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Taking Care of the Messenger

Working with your sales reps.

As you constantly make efforts to build sales in your organization, it’s often easy to focus too much on the customer and not enough on the people who make the sales happen: your sales representatives.

Your sales reps, keep in mind, are the conduit to your customers. They represent the face of your company. So rather than focus only on the message you may be trying to deliver, let’s concentrate on the messenger.

The dividends of communication

My first suggestion is to lend your sales team what I would characterize as emotional support. Think about your sales reps for a minute. If they fit the typical mold, they are very driven, goal-oriented, and ambitious; and they perform at a higher level when given consistent feedback from their managers. Frankly, it requires a unique personality to begin each month knowing that in order to get paid, you need to get out there and hustle up some business.

Your sales team needs communication and feedback on a regular basis in order to measure their strengths and weaknesses. This is a must for anyone managing a sales team, whether it’s a team of one or 20. Stay involved with your sales personnel. Hold regular interviews with each of them to discover what’s happening out there. Discuss their sales goals-will they achieve them this month? Is there anything you can do to help them reach their goals?

You should also make them feel like they can talk to you about anything that might be happening in their world. All too often, I’ve found, sales reps may think their managers know what is going on out in the marketplace and therefore don’t bother sharing what may be crucial information about the market-unless, of course, you ask them. Establishing excellent lines of communication with your team will pay off.

Tools for success

In addition to providing emotional support, you must also supply your sales team with the proper tools they need to do their job. Because of our industry’s highly technical nature, turning a sales rep loose without effective tools will inevitably set them up for failure. Perhaps 10 years ago a sales rep working in the graphics industry would have been able to bluff their way through a discussion with a client by throwing out a few digital buzz words. That’s no longer true. Today, our customers have in-depth knowledge about the digital world in which we operate and they have no problem calling us out if we’re wrong or, worse, if we don’t know what they’re talking about.

To have an effective sales team, they must be properly trained. For example, when a new sales rep starts in our company, they begin by spending several days on the production floor with each department-learning what we produce and what they will be selling. Our goal is not to teach them how to actually produce the work, but to understand our products within a short time period. And they can learn and appreciate some of the challenges we encounter when producing our wares.

And, proper sales tools consist of more than just institutional knowledge of our industry. They must also include tangible goods to assist your sales team. For instance, keep your sales team stocked up with product samples. You may even provide them with "cheat sheets" of some of the more technical aspects of their job-so if they get stumped with a question by a customer they will be able to find a solution.

On the same page

My last recommendation to help your sales team: Make sure your production team is there to back them up. Nothing can be more devastating to a sales rep’s attitude than to have their commitment to their customer torpedoed by mistakes on the production floor. Too often, our businesses are formulated along competitive-and perhaps even hostile-lines between the sales team and the production team. Has your sales team complained, "The production team just can’t seem to get anything right-they don’t know how hard we work to get a sale, only to see production mess it up!"?

Or maybe you have heard from the production team, "The sales team constantly over-promises what we can’t possibly deliver. They have no idea how difficult it is to get their jobs produced and out the door!"

In order to be successful, you need to work out these production-versus-sales situations so that your entire team is on the same page-all working for the customer. Put your sales and production teams together and have them work on joint systems that will prevent missed commitments. Your goal, keep in mind, should be to "under-promise and over-deliver"-the opposite will wreak havoc on your business.

Marty McGhie (marty@ferraricolor.com) is VP finance/operations of Ferrari Color, a digital-imaging center with Salt Lake City, San Francisco, and Sacramento locations.

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