While there are many roles needed for a successful company, a thriving sales department is one of the most important functions to grow top-line revenue, engage with the target market and build a fast-growing business.
YPO member Jeff Shavitz, a CEO since 1992 who describes himself as “a salesman at his core,” recently co-authored a book with Jack Daly, considered one of the top sales trainers in the world and a regular YPO speaker resource. In “Sales Success AHAs,” Shavitz shares his thoughts on sales as a function of attitude and how to optimize the sales process. Using his range of business experiences from corporate America at Lehman Brothers to entrepreneurship ventures founding several payment processing companies (with hundreds of salespeople), Shavitz offers some of the insights found in the book, particularly five top learnings most relevant for chief executives:
Sales is a critical skill set for everyone
“As the CEO of my company, I of course, love sales; I respect salespeople and sales managers and without sales, there is no revenue. With no revenue, there is eventually no company,” says Shavitz, adding that, depending on the scale of a company, everyone should go through sales training.
In particular, the business leader must be involved in the sales process or at least understand it, “arming the organization with the skills or a ‘sales playbook’ to be successful.” Shavitz also emphasizes that far from being something you are born with, sales is a real skill, just like any other business discipline.
Different roles, same team
While business leaders should keep a close pulse on sales, Shavitz believes the CEO’s job is not to grow sales, but more importantly, to grow people. “A sales manager and a salesperson have very different jobs. Most people are not great at both,” he says. “Too many salespeople think they can be sales managers and many managers also want to be chief executives, but it doesn’t always work that way.”
Shavitz adds that it is the job of the chief executive to place the person with the right skills within the right role within the organization. “Some make the jump. But many people enjoy selling versus managing. A highly effective sales manager wants to serve as coach, confidant, therapist and friend to help solve the salesperson’s issues and help deliver success.”
Sales recruiting is a proactive process
Recruiting for news salespeople must be a continuous process. “Recruitment should be a proactive process. There is no guarantee that salespeople will stay,” says Shavitz, adding that business leaders should simultaneously offer very regular sales training coupled with the right corporate culture to provide salespeople a meaningful connection to the organization.
While recruiting, Shavitz recommends moving away from hiring a “one-dimensional salesforce” and opting for diversity — including different personalities, sexes, ages, ethnic backgrounds — to create a more effective team.
The power of motivation
“Many CEOs don’t spend ample time on compensation programs for their sales teams. Money, while probably the major driver for a compensation program, is not the only driver. As the chief executive, you must understand the psychology of your people,” says Shavitz. “Millennials have different needs than a single parent or an elderly salesperson. Maybe it’s a paid day off or a cruise, or a contribution to a meaningful cause identified by your salesperson.”
The written thank you note is a lost art according to Shavitz. This personalized card, which only takes seconds to write, can have a powerful lifetime effect on that salesperson.
He adds that the annual review process is often too long and recommends that chief executives and managers not wait for 12 months to have the conversation on performance the week before Christmas to get the bonus checks ready. Depending on the size of the company, the aim of every leader should be to do a “progress review,” not a formal annual performance review, around 15-30 minutes every month or at least every quarter.
Authentic relationships count
Shavitz acknowledges that some salespeople are too “salesy” and focus only on the transaction at hand.
“Chief executives have to be authentic with their sales personnel. If you have an authentic relationship with a prospect, it does not go away. In turn, your salesperson must develop an authentic relationship with their prospects and clients. Our model is to give, give, give. Then, only on the fourth time, sell. This helps create a deeper and more authentic relationship with your customer,” says Shavitz. “A successful corporate culture understands that a relationship developed (and this takes time) differentiates you from a commoditized salesperson that is only interested in the sale.”
He cites his experience as co-founder of Charge Card Systems, a U.S. credit card processing company that helps merchants with their processing requirements. Within 15 years, the company grew to more than 500 sales agents with three regional offices.
“While we sold an incredibly competitive product, we developed strategies to turn the sales process from purely a ‘rate question’ into a ‘relationship sale’ and ‘valued-added services sale.’ Regardless of your industry, selling rate alone is a race to zero,” says Shavitz. “We sold a commoditized service, but we succeeded because we connected with the business owners on a different level highlighting how we can improve bottom-line profitability for the business.”
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