Sales Management Best Practices – 4 Elements

Successful Sales Managers make Sales Management look easy using these best practices. Performance and results seem to appear effortlessly. What you don’t see on the surface are the 4 key elements used by every successful Sales manager.

Below, we outline the Sales Management best practices in 4 simple steps. Notice we say “simple” and not “easy”. Achieving success in Sales management is not complicated, but is also not easy. It takes time and great effort to put in place the elements needed for enduring success.

The success in Sales Management comes from these four key elements:


1) Sales Management Best Practice – Hire and Retain Talent

Most companies do not have a repeatable, documented process for hiring. It is important for stakeholders to align on the behaviors and traits needed for a Sales Professional to achieve. So often, managers hire in their own image but for a different job than their own. It is better to look at the psychographic characteristics that other successful candidates display and then benchmark those traits when selecting future candidates. The process would include documenting:

The key interests for Sales Professionals

  • Enterprising – they enjoy leadership, presenting ideas, and persuading others.
  • People Service – they enjoy collaborating, compromise, and helping others. Good empathy and having the knack for bringing people together is important.
  • Creativity – they need to take enjoyment in imaginative and/or artistic activities. They like to discover novel ways of solving problems, producing ideas, and designing new solutions.

The key behaviors for a Sales Professional

  • High desire for achievement of goals – they want it really bad AND
  • High commitment – they are willing to do whatever it takes to win
  • They create rapport
  • They know their product AND their competitors’ products better than anyone else
  • They present well
  • They handle objections
  • They challenge the status quo

Once you have documented the interests, cognitive strengths, and behaviors needed in the candidate, it is important to assess these attributes in the candidates being hired.

When a candidate fits the position, and he or she is onboarded, it is important to return to their strengths and character traits to coach them continuously towards individual incremental goal achievement.

2) Sales Management Best Practice – Train for Continuous Improvement

Many companies train during the onboarding process but do not have a culture of continuous improvement. For continuous growth, continuous training must also be a part of the company culture.

Eight areas for success should be identified for ongoing training. Cover each of the eight areas one per quarter such that after a two year period, the sales team has completed the entire curriculum and is ready to start again.

Because successful sales professionals know their product inside and out, product training will make up much of the eight training areas. In-depth product knowledge is necessary to separate a sales professional from her competition.

The sales professional must also know the competition’s products. A careful study of the competition is required to ensure Sales professionals do not fall into traps laid be their competition. Without mentioning the competition, sales professionals must be able to inoculate the customer against interference from others.

In addition to product training, a sales professional must understand the challenges faced by his/her customers. He/she must have empathy and be able to anticipate the internal planning discussions held by the customer’s management team. A sales professional needs to know what is being discussed behind closed boardroom doors and speak directly to the customer’s listening.

Finally, continuous Sales training is necessary for every sales professional. In the same way professional athletes receive all manner of coaching continuously, sales professionals must continue to sharpen their sales skills.

3) Sales Management Best Practices – Measure Lagging and Leading Indicators

Many Sales cycles are long. By the time sales have been invoiced and the revenue has been collected, the behaviors that helped achieve that revenue have passed into distant memory.

Successful companies measure the lagging key performance indicators (KPI), but also look for the leading indicators that preceded the lagging indicators. Driving the behaviors that led to the results is the key function of Sales management.

Establishing leading indicator goals, communicating the goals, and then stack-ranking sales people against those behavioral goals is the key to a company’s Sales success.

By contrast, measuring only lagging indicators can lead companies into trouble by focusing only on revenues, a Sales team can lose sight of the behaviors that got them past successes.

4) Management Best Practice – Celebrate Success found in their research that 80 percent of employees said that recognition in their careers motivates them just as much as a paycheck. But do company celebrate their success effectively?

There is a discrepancy between what employees want for their hard work and what they receive. Giving out regular recognition provides an effective way to motivate employees. Best practices in this area include:

Make recognition direct and specific. Be clear about what specific action you are praising. General praise, such as “you always work so hard” and “good work this week,” is nice, but it does not let employees know which actions to continue. Recognize specific actions and how they contributed to improving your organization’s success.

Make recognition sincere. Do not rush to implement employee recognition programs without considering why employee recognition is important. The purpose of employee recognition is to motivate employees and show them that you appreciate them. It is not a task to simply check off a list. Find a meaningful way to recognize positive behavior and results.

Accompany recognition with a benefit or reward. Tying some type of reward to recognition motivates your employees to continue their hard work. These rewards do not necessarily have to be cash bonuses or raises. Additional admin support, public recognition, a designation on their business card, a paid day off after a long project, a free lunch paid for by the company, or a gift card to a local restaurant that your employee loves visiting are all ideas that can work.

