Good advice isn’t designed to make you feel better. It’s designed to make you better, says author, entrepreneur, marketer, and public speaker Seth Godin. If you’re reading this, it means you want to learn how to make your own sales team better.
Maybe you want to see your team embrace a stronger sense of camaraderie. Or perhaps you want your salespeople to set realistic goals quarter after quarter — and reach them. Sometimes you may need to address negative behavior head on.
Most managers and CEOs don’t enjoy giving feedback. But when you ground feedback in strategic understanding, root it in constructive honesty, and use it to promote individual and collective growth, feedback creates a profound moment of vulnerability between you and your team. This can be a catalyst to elevate your team from good to great.
Here’s how to do it.
Focus on your organization first.
Giving feedback to individual employees without first taking deep stock of organizational health is like having your doctor only examine your liver during your annual check-up. You’ll get a really great picture into one small aspect of your health. But that information will be partial at best and deadly at worst without a clear understanding of the bigger picture.
In the same way, all of the following advice will fall flat — or worse, give a false sense of progress — if your feedback strategy isn’t grounded in a deep understanding of your organizational strengths and challenges.
Tailor feedback to the individual.
Feedback isn’t one-size-fits-all. One employee may need you to include a lot of actionable ways they can improve while another may work better if you let them work out solutions on their own. Some may prefer a lot of praise and recognition before any feedback while others may need problem-solving conversations to be as to-the-point as possible.
Before you start revamping your feedback strategy, explore what kind of feedback is best for each team member. Consider implementing personality or strengths assessments. Pay attention to what feedback strategies yield the best results for each of your employees. And, as you read the rest of this article, reflect on how each of the suggestions may be implemented differently to best serve each of your team members.
Lead with questions.
Think about the different meanings of feedback. When there’s something wrong with the way a sound system is set up, everyone within earshot may hear the telltale whine of feedback. And often, it takes someone with a view of the entire system to locate the reason for the offending noise.
In the same way, your employees will likely know something needs to be improved. They can hear the urgent sound, like an alarm, telling them that things aren’t operating smoothly. But, they need your system-wide view to help them locate the problem and fix it. And just as a sound engineer may need to examine an individual amp or microphone, you need to ask an employee the right questions to fix the problem.
When you begin a feedback session, start with curiosity. Find out your sales team’s or salesperson’s thoughts, then explore the overlap between their challenges and the feedback you’re providing.
Be honest, but not too honest.
When a leader isn’t honest with their team, it’s also pretty obvious. It may manifest as passive aggressive comments that avoid naming necessary changes. Or, a leader may scapegoat all problems on an individual instead of looking at ways to make systemic change.
It’s important to be honest with your team — it shows vulnerability and breeds trust. But being honest doesn’t mean being harsh or shutting down conversations. You want your team to grow, and judgment and negativity won’t get them there.
Out of anger, you may feel like telling Dan, a new sales team member, that he ruined a potential client relationship for good by not being prepared for his presentation. Even if it’s true, that feedback won’t inspire him to make changes. Most likely, it will make him feel unproductive.
Instead, shape your feedback using the previous items on this least. Consider if there are any organizational issues that may have made it difficult for Dan to do his best. Explore what kind of feedback will be most meaningful to Dan. And ask him for his thoughts and rationale on the presentation and see how you can become better aligned in the future.
Focus on forgiveness.
Even though you know intellectually that erring is human, when the health of your business is on the line, it’s hard not to expect perfection. Holding a grudge because of a mistake a team member makes, though, can breed a negativity that infects the team. Not truly forgiving an employee leaves them vulnerable to future punishment — something that doesn’t inspire a team to improve — to get that much closer to perfect.
Instead of dwelling on mistakes, you get the divine role of forgiving. Make it part of the feedback process. Kim Cameron, from the University of Michigan, notes that a culture of forgiveness in organizations leads to increased employee productivity and less voluntary turnover — and a company culture that breeds trust.
When a team leader doesn’t look at how they can improve themselves, it makes it difficult for team members to follow suit. If you aren’t honest about your own performance, it causes blind spots that don’t allow you to lead your team effectively. And when those blind spots are around leadership and the behavior you model for your team, the problems you’re hiding from can spread quickly.
