When he was VP-sales for Biovail Pharmaceutical, Steven Rosen would run down his sales’ numbers every month and then send personal notes to those sales reps who had performed particularly well the previous quarter or recently closed a tough sale. “The funny thing is, people would actually keep those notes,” said Rosen, founder of STAR Results, a sales consultancy, whose clients include Abbott Labs, Allergen and Novartis. “There’s no cost to saying, ‘Way to go.’ Everybody wants to feel good about themselves, so if you can compliment your sales reps, where you’re sincere and it doesn’t come off as fake flattery, it’s the easiest thing to do.” Sure, it’s easy. It’s also rare. But as managers seek to retain their top performers in a still slackening economy, taking the time to recognize sales reps – verbally or otherwise – has acquired a new currency, Rosen said. We spoke with Rosen about some of the other ways that sales managers can retain their top sales reps and improve the overall sales culture.
ZoomInfo: In light of all of the tumult in b-to-b sales right now, what are some of the roadblocks causing sales execs to perform below their potential?
Rosen: The biggest problem relates to focus. Sales executives are pulled in so many different directions that they forget to focus on their key success factors. It’s a business reality today that folks are being asked to do more with less and most sales managers are focused on the short-term sale in terms of delivering quarter-to-quarter sales. So the problem is getting sales managers to develop a clear plan and to ensure they keep their team focused on executing the plan. Sales managers are putting out fires, and when you’re putting out fires you’re not focusing on the business.
ZoomInfo: What are some of the major problems associated with sales coaching?
Rosen: Great sales reps who become managers find coaching very challenging. Sales coaching requires a different mindset; a great sales coach must shift their paradigm from one of ‘telling’ to ‘asking’ questions. If there’s a lack of training and role-definition [within the sales department], sales reps tend to take the path of least resistance and the managers end up doing the work, as opposed to the sales reps doing their own work. As a great sales rep you want to tell everybody why you were great, whereas the coach’s job is to facilitate the reps’ own thinking and learning.
ZoomInfo: What are some of the reasons top performers are leaving their companies these days and what are some good retention strategies for managers to deploy?
Rosen: People are driven by two things. One is the latitude to be able to do your job, which means you’re empowered to do what you’re paid to do. The second thing is not money, but recognition. It’s true sales reps want to be making the top dollars, but they also want to work in an environment where they feel recognized for a job well done. People tend to work for their bosses and, if no one is taking the time to recognize performance, they leave.
For sales managers who want to break out of linear thinking, Rosen recommends “First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently,” by Marcus Buckingham.