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A 2017 roadmap for successful sales teams

An attempt to reach a sales goal set for the year can only end in two ways. It’s either going to be a hit or a miss. In November, I wrote here on the Pipedrive blog about what to do when your team is behind with one month to go and not likely to make it.

But for some businesses, 2016 was a year of hitting the targets, and the challenge now is to do the same or even better in 2017.

You’re a winner, but can you win again?

People usually struggle to learn while they’re winning, and this could be the most valuable challenge to tackle as the new year begins.

Can you learn and see how to improve after you’ve uncorked and drunk the champagne bottle of success?

The only way to do so is to measure your performance against some other metrics and not only the sales result — which in our scenario, we know you achieved.

Getting consistent action across the team, and making sure pipeline metrics are monitored and under control, gives you the chance to deliver another year of great results.

Recognize effort (not just success)

Let’s start with the obvious:

It’s been found that only about 55% of salespeople achieve their quotas. Being proud of the achievement and recognizing the effort the team put in to make it will be the first thing you want to address in 2017 — even if you said something as 2016 closed.

Such recognition keeps the sales team’s spirits where they should be right now and strengthens their understanding of the work that is necessary to hit such goals again, and consistently, in the future.

One example of doing that would be to discuss action metrics with the team.

The good thing is that each action category (number of new calls, demo meetings made, number of deals started, number of days to close the deal, etc.) usually features a different salesperson in pole position.

  • You can recognize specific people publicly for different types of effort. It always feels good to be a leader, and you can point to the people leading several distinct action categories (for example, largest number of calls made, or highest deal conversion, or biggest deal size, etc.)
  • You can ask these people publicly, “How did you do it?” This way the recognition becomes a lesson, where valuable insights are shared with other team members, all of whom want to improve their own overall action numbers.

If you are growing your team in 2017 — thanks to the success of your sales team in 2016 — by all means use the same action metrics to guide how you promote or develop leaders within your sales team, and to let new recruits know what’s possible — and what’s expected.

Build the right sales habits

Of course, in sales, the most important metric is the revenue (and profit) that comes from closing deals.

But it is also the one metric salespeople have the least direct control over.

The deals will not close if salespeople don’t work on them, but the decision to buy comes from the customer. This is why it’s extremely important to not overlook the habits of your team — the way they work, the actions they complete and the effort they put it in day after day.

Good sales habits gave your team good results in 2016.

Developing good sales habits is what matters most when the desired results are not there — but sales stars thrive on ongoing professional development.

For me, building good sales habits involves two main questions:

Question 1: What are the right habits?

You need to look at how you generate business as a team and figure out what the right inputs and activities are.

  • Not everybody buys, and hence the number of prospects your team is able to work with is the first thing to focus on growing — over time, the habit of discovering, qualifying and working with just enough prospects every day and each week will help you to increase the number of leads at each stage of your pipeline.

    From experience, I’ve seen how difficult it is to keep a certain number of prospects entering the pipeline every week. As a manager, we once even put people into pairs and set them a target of 10 new prospects per week — all to improve their sales discipline. It adds peer pressure and can be as effective as having a good workout buddy.
  • In sales, having a repeatable process is the only way to measure otherwise intuitive and individually different ways of being successful. The habit of following the same pipeline stages within the team to advance deals is another key way to achieve momentum in sales.

    The main point of having the same stages for everyone is to have performance KPIs that can be used to monitor sales velocity.
  • Sales velocity — the speed revenue is brought in — is a function of the number of prospects added to the pipeline, the average size of deals, the success ratio of winning, and time spent in pipeline before close. The habit of consistently hitting your pipeline metrics is instrumental, and yet, rarely easy.
  • The only way to improve the outcome (read: revenue) is to continue hitting all of your pipeline metrics and set out to optimize at least one of them.

    Let’s say you finished 2016 with an overall winning ratio of 33%. Let’s also say you’ve learned how to “pick your battles,” and believe you can better select which prospects you have the greatest chances of winning. This — along with an ongoing quest to become a better closer — could justify targeting a more ambitious winning ratio of 50% for 2017, a 17% improvement. Achieve this with the habit of getting better even when getting results.

Monitoring and working on these habits need to be a part of team meetings.

But, team habits start from individual ones.

Question 2: How is every individual doing?

Having regular 1-1 meetings, ideally weekly, with every team member is the vehicle of helping an individual to develop stronger routines.

During these conversations make the question of how they’re doing simple and habits-related:

“What do you think you can do to improve each habit to the desired level?”

As a sales leader, it’s also a perfect situation to ask:

“What can I do to help?

You’ll be amazed at what these two simple questions reveal — about the individual you’re speaking with, the team you lead, and even your own leadership efforts.

Ask for candid feedback and listen to it

The one time during the year that is almost built for asking for feedback is now.

Many authors have pictured the job of a leader as one of a servant — a role reversal that resonates with me. So the question to ask yourself even when things have gone well in 2016, is:

“What could I do to serve my team better in 2017?”

After you’ve worked out your own answer, then go and ask your team and colleagues.

Feedback can be requested during one-to-one discussions, but sometimes it might be better to see what people reveal in an anonymous questionnaire.

Even when results have gone your way, it is still important to figure out what more you as a leader could do in order for the team to continue being as consistent — or indeed, to improve to become substantially better — at closing.

If that is what you’re after in 2017, too, I believe we’re in good company.

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