So as you’re doling out feedback, don’t forget about yourself. Ultimately, it’s your job to drive company growth, and asking for feedback yourself makes you a more effective leader.
In the Dan example, you could end with a question: “Do you have any feedback for me as a leader? Is there anything I can do to help you be more prepared in the future?”
Make it a habit to ask your sales team for advice on how you can be a better leader for them. Listen to their ideas and take action on them. When your sales team sees you consistently improving and making an effort to grow with them, it sets a foundation for a team that trusts one another.
If you want your team to grow, start with giving individualized feedback. While it’s not always enjoyable to deal with a team that isn’t performing, addressing what needs to change is the first step in creating the success you want to see.
How do you create the most effective feedback for your team? Let us know in the comments below.
Trust is one of the most important attributes of any high-performing team. Just ask Jeremy Bloom, a former Olympian and pro football player who is now a tech CEO. He wrote in Entrepreneur: “I’ve been on losing teams and high-performing ones both in the NFL and in the business world, and the common thread of success is trust.”
Trust isn’t quantifiable, and cultivating it takes some work. But many strategies exist to help you create a welcoming company culture and build trust within your sales team. Here are 5 strategies you can implement starting now.
Foster real connections
Teams that trust each other accomplish great things. Think about any Super Bowl champions. Not only do they work together every day, but also they spend time with each other’s families, eat dinner together, and celebrate wins (and losses) together. Many remain friends for years, even as they move onto different teams.
Your team is no different. The stronger the relationships between your team, the stronger the trust — and the stronger your company.
Simon Sinek, author of Start With Why and Leaders Eat Last reinforces this message: “A team is not a group of people who work together. A team is a group of people that trust each other.”
Make it a priority to gather your team for meaningful interactions outside of meetings. Donate to their kids fundraisers, sponsor in an employee in a cause they believe in, or give them a bottle of wine to celebrate their parents’ birthday. These show commitment to both the individual and the team to build authentic trust.
Nix the judgment
Just as real connections lift a team up, judgment tears it down. This kind of negativity seeps into any team if it’s not addressed.
Rich Karlgaard, author of The Soft Edge: Where Great Companies Find Lasting Success, says that mocking irony, snark, and cynicism can be compelling, but they’re toxic to your company’s culture.
Don’t let criticism get the best of your team. Instead, address any negative behavior over time. One-on-one meetings work well for individuals. Then, hold team-wide meetings if necessary to solidify the message.
Model the behavior you want to see in your team. Your actions and words serve as a blueprint for your team’s behavior, so model the behavior you want to see in them. By walking the walk, you’ll create lasting patterns and cement positive team culture.
Create a safe space within your meetings
If members of your team are afraid to open up or feel they can never perform at high levels, it inhibits them. They may clam up at meetings or become your echo, rotely agreeing with all of your input. If you really want to know what your team thinks, you need to create a safe space for them to tell you the truth.
Creating a supportive environment is tricky to do. Individual team members’ egos, pressure to hit numbers, and interpersonal differences are formidable opponents. Building a strong foundation of trust and transparency takes time and hard work.
There’s no magic bullet to make teams feel secure enough in their positions to share what drives them and what stands in their way. But a good way to start is to model the behavior you want to see in your team. By being accountable to your team and honest about your own missteps, you can inspire the transparency and vulnerability that’s integral to a team that trusts each other.
Encourage positive, strategic feedback
Too often, feedback is seen as sharing employee pitfalls. This negative perspective can make employees avoid seeking input on their performance, hide perceived failures, and miss their goals.
You can be honest without bringing your team down. Frame missteps, errors, and losses in a positive light, as opportunities for learning. This encourages deeper trust and allows your team to grow and evolve.
Further, to break the association between feedback and finger pointing, tie feedback to larger strategic goals. This also strengthens a sense of team responsibility and contextualizes individual challenges within the organization’s greater mission.
Let transparency lead the way
If sharing positive feedback or creating a safe space doesn’t come easily for your sales team, it may be because you aren’t modeling true transparency.
