Business Article

Dead last in sales? Turn it around! By Christine Corelli
Dynamic Keynote Speaker & Author 

A few years ago, a sales manager inherited a ten-person sales team that was ranked dead last out of 64 branches. His one and only producer was an 18-year veteran with the company. Other than that, no one on the sales team had more than one year of sales experience or any formal sales training; they had only received product training. To make things worse, the sales staff had a pitiful attitude. In the first two weeks, the manager consistently received excuses for poor performance—"I have a lousy territory!" "Our prices are too high."

Here are ten steps he took that increased sales brought about success:

Step #1: Slow down in order to speed up. Analyze the situation.

The manager knew that to obtain extraordinary results in business, you first have to slow down before you can speed up. He knew he would have to provide sales training and coaching, but he first had to analyze the situation before he could turn things around.

Over the next two weeks, he interviewed each individual on his staff and listened carefully. It did not take him long to realize that lack of training was not the only reason for the team's failure. The main reason was that the salespeople did not believe in themselves.

Other than the one producer, none had experienced the taste of success and the thrill of victory.

The sales manager also lacked a role model. He knew that alone he could not fulfill that role. Most salespeople emulate the actions of a peer they admire. They play "follow the leader" with someone they look up to—and not necessarily their sales manager. Clearly, a leader had to be discovered fast.

In the world of sports, the strongest players on the team assume a leadership role. This is often referred to as "stepping up." This bewildered sales manager had no one who could step up, be a success example, or share his or her knowledge and skills with less experienced salespeople. The one salesperson who was producing had no desire to help others. No one else on his team was capable of displaying that type of leadership.

Step #2: Make decisions. Create a strategy and a written action plan.

The sales manager did what every smart sales person does. He created a strategy and written Action Plan for Sales Success. Now, execution would be key.

Step #3: Find a success role model.

The manager recruited a new salesperson to be a success model. He knew that if he hired the right person, that individual could play an important role in reversing the downward performance trend.

The sales manager found his new leader when he hired John.

The manager told John to stick with him and do exactly as he taught him. Over the next eight weeks, the sales manager taught John everything he knew. Although John had received sales training in his previous job, the manager coached him on critical sales communication skills — listening, asking intelligent questions, overcoming objections, asking for the business, negotiating, and closing the sale.

John knew the sales manager was counting on him and he did not let the sales manager down. In his fourth month, this "rookie" produced 200 percent of quota! The manager called a sales meeting. He started the meeting by announcing bits of information.

Then, he proceeded to give John accolades.

Overnight the attitude in the office changed from one of making excuses for poor performance to "what's that new guy doing?"

John's performance forced others to take a good hard look in the mirror. That is when the sales team finally accepted responsibility for their negative attitudes and poor performance.

Step #4: Train, coach, and educate.

The sales manager knew that coaching methods based upon solid learning principles of spaced repetition, positive reinforcement and practice were necessary. He scheduled weekly sales meetings on Friday afternoons. During the week he gave homework assignments on different selling skills. Each week a different skill was covered. For a while the sales manager coached the role-playing.

Then he turned the coaching over to individual sales people.

Sometimes he would bring a package of hot dogs, yogurt, or an, ugly vase to the meetings. He would direct them to take turns communicating the features and benefits of whatever he brought and to close the sale.

Meetings were always upbeat, interesting, and fun! He even held meetings at a nearby playground and in the parking lot of the company's building. (I recall a client visit where I saw an example of this. As I pulled into the parking lot in front of the building, I saw a group of twelve people sitting on the grass. They were having a sales meeting! I sat in my car for a while to observe. There they were, talking in the sunshine and open air where their minds could find fresh thoughts. I saw him ask them to stand so that energy levels would be high. I found out later he often called these meetings spontaneously and did not allow cell phones, beepers, or any distractions. Smart manager.)

At each meeting, a $25.00 gift card was given to the best presenter and a drawing was held for $50.00 gift card. No wonder people looked forward to these sales meetings!

Discussions on the state of their industry took place. The team was instructed to research information and study their industry for at least one hour every week and bring what they learned to the meetings.

