Sales professionals are a rare breed. Most are self-starters, personable, inquisitive, intuitive and passionate about their craft. They enjoy selling and revel when they are in contact with prospects or customers. They thrive on challenges and relish the benefits of being the CEO of their territory. When faced with a constant change, they welcome the freedom to design a roadmap to make their monthly, quarterly and yearly sales number. For most of them their customers become their friends and they enjoy seeing the value their products or services bring to their customer’s business.
Life is not always rosy, however, for a sales professional. Sometimes the most perplexing obstacles arise—not from the competition–but from within their own organization. Here are 10 demoralizing complaints that we hear from “the front line.”
1: “Management Reduced My Commissions.”
Each year sales professionals are asked (OK let’s be honest) GIVEN a sales forecast to hit by product and in total dollars. Some sales professionals blow out their number. It is not uncommon for them to make more money in a given year that a Vice President. When that happens the commission plan is often reduced and it drastically affects the sales representative’s income and life style. The reasons stated for the reductions are many. One we hear frequently is “these products sell themselves.” Or, “our brand is so powerful, there’s not much selling to it.”
Solution: Leave the commission plan alone if it’s working. Your sellers are selling. Instead of reducing the commission plan fund a celebration party for the entire company because the C-Suite is going to earn their bonuses and so will everyone that is bonus-eligible.
2: “Management Reclassified My Money-Maker into a House Account.”
This is one is our favorites. In many organizations, an account is taken away from a sales representative because it is part of a national or global account and therefore the account is being managed by the manufacturer and not the channel partner.
Solution: Explain that the customer has determined they want to buy nationally or globally and the manufacturer needs to acquiesce to their wishes. Then find a way to pay the sales representative or channel partner for any services they do render. Consider a one-time fee for earning the business or help them replace the revenue and commission lost with new leads. Be fair and equitable. They earned the business you now enjoy.
3: “They Want Me to Sell Products or Services That Are Not Ready.”
Every company wants to ramp up sales of a new product or service. It’s important to earn a return on the product development expense and get rapid traction in the marketplace. All too often, however, direct sellers and channel partners have seen products or services that were not ready for “prime time” released prematurely to ramp up sales and profits.
Solution: Company executives need to resist the urge to market a product that is not ready for the marketplace. One of the authors worked for a CEO who was fond of saying we will learn from our mistakes and fix it in the field. That is no way to build customer loyalty
4: “Management Wants Us to Cross Sell—No Plan, Just Sell.”
Organizations often make acquisitions and expect their sales force to sell newly acquired product lines. It seems logical from a management perspective or they wouldn’t have made the acquisition. Oftentimes, however, the new products are not always attractive to the sales representative. Some products may be viewed as competitive, others may be antiquated and others may be niche products. In some cases, the sales representative may have sold against the new product line or have customers that feel the new product line is inferior.
Solution: Management should have a solid plan to cross sell the new products before the acquisition is completed. It takes time for a sales organization to learn to sell a whole new product line and not everyone will have the will or the ability to be effective. Management should also develop a story that sells the acquisition and the subsequent opportunity to the sales force.
5: “Someone Upstairs is Delaying Our Commission Payments.”
We have all seen commission payments delayed because the customer hasn’t paid the manufacturer/provider or the customer is on credit hold.
Solution: If the manufacturer/provider is doing the billing and handling the receivable then protect the sales representative. They sold the product at a price that you desired so pay them and promptly.
6: “The Bureaucracy Upstairs is Killing My Customer Response Times.”
Sales representatives want to acquire, serve and retain customers. This often requires them to provide quick responses to requests for information and/or make decisions. Sales representatives hate bureaucratic-caused time lags and time wasters.
Solution: Streamline support and decision-making. Minimize the forms and the number of people required. Truncate long approval processes and the litany of stalling techniques. Keep in mind there is a finite number of selling days and selling hours each year. Managers need to maximize their sales team’s phone or face-to-face time with customers.
7: “The Sales Meeting was a Waste of Time.”
Sales representatives hate to have their time wasted. Channel partners even more so especially if they are paying their own way to a sales meeting.
Solution: Get your sales team involved in setting the agenda, topics, speakers and time frames. Eliminate anything that they could read in an E-Mail, learn via a webcast or do with E-Learning. Make sure their time is well spent on improving sales skills and networking to learn and share best practices. Forget the motivational speakers. Their message is forgotten 30 minuteness after delivery. Instead spend the money on something that will help the sales force sell more effectively or promote your company’s brand. Example: a portfolio, cell phone charger, sales books etc.
8: “Backorders are Giving Me a Black Eye.”
Talk to any sales organization and they will tell you that it’s not uncommon for the same product to be on back-order continuously. Back-orders are time and money wasters for the sales force. Think of the time it takes to talk to customers about the back-order situation and the results: loss of credibility and often cancellation of the order that was sold.
Solution: This is a symptom of a much larger problem within the organization and most often it’s with engineering (design), manufacturing (ability to produce), procurement (ability to source) and occasionally with sales leadership (forecast). CEOs need to work with their leadership team to fix the problem and prevent its reoccurrence.
9: “There’s a New Marketing Executive and He/She is Trying to Tell Us How to Sell.”
Want to demoralize your sales team and cause a rift with marketing? Let some newly minted MBA who has never sold anything tell the sales force what the customer needs or how to sell a product.
Solution: Get your marketing team out in the field and have them work with the best sales representatives. Promote top sales people into key marketing positions. Invite key customers to your corporate office for meetings. Find ways for marketing to constantly interface with customers to build credibility. If Marketing personnel aren’t in the field with customers a minimum of 40% they most likely won’t have credibility with the sales organization.
10: “I’m Being Bombarded with Paperwork.”
It’s no secret that sales reps hate paperwork. The only paper they like, are writing orders and signing commission checks; everything else is a chore for most.
Solution: Streamline your processes, reduce the required paperwork and make it easy and quick to enter data. Be sure the work that must be documented can be done via a smart phone, tablet or computer.
The life of a sales professional is difficult enough without company management making the job even more difficult or frustrating. Company leaders should always remember there is no bottom line without a top line. Your sales organization delivers the top line with the support of everyone else in the organization. Make their life easier and give them more selling time.
As always, we welcome your thoughts and input. Let’s start a discussion and elevate the sales profession with a thoughtful and informative discourse.