Strategic Planning – The Elements of a Good Plan

Many companies have a difficult time with strategic planning and general planning for the future. Rarely do plans stretch far enough into the future, nor do they consider both the positive or negative eventualities. Companies need to plan effectively for both successes and for threats.


Strategic planning is based on these key principles

  • We have the power to shape our future.
  • There are things outside our control that we have to monitor.
  • Leaders move organizations through storytelling and future-tense verbs. Leaders must create a vision into which others want to be a part.
  • Fear is natural; it is also dangerous. When faced with fear, you have three options: fight, flight, or freeze. Anticipate fear and prepare for threats. Recognize the signs of fear when they appear.
  • You must envision where you want the organization to be in the future, then see past its achievement to see what comes after that.
  • You must simultaneously identify negative futures you want to avoid and what the possible early indicators might be. Prepare for possible negative outcomes before they arrive.
  • Stand in the future state of where you want the organization to be and imagine what steps got you there. Imagine what got you half way there, and then imagine halfway to the halfway mark. Spell out in detail the milestones and timing needed.
  • Identify what people will be needed to achieve the future-state organization.
  • Identify what tools will be needed.
  • Identify what experts and expertise will be required.

As you can see, Strategic Planning is more than making a plan. It is creating a future that others want to join, and then preparing for positive and negative outcomes that sit over the horizon.

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4 Steps to Building High-Performance Teams

Companies want high-performing teams. But few know how to build them. Each time I have been invited to join a company in a leadership capacity within the Toyota Industries network, I have been tasked with fulfilling on this need by changing the status quo. There has always been some problem identified by the hiring manager that the company needed help in solving. They knew what they wanted to change, but didn’t always know how they wanted to change it. It was up to me to figure it out.

Over the years of growing within these organizations, and being a part of their leadership and growth, I saw what works and what doesn’t work in building high-performing teams. Each time I have been tasked with growing a new team, I have been better able to articulate the steps needed to achieve team success.

Today, I can clearly express how to build a winning team. Indeed, if I could get in a time-machine and hand this leadership information to my younger self, I am certain that the young, energetic and enthusiastic manager I was would have been eternally grateful. It would have saved me from making many of the mistakes I made and smoothed the trajectory of my teams.

Without the benefit of that time-machine, I instead offer this advice to new and experienced managers alike. The topic of leadership is deep and wide. There is enough advice around to fill many books. Although we can in this article distill the advice into short bullet points, it will be worth reconstituting the ideas again in the future. Therefore, I leave much of the detail and specifics of how to follow this advice to later posts. For now, I’ll at being pithy and succinct as possible.

There isn’t a book or resource I’ve found that lays the leadership advice out in four neat steps. So I provide this guidance here for new managers and experienced leaders alike, to fill a void.

Look for links embedded in this article. They will point you to more detailed explanations and specific advice.

The 4 Critical Steps to Building High Peforming Teams

There are four steps to creating high-performing teams. No more, no less. Although they are simple to articulate and understand, most managers have a tough time executing each step.

Each of the four steps are in a specific order. It is very difficult to achieve success by taking these steps out of order.

Step 1 – Hire Talent

Hiring talent may seem like it is a simple objective, but it is easier said than done.

Here are some of the reasons why hiring managers struggle to hire talent.

  1. Hiring criteria is arbitrary. Many hiring managers know what they don’t want, but can’t clearly articulate what it is they are looking for.
    • Can you write down the 3 or 4 character traits you are looking for in the role?
    • Do you know what specific talents you are looking for?
    • What experience is crucial to the success in the role?
    • How will you identify these character traits, talents and experience? How will you score each of these when deciding in favor of one candidate over another?
  2. The hiring manager is charmed by the reflection of themselves in candidates and hire in their own image for all roles in the company.
    • How are you objectively scoring a candidate?
    • How will you parse their abilities from their charm and charisma?
    • Who is involved in the hiring decision? What steps are you taking to avoid the ego-trap of hiring in your own image?
  3. High-potential candidates cannot see a brighter future for themselves on your team.
    • Can you clearly articulate what future you are building for the team? Does it inspire you? Does it inspire others on the team?
  4. The hiring manager hires the candidate who is available instead of waiting for the right candidate.
    • Have you clearly defined what your goal is for the current hire? Is this a forever hire, or are you hiring for a shorter-term goal?
    • What is the future of this candidate once the team has reached the short term goal? Will there be a place for him/her once the goal has been achieved?

Adding Talent to an Already Strong Team

If you already have a strong team, it is natural for an outsider to want to join the winning team. But adding talent to a winning team is not the same as building a winning team.