Lack of clarity about foundational aspects of your organization — from your vision to what value you provide your customers — can thwart attempts to lead with transparency. You can share your thoughts, personal insights, and experiences openly, but if your team isn’t aligned on company culture and sales culture, these attempts are going to fall short.
Ground any efforts for greater transparency in total alignment on your organizational building blocks. Only then can you achieve the openness that naturally creates trust — and a path towards a healthy, aligned company culture running towards the same goal.
Adopting the strategies above will help you create a culture that encourages trust. By developing real connections, creating safe spaces, and developing alignment and transparency, you and your team can reach your goals.
How do you build trust within your team? Leave comments below.
One of the most powerful ways to gain clarity into your strengths and to grow faster is to define how you create value for your clients.
Check out the video above as Karl Becker from The Carruthers Group describes the importance of aligning your sales organization around your defined value.
How would your sales team talk to a prospect about your brand? Would they all use the same words to describe it? When they dig into who you are and what you do, do they share a common language?
Check out the video above as Karl Becker from The Carruthers Group describes a simple but powerful exercise to find out if your sales team aligns on your brand value.
When companies lack leads or have an empty sales funnel, it’s common for execs to start searching for the newest, hottest sales- and lead-focused solutions. But these are just Band-Aids, and they won’t help you achieve long-term success if the source of your trouble lies in the internal functioning and processes of your company.
Here’s a look at the three internal steps you need to take before you can make any solid movement forward.
Determine your ideal customer
Does your team treat every lead the same? Think again.
Before you can create a high-functioning sales organization, you need to know exactly who you sell to. Just as a regular gas engine doesn’t run on diesel, you can’t transform prospects into customers if you don’t sell what they need.
You might have a single target audience — or you might have a couple. Take a look at everything your company offers. Then, identify the people who need exactly that.
With a clear understanding of who your ideal customers are, you can move forward in a coordinated — and profitable — direction.
Define what your company does for customers
With your ideal audience in mind, it’s time to define your company’s value. Your value definition is like GPS: it gives your team a clear path to follow. Plus, it makes it easier for you to attract qualified leads and maintain their interest.
Before you can increase leads, you and your team need to agree on what you do for customers. Sit down with your team and identify the words or phrases that describe your company.
It’s worth the effort to make sure your team is aligned around the value you provide. As you explore different opportunities, this infrastructure of what you do and who you do it for will help guide your path
Clarify your brand message
Finally, once you know your value internally, you need to communicate that value externally. So, before you set out for more leads, make sure you’ve clarified your brand message. This means putting your value message into words that are meaningful to your prospects and customers.
Value messaging looks like this:
“We help _____ do _____ by providing _____.”
“We help manufacturers source hard to find materials through a web-based platform that uses search technologies to find and rate material providers that have immediate inventory.”
Simple, yet extremely effective.
Consider your ideal audience, what you help them do, and how you help them do it. Just as a map will point you in the direction and a full gas tank will help you reach your destination, these three steps will help you fill your sales funnel with qualified leads, and then turn those qualified leads into customers. This is the foundation of a solid, high-performing sales engine.
Learn more about how we can help align your team with a Sales Engine Workshop or a Sales Engine Program.
In a prior article, we covered 7 symptoms of a poorly performing sales organization. If any of those symptoms sound familiar, you might think that all you need to do to turn your sales engine around is to hire a new VP of sales. But that may not help. If fact, it could make things worse.
Here are 5 reasons why hiring a new VP won’t fix your sales funnel — and what you should do instead.
Your problems are deeper than a single person
A VP of sales can be great at managing a team and terrific at sales. But, no matter how great, they can’t transform an organization all on their own. Just as the best driver in the world can’t drive a car without wheels, the best hire can’t lead a team without a foundation.
Don’t expect your VP of sales to perform miracles on your organization. Instead, focus on the deeper changes necessary to achieve your desired results. Think about what issues led you to want to hire someone new in the first place and work backward from there.
Your problems are broader than a single person
A sales executive didn’t get there by chance: they are fantastic communicators and know how to orchestrate a team with many moving parts. But just as a single person doesn’t cause organizational problems, a single person can’t solve all of them either.
