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Feedback Feeds Performance

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Salesperson feedback is a critical factor in determining both the success of your sales people and the effectiveness of your sales manager.

Salesperson feedback is a critical factor in determining both the success of your sales people and the effectiveness of your sales manager. If you have been reading this series of articles on sales management for the last 10 months, you will recognize this as the next logical step in sales management.

Once your salespeople understand their goals, it is important to give them regular feedback regarding their progress. This feedback process has three components: individual performance numbers, observing on the floor, and one-on-one meetings. Proper feedback encompasses all three.

INDIVIDUAL PERFORMANCE NUMBERS
A critical function of salesperson feedback is to let your people know how they are performing relative to their goals. For this to be effective, salespeople have to have ownership of their goals, which must be related to their average sale, closing rate, and traffic (for more information about proper goal development, see the April 1996 issue). Once these performance goals are mapped out, you need to work with your people to ensure that they achieve them.

If you don't review progress toward meeting individual goals with your salespeople until the end of each month you have no way of correcting behavior -- mid-period -- to repair any underperformances. If you meet with your salespeople halfway through the month, however, you greatly improve their chances of achieving their goals. If you meet with them once a week, or even once a day, you even further enhance the likelihood that goals can be met or exceeded.

While it is impossible to meet with your entire staff on an individual basis every single day, automated feedback systems allow for virtually the same impact. Our clients use a sales management workstation but there are other automated means which can help you to derive these figures. Regardless of the means, sales managers must develop a method of letting their people know every single day where they stand relative to the numbers they want to achieve.

A daily feedback report should let individual salespeople know how much they've sold to date during the period, what their average sale has been to date for the period, what their closing rate has been to date for the period, and what their average sale and closing rate has been relative to the rest of their team. The later measure is important because it eliminates the trap of comparing people against each other.

The most important component of the daily feedback report, and the key to its success, is that it also shows salespeople exactly what they must do to achieve their goals (e.g. volume they have left to sell to reach their goal, number of sales that volume represents based on their average sale, and the number of ups they will need to reach that volume based on their current close ratio). When you feed this type of information back to your salespeople on a daily basis, they become much more motivated to reach their goals because they know, in quantitative terms, what they need to do to reach them.

I must caution you, however, that all of this effort will be in vain unless the goals were properly developed. Individual goals must be based on the salesperson's own specific needs and wants so that they see the achievement of the goal as being meaningful to them personally.

Although you wouldn't meet one-on-one with each salesperson every day, it is essential for the sales manager to make some kind of note on each feedback report. There's no reason why this can't be done and it keeps the salespeople connected to their day-to-day progress. If the salesperson only has 21 days and we miss 2 days that's 10% of the month!

OBSERVING YOUR FLOOR SALES PEOPLE
The second component of the feedback process is observation on the floor. It is one of the least understood and most important processes of sales management and it is frankly the least done. Observation is often sabotaged by the owner who, unless he sees the sales manager performing some function on the sales floor, believes that the person is not doing his or her job. I have witnessed a sales manager standing on the floor observing his salespeople when the owner came out of his office. The owner didn't believe his manager was doing anything of value and said, "If you're going to be out here doing nothing, can't you at least replace some light bulbs?" The next time I went back to that store, I found the sales manager replacing light bulbs in the parking lot.

Your salespeople may complain that they don't want to be observed and feel uncomfortable when they're put in this situation. That is no reason to avoid the process. Salespeople who complain about being observed are simply not used to being watched. The more time a manager spends on the floor observing, the more your people will become used to it, the easier it becomes for everyone, and the more productive it becomes. Don't avoid this critical process simply because your sales people say they don't want to be observed. They're representing your company to customers and you have a right and an obligation to know what happens when they interact. You must observe, and you must observe everyone!

It is important to observe low performers so you can help them improve. It is equally important, and often forgotten, to observe high performers. Only by observing both sets of individuals and understanding the difference between the two can you fully understand what causes poor performance.