In a weak team, there is a culture and an expectation for under-performance that you need to shift. There are specific ways to do this which I will layout in later articles.

On a strong team, hiring is just as important. Simply sustaining an already successful organization is easier to do, but by no means easy. You may have seen this in action. You may have watched a new manager take over a team and, slowly, you notice, the performance and overall caliber of the team diminishes. You wonder why.

Later, another manager takes over the flagging department and the team is breaking records again. Why is this? If you investigate the hiring practices of both the successful and less successful manager, you will understand why. Go back to the four reasons for above and look for these pitfalls in the hiring approach.

Step 2 – Invest in Training

Training is the first thing that gets canceled when an organization is short on resources, time or commitment to the future. It is easy to see why this short-sighted practice is a problem.

Henry Ford said famously: “The only thing worse than training your employees and having them leave is not training them and having them stay.”

The only thing worse than training your employees and having them leave is not training them and having them stay - Henry Ford (famous quote)
The only thing worse than training your employees and having them leave is not training them and having them stay – Henry Ford (famous quote)

Henry Ford’s advice is well-taken. Many managers hear it and endeavor to fulfill their duty to provide training. The problem many they face is the specifics. They don’t know where to start.

  1. Why should we train?
  2. What should we train?
  3. When should we train?
  4. Who should we train?
  5. How should we train?

The best place to start is to answer #1. Why should we train? It is all about where you are currently and where you want your team to get to.

Why should we train?

Look at the outcome you want for your team. Ask yourself, if they were already trained, what would they know and how would that help? The “why” is answered by the destination. When you clearly articulate where you want the team to get to, you will be able to justify the investment of time and effort. With the destination clearly understood, you can start to work backwards and create a training plan with milestones along the way for how you are going to get to your training destination.

A symptom of an untrained team is how busy the manager is. As the team becomes more competent, the manager finds she has less to do. Over time, she finds that the focus can be adjusted from tactical, get-through-the-day type goals, to strategic goals.

  • How busy are you?
  • How competent is your team?
  • How much time do you invest in training?

Answer these questions and you will discover the source of your workload. The manager is usually promoted to the role due to their competence in producing excellent work, and the expectation is that competence is transferred to the team. The transfer of knowledge rarely happens in the short term without following the 4 Steps to Build a High-Performing Team.

What should we be training the team to do?

Once you have defined your why, you can start to work on the what. What should we train becomes a simple act of filling in the blanks.

When you have defined the destination of what a fully trained team-member looks like, you can identify the component parts of the curriculum.

EXAMPLE: As a result of some team analysis of a forklift dealer, we recognized that the most successful account managers on the team were able to articulate the value of the dealership (aftermarket), were experts in each of the classes of product we sold (classes 1, 2, 3) and were excellent in providing a detailed demo on each lift truck model, understood racking, conveyor/sortation, the fleet management software, and they were well-versed in selling skills. Based on this, we created eight training segments, which we covered over eight 12-week periods. In this way, at the end of a two-year period, the team had completed training on all eight segments for the team.

After only two years, results improved, morale improved and we recruited higher-quality talent. Training became the foundation for our success.

When should we train?

Whenever you introduce new training, the complaint from the team will be, “This training is taking me away from my job, I don’t have the time to train.”

Therefore, it is very important that training take the form of bite-sized chunks. Schedule times of the day, week, month and quarter that do not interfere with the business you are in. It also needs to be relevant.

Who should we train?

Everyone in your organization needs training, but not everyone needs training on every topic. It is important to identify the topics for training, then identify roles that need training.

Training needs to be role specific. Each role in your organization needs a training plan to identify which training they need.

Look at your whole organization and ask, what is it that everyone needs to know? Create a general training for every associate, then specialize the training for each group. You may decide that every manager in your organization needs situational leadership training, but only operations management needs 5S training. Make sure you clearly document who should be trained on each topic. Then include it in your training plan.

How should we train?

When one teachestwo learn.” ― Robert Heinlein

My experience learning Hapkido in Korea taught me a lot about effective training. I noticed that the master of the martial arts academy trained very specific people. His time was focused on the strongest and most senior individuals in his school. He then delegated to his senior pupils the responsibility to train the next tier down the belt ranking system. They delegated their training to belts immediately junior to them. In this way, every level was responsible for training the level directly below them. Black belts trained brown belts, brown belts trained purple belts, etc. The master audited everyone’s mentoring and put the weaker mentors into remedial training.

This approach reminds me of TOYOTA’s PDCA cycle. PDCA stands for Plan, Do, Check, and Adjust.