Take a look at your VP job description. Is it realistic for one person? Or does it reflect the responsibilities of an entire department? If it’s the latter, you’re probably going to be disappointed.
Before publishing that job description, think carefully about what you’re asking your sales VP to do. Can a single person really manage the sales team, rebrand your company, run tradeshows once a month, and still regularly close $200,000 accounts? Probably not.
Your culture needs to change
Motivating employees to meet their sales goals is a strong skill of a sales executive — and it’s probably one of the reasons you want to hire someone new. But hiring someone new doesn’t automatically change an existing organizational culture.
For example, does your company parking lot empty out by 4 pm every day? This may be a sign your culture needs to change, not your VP of sales. If your team doesn’t show up every day ready to hit the ground running, you have a deeper problem that needs to be solved before you simply increase sales. Bringing in a new VP may help this issue, but now you’re looking to the new hire to be a culture expert in addition to a sales leader.
Your processes need to change
What the previous items on this list show is that if your internal processes don’t work, adding a new sales VP — no matter how skilled they are — won’t solve the problem.
So, it’s time to turn your attention to your processes, starting with the most important one.
How’s your team’s communication? Is everyone aligned or are you operating in silos? Does everyone agree on your core values and follow a clearly defined process for moving prospects down the sales funnel?
Organizational communication breakdowns are a red flag something isn’t right. While a VP of sales no doubt is a great communicator, they aren’t the magic bullet. Instead, sit down and identify any common communication breakdowns within your organization. By addressing these problems first, you can ensure that everyone is moving forward in the same direction…before you drop big bucks on a new executive hire.
It’s a quick fix that won’t bring lasting improvement
Quick fixes are always tempting. They’re also not long-term solutions.
Hiring a new VP without fixing the existing problems in your sales organization may produce an immediate positive effect. But, pretty soon, everyone will fall back into their usual — dysfunctional — routines. That means 6 months down the road, you’ll find yourself in the same place you are now…and likely starting to think about replacing your VP once again.
Only when you have a strong understanding of the holes in your sales process can you add a VP of sales with confidence — and actually see some tangible changes.
Strategically hiring a new VP of sales within an already high-functioning sales organization is a great idea. It means your engine is running smoothly and you’re ready to take your company to the next level.
But, for all the reasons outlined above, hiring a new VP as a way to fix something that’s already broken in your organization probably won’t deliver the results you want — despite how talented that new hire may be.
If you’re thinking about hiring a new VP of sales, but aren’t sure it’s the right step, we can help. Take the sales engine diagnostic or find out more about sale organization consulting.
Do you ever find yourself saying, “My sales team doesn’t use our CRM,” “Why aren’t we closing enough business?” or “I’m not sure my sales team is making the calls they should”?
If you’re nodding your head “yes,” you likely know something’s wrong. You may find that no matter what you do, you still don’t see strong, predictable growth. Your sales organization just isn’t performing.
A high-performing sales team is a lot like a car engine. There are many moving parts, and they must all be working perfectly to ensure a smooth ride. If your car is making strange noises or leaking oil, you need to roll up your sleeves and look under the hood.
So, how do you look under the hood of your sales engine to figure out what’s going on? Here are seven symptoms of a poorly performing sales organization — and how you can address them.
Your leadership team doesn’t see eye to eye on core values
If your wheels are misaligned, your car will pull to one side. Similarly, if your leadership team isn’t aligned on core values, the company will focus on the wrong things. You could easily end up with different departments pulling in different directions. This creates conflict that makes it hard for anyone — including the sales team — to do their job.
Sit down with your leadership team. Hash out your company values and decide the direction you’re going. Get aligned, and then move forward together.
Your messaging is unclear
If you have the first symptom on this list, you very likely also suffer from this one. As a test, ask three people in your organization exactly what it is that you do and who you do it for. If you get three different answers, your messaging is unclear.
Unclear messaging makes life difficult for the sales team. If they don’t know the values, how do they know how to convey that story to leads? Short answer: They don’t.
Spend some time defining your audience and clarifying your message. Who exactly are the people you help and how do you best help them? What story do you want your salespeople to tell? If this is all new to you, consider hiring a consultant to help.
