Occasionally I’ll sit back and ponder my experiences in the world of business from a sales perspective. 

During these moments of reflection my mind is flooded with memories of the good times and the bad.  Sometimes I catch myself smiling as I think about experiences that were so incredible I find it hard to believe they were real.  The pictures of other memories are painfully real, but they are similarly my own.  What would have been different then, knowing what I know now, is a constant theme of these occasional moments as my mind drifts through scenes of the past.  Another recurring theme focuses on the skills and knowledge of past business leaders I had the privilege of associating with.  Here are ten key points I have learned about salespeople during the course of my truly incredible business career.

  1. It’s all about the money.  Salespeople should be your highest paid employees.  Don’t implement any policies or procedures that will limit a salesperson’s income.  Several years ago I ran into a close friend of mine at an intersection near my parents home while on vacation.  As Tom jumped from his car and I from mine, we embraced, not having seen each other since graduate school.  I asked Tom what brought him to town and he replied that he was on an unofficial extended vacation.  The president of Bell Helicopter, the company Tom worked for, had implemented a new policy limiting the commissions earned by its salespeople.  One of the salespeople had earned more commission income the prior year than the president’s compensation, so he put a cap on the number of helicopters a salesperson could sell before commissions would “cap out”.  Tom had reached his limit by July so there was no incentive to continue working to sell any more helicopters.  Thus, the unofficial extended vacation.  I worked with a company a few years ago that paid its salespeople a declining commission on their sales.  They were paid a 20% commission on the first $500,000 in sales, a 15% commission on the next $200,000 in sales and everything beyond that was paid a 10% commission.  No salesperson ever sold more than $500,000 dollars.  Why would they work harder to sell more and be paid less?  So they didn’t.

  2. Salespeople don’t know what they are capable of achieving.  Find ways to open the minds of your salespeople to truly comprehend what is humanly possible.  I’m often reminded of my clients who have been working hard and making a decent income long before I came on the scene.  These are good, hard working salespeople who know that the harder they work the more successful they will become and the more income they will earn.  Matt was a classic example of this scenario.  He was considered the best salesperson in the company, earning around $100,000 in commissions the prior year.  He wasn’t too sure it was possible to sell much more, or to increase his commission income.  Twelve months later, to his amazement, Matt took home more than three times what he had earned the prior year.  We see it every day.  Salespeople believing they are doing all that can be done, then discovering what is humanly possible and achieving more than they ever imagined. 

  3. If you don’t train them, who will.  They don’t come all trained and ready to go!  There are only a handful of colleges or universities that offer a degree or any significant training in sales.  Most sales skills are learned through on the job experience and mentoring.  There is no guarantee that this experience is teaching correct principles and skills.  In fact, from analyzing the performance of typical salespeople, this form of learning only perpetuates poor skills and bad habits.  Take responsibility for training your salespeople to become the professionals you expect them to be.  You wouldn’t go to a doctor or use the services of an attorney who didn’t have a formal, accredited education and degree, would you?  The best investment you will ever make in your company will be the training of your salespeople.  Seriously, if you don’t train them, who will?

  4. If you want results, hold them accountable.  Salespeople should monitor their performance each day and be held accountable to report their performance on a weekly basis.  The following statement should become an absolute and unwavering principle adopted by every business executive: “Where performance is measured, performance improves. Where performance is measured and reported, the rate of improvement accelerates."

  5. You get what you pay for.  There is a direct correlation between what a salesperson is capable of earning and the performance of that salesperson.  Provide your salespeople the opportunity to earn a great income, without limitations, and you will receive unlimited performance.  As business owners, you make major investments in equipment, technology and services.  Why not make a major investment in the people responsible for selling your products and services.

  6. High salaries vs. incentive income.  Salaries motivate employees to come to work.  Incentive compensation motivates employees to work at their highest level of performance.  In other words, if you want to experience the greatest return on your employee investment, pay them a commission.  Pay for what you receive, not for what you want.  Salespeople want to be paid for performance.  That is the only way they feel they can be compensated fairly.

  7. Goals are the foundation of performance.  All salespeople should establish and work towards the achievement of goals.  Goals are a measurement of activity and success.  Goals allow people to stretch beyond their normal reach.  Setting and achieving measurable, challenging and achievable goals is the single most important activity salespeople can pursue. Remember, goals are the vehicle for achievement in all aspects of life.

  8. Praise is a far better motivator than criticism.  Several years ago I worked for one of the largest international companies in the world.  The president of our division, in a report to the board of directors, mentioned that his management style was based on healthy doses of intimidation and embarrassment.  He was brutal to his employees and never took the time to focus on the positive aspects of their performance.  I came into the office one day with a client at about 11:00 am.  The president of the company noticed me coming into the building and contacted my boss with the instruction to fire me on the spot along with the person I was with.  I had been meeting with the client since 7:00 a.m. reviewing the details of a major sales agreement and had then returned to the office with the client to finalize our agreement.  I had just concluded a fifty million dollar agreement and the president of the company, who ruled by intimidation and embarrassment, could only think of firing me because he thought I was late for work.

  9. Since there are so few truly good salespeople in the world, structure their activities so they can spend all of their time doing what they do best.  Don’t burden salespeople with tasks and responsibilities that keep them from the sales arena.  Allow them the time and freedom to do what they do best.  Keep them in front of customers and prospects, looking for new opportunities to sell your products and services.

  10. Nothing else happens until a sale is made.  You can have the best “mouse trap” in the world, but until someone buys it, you are no better off than the company that has the worst “mouse trap” in the world.  Always be grateful for the performance of your salespeople.  Treat them with dignity and respect.  This will motivate them to do even better.  Without sales, there is no need for any other function in the company.  Teach them, train them; hold them accountable for their performance and you will find the success you are seeking.