How to Use the PDCA Cycle in Training

In Korea, I experienced the PDCA cycle in action. In the martial arts , the plan is the belt curriculum. The curriculum is documented and clearly defined. When the senior belt teaches the junior belt student, this is the do. It is the execution of the planned teaching curriculum. Once the curriculum has been taught and practiced, the master comes around and audits the senior belt’s teaching and the junior belt’s assimilation of the curriculum. This is the check part of the cycle. If either the teaching of the skill or the assimilation of the skill is found wanting, the master pulls the senior belt away, reinforces the senior belt’s knowledge and ability to teach the skill and then task the mentor (senior belt) and mentee (junior belt) to review the curriculum again. In this way, the PDCA cycle continues until the junior belt is an expert in the curriculum and gets his black belt.

Therefore, it is crucially important that a successful mentor-mentee relationship be fostered within your organization. Using the PDCA cycle, you will build skills in both the mentor as well as the mentee.

When on teaches two learn - Robert Heinlein
Create a culture of learning at your company

One of the companies I worked for in a leadership role, made the Mentor-Mentee relationship the signature focus of his organization. Every year, this forklift dealer, held a training academy, the company’s management training event. Every supervisor or manager who was invited to be a part of that year’s academy was required to either have a mentor or to mentor someone throughout the duration of the academy.

In this way, knowledge and experience passed from senior member of the team to more junior members of the team. Additionally, lifetime friendships and trusting relationships were formed within the organization.

Step 3 – Measure What is Important

Failing to measure leading and lagging indicators that will drive your business forward creates confusion and anxiety. All team members need to know what the measurements are and what activities will get them a stronger result.

When I first joined Raymond Handling Solutions, we did not have a way to identify top performing account managers. We knew we wanted to identify top performers, but we didn’t have benchmarks to discern who was doing well.

At my previous employer in Canada in 2005, performance was a very private affair. Low performing sales reps knew who the top performing sales reps were by their “master status” conferred on them after 10 years of experience. They also knew they were doing well by the luxury-brand cars they drove.

What did not work about this approach in was that a person’s financial success might have mistakenly been attributed to the opportunity the individual had or the favors he received from upper management. Sales reps might have believed that their paychecks were tied to the largess of their employer instead of how they structured their deals. There was no direct line of logic between how a rep was paid and performance. It was all a big mystery.

I was at Raymond Handling Solutions (RHSI) in Los Angeles when we introduced our Sales scorecard. We were looking for something to celebrate and needed the data. The scorecard was simple. It documented the performance for each category of product we sold, and it was sorted by Gross Profit (GP). Therefore, the highest GP producing sales rep was stack-ranked at the top of the chart and the lowest GP generator was at the bottom.

Ranking based on GP was the perfect measurement for the team. It aligned with how the sales reps were paid (a percentage of GP) and it aligned with the goals of the company: profitability.

In this way, you need to choose a measurement that is meaningful to those who are being ranked. If you are paying salespeople on GP, but measuring units sold, it will be difficult for the sales team to connect the dots. The team will focus their energy in directions the company may not want to go.

Notice that by simply measuring performance and putting those measurements up on the wall, you shift the conversation. I remember one senior sales rep telling me how he had sold $2.5 million in gross sales revenue. When I asked him how much GP he had produced, he wasn’t sure. When I asked him what he was paid on, he told me GP. So, in this situation, we found a sales rep who was putting his energy into one measurement but being paid on another. The result was he and the company he worked for were dissatisfied. He didn’t feel appreciated and the company wasn’t getting what it needed.

Once the measurements for GP were put in place that aligned the senior sales rep’s activities with how he and the company were getting paid, performance improved almost immediately.

Step 4 – Celebrate the High Performers

Companies that fail to celebrate the high performers create an “in it for the paycheck” culture. Associates hold back on commitment and wonder privately or sometimes out loud: “Why bother?”

The argument against celebrating this: How can we celebrate until we hit our company’s goals?

So, you end up getting stuck. On the one hand you don’t want to celebrate anything until there is good news to celebrate, and on the other, until you start celebrating achievements, albeit small ones, the culture of achievement never takes hold.

Therefore, the solution is to find something to celebrate at every meeting. If you can’t think of anything, ask the team for help. Ask them: “Who should we acknowledge this week and why? ” or “What can I acknowledge you for this week?”

Sound goofy? Perhaps, but not celebrating anything is worse.

When the door to the Executive Meeting room opens and the meeting lets out, notice what the folks in the office do. You will see that any admin sitting near the meeting room door will instinctively look up. He will notice the mood and expression of those coming out of the meeting and will make up a narrative that either the company is doing great or the company is doing poorly. And then that energy and interpretation colors his conversations for the balance of the day.

A man is but a product of his thoughts. What he thinks, he becomes.  Mahatma Gandhi famous quotes
Find something to celebrate every time your team meets