Step #5: Coach mediocre sales people to greatness or remove them from the team.

Far too often poorly performing sales people are allowed to continue their lackluster ways. A manager may not want to face the hassle of recruiting a replacement or may want to avoid confrontation. This is a big mistake.

In today's world, a sales manager cannot accept mediocre sales performance. The best managers take a "hands-on" role and provide the coaching the poor performer needs to improve performance.

Both the manager and sales person must put their hearts and souls into achieving success. If there is no improvement, the manager must have the courage to remove from the team any individual who is not performing. This may sound cold-hearted but it must be done.

Step #6: Set high sales performance standards.

The sales manager set high performance standards for his sales staff. He communicated his expectations. He explained that his purpose was to "raise the bar" with standards that consisted of Behavior, Activity, and Results. (A simple Behavior standard, he explained, would be to arrive in the office every morning before 8 a.m. and plan the day. An Activity standard would be to make a minimum of 25 telephone sales calls every day. A Result standard would be that a sales representative with seven to nine months sales experience be able to sell a minimum of $50,000 per month.)

For results the sales manager set two standards. The first was a lower "keep your job" standard. Sales people who fell below the minimum standard for a three-month period would be placed on probation. If sales did not pick up for that person the next quarter, that person would have to be "dehired." Another standard performance would be, of course, an even higher sales quota.

To maintain high morale, the manager made sure to set sales goals that were achievable. To inspire his team, he gave each individual a sheet of paper that had one thing on it — a number — the commission they would make if they meet their sales goals. Smart manager.

Step #7: Remove those below minimum standards.

Tough as it is, a sales manager must remove team members with below minimum standards. If he or she does not, the other sales people will wonder whether the company is serious about these standards.

The first person removed will send a message that is loud and clear: performance standards will be enforced. If you don't enforce them, your standards are meaningless.

Step #8: Coach, coach, and coach some more.

The sales manager spent a great deal of time going on calls and coaching individual sales people. He knew it was the only way to build a dynamic team.

Step #9: Cultivate a fun atmosphere and higher quality of life.

Fun in the workplace! What a novel idea! The sales manager held a series of contests that helped the sales team focus on a team goal.

For example, if the team hit a monthly goal, they earned a gift. Sometimes they received movie passes for themselves and their families. Other times they were given golf outings.

He held blitzes where everyone would pair up and make numerous sales calls in two sales territories to generate leads. The sales group who received the fewest leads had to reward the winning group with a comedic skit. It was amazing to him how creative some of the skits were! One day the negative attitudes and behaviors they displayed when the sales manager was first hired were reenacted.

At that point, he knew he had transformed the culture of his sales organization.

Step #10: Know what each salesperson wants.

Every individual has something that motivates him or her. The sales manager always believed that, unless a company gave employees a stake in their organization, they could care less about shareholder value. They care about their families and their hopes and dreams.

The sales manager found out what every salesperson wanted and, using this information, helped the salesperson reach his or her goals. "You want to put that addition on your house, right?" "You want to give those kids the best education, don't you?" "I can see you driving that dream car into the parking lot already." "You've been working so hard. Let's make sure you and your family can take a nice vacation this year."

The result? Eighteen months after taking over, the sales manager's team had moved from last place to number five in sales, having posted the biggest increase in sales of any team in the company. Perhaps a few of the strategies this sales manager applied will help you improve performance of your sales team.

© Copyright 2011 - Christine Corelli & Associates, Inc. All rights reserved.

Meet Christine Corelli

Christine Corelli is an in-demand conference speaker, savvy businesswoman, consultant, and author of five books, including the best selling “Wake Up and Smell the Competition.” The first print run of her newest book, “Capture Your Competitors’ Customers and KEEP Them” sold out in just two weeks and is still selling strong.   

Christine speaks on leadership for results, excelling in sales, employee motivation for bottom and top-line improvement, and cutting edge customer service solutions.  

With hundreds of presentations to her credit, she is a true veteran of the platform and maintains an active speaking calendar.  To learn more about her credentials and impressive client list, visit her website:


 Call Christine at (847) 581 9968




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