Farquharson | on Business Development: Fire Up ‘Lazy’ Salespeople
Your company needs to grow. And, given the fact that 10 to 15% of this year’s business won’t be around next year due to natural attrition, you need to find new business just to stay in the same place. But there’s a problem: This same sales force that worked so hard for so long and achieved so much to get the company to its current sales level is now one of its chief obstacles toward achieving additional growth.
They don’t automatically want to do business just because you do. Your goals are not their goals. Your needs are not their needs. Your priorities are not their priorities. If they are making all the money that they need and are happy with their current book of business, management has a sales challenge of a different kind — and a potentially difficult and frustrating situation.
A non-salesperson would look in from the outside and not understand why this is a problem: Wait, what? Don’t the reps work for the company? Why can’t they simply do their jobs, the ones they are being paid to do? Management, while on the one hand grateful for the work it took to get the company to where it is, gripes about the current lack of effort and desire to get to the next level. Legacy reps, the ones with that coveted book of sustainable business, are seen as stubborn and selfish and downright, well, lazy.
But anyone with a sales background knows better. Are they in fact lazy? Absolutely not! But they do take their own situation into account when they get the “Gang, we need more from you” speech. They have built an income and a lifestyle born from an annuity of business earned over the years. The thought of making new calls on new companies holds no appeal. That’s for the other reps, the younger ones, they think.
Interestingly, those same characteristics that are in the way of future growth are precisely what it took to get both them and the company to where it is today: They are territorial and independent, stubborn and confident to the point of being cocky. Ironic, isn’t it?
One half of any sales force can fit this description. And while you can cajole and even force them to work toward this company-wide goal of increased sales volume, it is a lot riskier than it may seem. Stand in front of them at the annual sales meeting and announce that double-digit growth is a new requirement and be ready to face the consequences: Revolt, dissension and potential departure.
Just because management decided it would be really cool to be ranked on the Printing Impressions 400 doesn’t mean the salespeople share that goal. But even if that is not your goal, the sales force needs to be engaged in order to achieve even that 10 to 15% necessary growth level. The entire sales force.
So, how does one sell to the sales force? Is it better to use a carrot or a stick? Well, it would help to first understand the signs that you might employ this category of salesperson and then consider the options.
First, the signs of a complacent salesperson:
- Growth comes almost exclusively from within existing accounts. If a new order comes in, it is typically from someone they’re already doing business with and, if and a new client is landed, it’s because their brother-in-law just started a business;
- The “I know damn-well that I should be prospecting. I’ve been doing this for [insert impressive-sounding, double- digit number here] years” tirade;
- They probably have at least one large “anchor” account that consists of 20 to 60% of their business;
- Their work hours resemble more of a banker than a sales rep;
- Every day, they tell themselves two lies: “My clients love me!” and “It will always be like this!”
As it turns out, denial is not a river in Egypt and one day it is likely to all come crashing down on them, but that’s a column for another day. Let’s talk next about how to get the complacent sales rep moving forward in the same direction as the company.
1. Do nothing — You might feel it’s not worth the effort, the aggravation or the risk that the salesperson might depart if pushed too hard. Or, if every attempt is made to get a sales rep on board and he/she just doesn’t buy-in, you can always come back to this option. If you choose this path, growth will need to come from the salespeople who are still hungry;
2. Attempt to motivate — Given that salespeople love shiny stuff, perhaps you attempt to create a contest, an award system or even special short-term compensation. This is a good choice when you are trying to build volume on a new piece of equipment;
3. Scare them — Turn off the lights during a sales meeting and tell them stories of salespeople who have lost their anchor accounts due to no fault of their own (like when Conglomerate A buys Company B, the latter being one of their anchor accounts and poof, reality sets in and all of the things that you told them would happen are happening. Their business and pride are in shambles and they need to take the walk of shame into your office for confession);
4. Threaten them — Remind them that until their name goes on the front of the check and not the back, they are employees and, if growth is needed, it’s expected that they will comply;
5. Generate leads — Most salespeople would agree that finding the right person to talk to and coming up with a valuable approach are the two most difficult parts of selling. Take these challenges away by providing leads and identifying needs, as well as contact names, and now all you’re asking for is the sales rep to make the calls, make the calls, make the calls.
6. Provide outside resources — Have you ever noticed that no matter how many times you give your kids the same advice, it’s only when they hear those same words come from someone else that they buy-in? Investing in outside training can have the same effect;
7. As a last resort, appeal to their sense of “team” — the salespeople cannot accept the rewards and glory for keeping the presses running and people employed without also accepting the responsibility that comes with it. This is a corporate culture that needs to be embedded early on as a way of avoiding this type of situation. But there’s no bad time to play this card.
In the end, it could very well come down to a conversation that sounds like this: “Our company needs to grow andI need you to participate. To assist you, I’m willing to provide internal and external resources, as well as all the support you need. If you choose not to be a part of this plan, fine. But I’d like to know what your plan is for growth.”
Remember, this is simply another sale to be made. You can get what you want when you figure out what they want and help them to get it. Play to their ego, their empathy and their sense of community. Understand that the junior salespeople are watching your behavior and their reaction.
This is not the first time, nor will it be the last time, you’ll need more from an unwilling sales force. Handle this with great care.