September 25, 2012, at 1:05 PM

Successfully managing a sales team takes a special touch, because great salespeople are wired differently than most. Their defining qualities -- fearlessness and dogged determination -- are what make them both stellar at closing business and, at times, a handful to manage.

In addition to being high-energy, positive team players, the highest-performing salespeople often have strong personalities. They can be impulsive and unrealistic in their expectations on occasion. Many have an attention to detail that characteristically doesn't align with their more process-oriented managers. Good sales reps focus on solving problems and generating results, which is ultimately what you want as a manager, but it can be an opposing skill set to crossing every "T" and dotting every "I."

Fortunately, there is a middle ground -- a three-part strategy you can adopt as sales manager that will inspire vs. confine your sales team toward greater results.

Coach versus preach. When a member of your team has a skill gap, position yourself as coach versus telling them what to do. Present the facts of the situation and ask for their input on how they'd suggest addressing it. You want them to own the solution versus having it put upon them. There's perhaps no more effective way to persuade a salesperson to utilize a different approach than by showing them. Go on a few calls with your sales rep to demonstrate how your strategy works, and you'll likely gain the buy-in you need.

Put away the rulebook. The more compliance-driven your culture, the more your sales team will resist. Granted, you need sales activity tracking, but beyond that, avoid complex sales processes that tie the hands of your sales team. Find a balance between organization and over-management.

Celebrate successes. While it's true that good "hunters" are often financially motivated, for many, money isn't the only big driver. Recognition from management, especially in front of peers, goes a long way. Beyond verbal recognition at sales meetings, consider small gift cards to their favorite dinner spots (demonstrating that you listen and know their preferences), an invitation to meet with a member of the senior management team, a Friday off with pay, or a special high-potential lead hand-picked just for them. You might even consider shifting their least-liked task to another member of the team with a stronger affinity for that kind of work.

In the end, the secret to success is as simple as recognizing that no two sales people are alike and understanding what motivates each individual member of your team.

Lori Turner-Wilson is an award-winning columnist and CEO/Founder of RedRover Sales & Marketing in Memphis, TN, www.redrovercompany.com. You can follow RedRover on Twitter (@redrovercompany and @loriturner) and Facebook (facebook.com/redrovercompany).

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Lori Turner-Wilson
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Lori spent over 15 years leading corporate marketing and communications divisions in the financial services, hospitality and franchise restaurant sectors. As Director of Target Marketing for the Hampton Hotels brand of Hilton Hotels Corporation, Lori managed promotional, direct and Web marketing, as well as custom publishing, for the brand's franchise system. In her role as Vice President of Employee Communications and Development for First Horizon National Corporation, she managed the corporation's internal culture initiatives, communications, and employee recognition programs. Other positions held include Sr. Communications Director/Corporate Editor for TCBY Enterprises, Inc., and Vice President of Marketing for First National Banking Company. Lori is a founding sponsor and member of the Board of Directors for LaunchMemphis -- an organization committed to developing an entrepreneurial community in Memphis comprised of investors, entrepreneurs and local organizations. In addition, Lori is on the Board of Directors of the Sales and Marketing Society of the Mid-South and on the Advisory Board for the Humane Society of Memphis and Shelby County. She is a sought-after speaker in the Memphis area, delivering sales and marketing keynote addresses and workshops to organizations like: the Memphis Chapter of the American Advertising Federation, the Sales & Marketing Society of the Mid-South, LaunchMemphis, EmergeMemphis, the Memphis Regional Chamber, the National Association of Women Business Owners, and the Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International. Lori holds a B.S. in Marketing from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, in addition to having completed the University of Colorado's School of Bank Marketing and Management. She is the recipient of numerous industry awards including local and district Addy's, Communicator awards, and a Telly. She received recognition as one of the Memphis Business Journal's "Top 40 Under 40" recipients in 2009. Lori also served as a contributing ghost writer for the renowned "Complete Idiot's Guide to Guerilla Marketing." Beyond her passions for marketing and dogs of all shapes and sizes, Lori is an avid traveler, runner and foodie.