Your sales organization isn’t measuring goals
If you don’t measure goals, you can’t track success or identify areas for improvement. You won’t know what works and what doesn’t, and your sales team won’t have any way to judge their own performance.
Determine what goals matter most to you. Is it generating leads, increasing number of sales calls, boosting your MRR? Whatever your goals are, measure them on a regular basis to make sure that when the end of the quarter comes, your sales team is on track.
You don’t have a repeatable sales process
Do you know the exact path by which your leads become customers? Or is it all just chaos? If your sales process isn’t repeatable and scalable, or, even worse, not defined at all, you’ll never achieve steady revenue.
Analyze the different ways your leads become customers. Nail down the processes that are most likely to generate sales, and then make sure these processes are used across your organization.
Your hiring process isn’t strategic
Take a look at your job board. Are you trying to hire someone for responsibilities across sales, marketing, events, and accounts? If so, this is a job description for a department, not a single person, and it’s a big indicator of a weak sales engine.
Before posting another job that will be impossible to fill, think carefully about exactly what your needs are. A more strategic approach to hiring will vastly improve your outcomes.
Your sales team is a revolving door
Another consequence of non-strategic hiring is a sales team with high turnover. If what’s broken is the system, firing a salesperson and replacing them with someone new won’t fix it. That’s like changing the oil without ever replacing the oil filter. You’ll still have a dirty engine.
Look instead at the foundation of your sales organization. Examine the entire system, from values and goal setting to your sales funnel. Yes, sometimes employees need to move on. But more often than not what needs changing is the foundation — not the people.
You focus too much on quick fixes
Addressing the problems above takes work. And you might find yourself drawn to quick fixes instead, like taking another sales training or trying a new marketing fad. You think: “If I change this one thing and get one ‘right’ client, I’ll open the floodgates to revenue.”
These things may work in the short term, but there’s no silver bullet for lasting change. Rather than settling for a one-hit wonder, buckle down and do the work. Your efforts will pay off mightily in the end.
These symptoms are very common in organizations. And they all signify underlying problems.
The good news is that every one of them is solvable. By defining your value, clarifying your message, and developing a repeatable process, you can turn a poorly performing sales organization into a high-performing one.
Learn how The Carruthers Group can help you get your company on the right track through Sales Engine Workshops, Sales Organization Consulting, and Sales Engine Programs.
Improving Sales Performance Growth Case Study: How CEAVCO overhauled their messaging, aligned their sales organization, and boosted revenue with The Carruthers Group
When Matt Emerson inherited the leadership of CEAVCO Audio Visual from his father, he knew he was at the helm of a company that had a solid reputation. CEAVCO had been providing innovative audio, visual, and creative services for events for more than 50 years. And they had a stellar retention rate — a cache of dedicated clients that partnered with them year after year. So, why weren’t they closing new deals?
Well, a lot can change in 50 years, especially in an industry that thrives on the cutting edge. CEAVCO had built its business renting A/V equipment and had moved into curating live events. As event planners more and more sought creative partners, CEAVCO began to search for ways to differentiate themselves in the event space.
Emerson needed to help his team adapt to this growing market. But their sales processes, their messaging, and their proposal strategy were all rooted in old school tactics. Embedded in the way things had been done for decades and focused on daily business needs, it was a challenge for Emerson to step back and see just how to find a new path.
So, CEAVCO partnered with The Carruthers Group, a consulting firm dedicated to helping businesses expand revenue through intentional sales design. With The Carruthers Group, CEAVCO was able to modernize its sales processes, align on value and messaging, and grow revenue by $2 million. In fact, CEAVCO has seen 20% revenue growth in the first half of 2017 alone.
Want to know how they did it? Here are 10 actionable tips from the Carruthers & CEAVCO playbook.
I’m Karl Becker and I help individuals and organizations improve how they sell. My focus is on clear, concise, actionable solutions.
In short, I'll show you how to increase performance and generate more revenue.
This blog shares approaches, tools, and ideas that I have seen create success.
If you’re interested in discussing anything, please reach out.