Sustaining Gains…. How Do You Get Salespeople to Sustain Improvements?


A General Manager Asks:

  • How do you get salespeople to sustain improvements?

This is a great question, and salespeople are not a unique challenge in this regard: In fact I would say that getting any group of people to sustain their process improvement gains is a critical challenge.  

  • Are there some other parts of your business where gains have been sustained better than others?
  • What is it about these areas that make sustaining gains possible?
  • Has it always been this way?

The reason for those questions is this: Sustaining gains is something that is easy to talk about, not so easy to do. The real issue is how to make it work for you in your situation. If any part of your business has succeeded in sustaining the gains, it might make it easier for you and your team to learn from this example. 

In a recent blog post, I pointed out that many managers mistakenly believe they need a sales process. What they actually need is a way of improving their sales process. And, that is the key.  

Yes, of course, you still have to start out with a process, preferably one that was devised by the same people who will be expected to implement it. Getting people to participate in creating such a process is critical.

However, a detailed discussion of how to facilitate such an improvement session is beyond the scope of this blog post. Suffice it to say that it involves getting them to define their objectives, methods, and measures of success.

Defining the process (plan) in this manner enables managers to use the Check step to inspect and respect what salespeople have done well. They can provide coaching around the issues salespeople can control, things they need to improve on.

With this foundation, sales managers can facilitate a discussion around what has been learned, and what might be improved further. This sets the stage for a powerful one-two punch: 

The Human Side of Change

Respecting People’s Accomplishments

Think back to when you were a kid. Chances are you had some experience where a family member, coach, or a friend paid attention and knew when you were working hard, improving, and respected you for it. By paying careful attention to what salespeople can—and cannot—control, it is possible to influence them greatly. It is fair to hold kids and salespeople accountable for the things they can control. In fact, they appreciate it 

Clearing the way for success

Likewise, kids want adults, and salespeople want the company to be accountable for the things only they can control.

Perhaps as a kid your parent or friend stood up for you in public or made sure you had what you needed for an important event. This likely made you feel visible to this person, and you wanted to demonstrate your appreciation. You probably did your level best to sustain your gains in performance as a result.

The key to helping salespeople sustain their gains and improve even further is in paying attention to the activities and results, and thinking critically about what adjustments are needed. Even the simplest things here, like starting meetings on time, having reports ready, and inviting support people to participate in these meetings can make a difference.

Often the needed improvements are simply in the way someone in the company thinks. For example, one sales team was struggling to avoid quarter end promotions their distributors had come to expect. When reviewing the quarterly rebate policy it dawned on them: why not do this monthly instead? Voila! The quarterly surge was spread more evenly year around.

Improvement to real sales problems—common, high-impact problems—often require changes to policies, software, measurements, or systems. Yet listening systematically to the data and evidence salespeople can provide is the key to gaining their cooperation.

Deming’s management cycle—PDCA—is powerful because it addresses the human side of change just as much as it addresses the data and the logic of the environment.  

If you have seen improvements sustained in your sales department—or in other parts of your company—please let us know in the comments section.

Michael Webb

Michael Webb founded Sales Performance Consultants to create a data-driven alternative to the slogans and shallow impact offered by typical sales training, sales consulting, and CRM companies. Michael helped organize and delivered the keynote speeches for the first conferences ever held on applying Six Sigma to marketing and sales. Connect with me on LinkedIn.

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