Field Team Management - Burn the frills and get back to basics
Managing field sales teams can be a significant challenge for many companies. Despite investing in fancy programs such as foreign travel, CEO clubs, parties, and celebrations, many organizations still find that their teams have low performance. Based on our experience of interacting with the managers and field teams of hundreds of companies, as well as managing thousands of field salespeople who work for global brands and small start-ups, we have concluded that most organizations are missing the fundamental building blocks of good sales management processes.
In this blog post, we will discuss the three key factors that are critical to the success of field sales teams: discipline, training, and motivation.
The first step in managing a successful field sales team is to ensure that they show up. Unfortunately, most organizations do not do a good job of getting their teams to do so. Staying at home and working through the phone is often seen as more attractive than being out in the heat and grime of the field to achieve targets, even if the incentive won't be earned. To solve this problem, companies need to take "not being in the market" out of the question. Supervisory oversight and ad-hoc mechanisms are often ineffective and awkward for people to "police" their subordinates. This is where Sales Force Automation (SFA) systems come in. They are impersonal and ubiquitous, and when implemented well, can assure 100% reliability and transparency. A good SFA solution not only provides a more disciplined workforce, but also features such as efficient beat planning, scientific order suggestions, and easier reporting, which reduce the data overhead of sales teams and make them more productive.
The second factor that is critical to the success of field sales teams is training. Many companies are doing a poor job of equipping sales executives with everything they need to know. Team members are hired on the field and given a beat plan to work on day one. New products or new schemes and margin structures are launched, and all they get is an email. The only "selling skill" that field sales executives need to have is the ability to effectively communicate the features and benefits of a product, and the financials around it. While the communication skills for selling are evaluated during recruitment, the knowledge required for selling can only be provided through an ongoing process that's thorough, close-ended, and measurable. Depending on the scope of the new content, classroom training or field training is required. If that's not financially feasible, an online course with in-built assessment for every new product or scheme is the bare minimum that companies must do to train their field teams.
The third and final factor that is critical to the success of field sales teams is motivation. Asking for an order is not a binary process, and an employee's motivation to deliver results has a correlation to their success. Motivation is dependent on incentives and communication. Many companies only pay lip-service to the power of targets (and hence incentives). They create ad-hoc targets that are sometimes easily achieved, other times impossible to achieve, which in both cases kills motivation for putting in effort. They publish monthly targets when a significant part of the month is already gone, which leaves less time to achieve the targets and sends a subtle message that this doesn't really matter. They pay incentives with tardiness, destroying the correlation between performance and reward. Lastly, incentives are not just about monetary reward; there's also a significant psychological reward linked to doing a good job. This psychological reward can be amplified by good communication. Instead of giving a target and then informing people after the end of the month whether or not they achieved the target, results would be better if they received daily communication on how they're doing on their target, compared to their peers. When paying out incentives, it would reinforce the importance of targets to share a statement of how incentives were calculated.
While there are many other things that can be done, it's important to focus on managing discipline, training, and incentives to have a high-performing field sales team every day and every month. While fancy programs such as a Thailand trip once a year can be a great motivator, the fundamental building blocks of good sales management processes are critical to the success of field sales teams.