One sales manager decided to observe his salespeople for 8 hours a day, for three weeks straight. He was expecting to find that the low performers were simply not using their selling skills. What he in fact found was that these people were often more diligent about using the skills they gained in the classroom than their more effective counterparts. The difference, between high and low performance, was that the sales manager - and the customer - could tell the exact moment when the low performers decided the customer was not going to buy (i.e. from body language and speech patterns). He never once witnessed this behavior among high performers.

In this case, the sales manager found that it was not as much selling skill as attitude toward getting the customer to make the buying decision that was the real issue. This was a great moment in locating the key to low performance among this staff and it would not have been possible unless that manager spent considerable time observing. The answers are often right under your nose, but you have to get out on the floor to find them. This process is not limited to non-house call stores.

Few sales managers or owners can remember the last time they went to a customer's home with a designer. Unfortunately, it's usually a case of out of site, out of mind. Designers can go for months doing things that result in lost customers. This is often to the total bewilderment of sales managers who may view these individuals as excellent salespeople on the floor. The fact is, you can't understand what these people are doing in client's homes unless you get out there and do it with them.

In virtually every other industry that conducts outside sales calls, managers regularly accompany their people on calls. Immediately following each call they have curbside meetings in which the manager and salesperson discuss what happened. Because we don't view our house call designers as outside salespeople, we typically don't participate in this process. The truth is, as soon as salespeople get in their cars, they are in an outside sales situation.

Highly effective sales managers never announce when they're going with someone on a house call. This forces salespeople to make solid house call appointments and to be properly prepared.

Observation, in the store or in the home, allows you to see salespeople utilizing their sales skills. As you watch them perform, you will see them do some things well and some things that could be improved upon. The one-on-one meeting is the venue we use to discuss these issues.

ONE-ON-ONE MEETINGS
One-on-one meetings are the key to the entire feedback process, and where it often fails. Sales managers typically tell salespeople where their figures are relative to average sale, closing rate, fabric protection conversion rate, appliance warranties, etc. Unfortunately, these sales managers often have no idea why the numbers are what they are. They then ask their salespeople what they think could be done to improve. This is the right question to ask. But under one condition only. If the sales manager already knows the answer!!!

When manages ask staff members what they believe they could do to improve their numbers, their only purpose should be to teach salespeople how to critique themselves. The only way managers can effectively facilitate this process is if they have the answer before the question is asked. Otherwise, salespeople are being asked to manage themselves, in which case they don't need a manager.

Most one-on-one meetings last between 10 and 15 minutes, which is long enough to go over last month's figures, find out in a general way what the salesperson plans to do to improve, and look at next month's goals. The average one-on-one meeting, if conducted properly, should last between 40 minutes and 1 hour. This is an opportunity for the sales manager to get to know the what motivates each salesperson. When someone has a goal of selling $X00,000 so they can achieve Y% commission rate for $Z0,000 in annual earnings, you need to know why those earnings are important to that individual. While you must not get too personal, it is critical to find out what motivates your people internally. The only way that can happen is through trust building developed during one-on-one meetings.

The last time most salespeople sat down with their sales manager for longer than 40 minutes was during the initial interview. If this is your situation, you are not getting the kind of feedback you need from salespeople to understand how to manage them. This prevents you from doing your job effectively. Information gained during effective one-on-one meetings would help identify problems in early stages before they become serious, and allow for more effective sales management.

Sales managers have three sources of sales floor intelligence:

  • Sales results.
  • Observing the behavior of salespeople on the floor.
  • Talking with salespeople in a trusting, safe environment - the one-on-one meeting.

By gaining small pieces of information here and there, a manager can uncover exactly what is going on and be able to coach effectively. A sales manager's goal is to keep the environment motivational and uplifting. The only way to do that is to make sure that any small problems are resolved before they become serious.

Salesperson feedback is one more necessary ingredient for sales management success. The proper use of feedback encompasses a process that utilizes sales numbers, observation on the floor, and one-on-one meetings. By properly implementing all three of these tools, sales managers can effectively help salespeople reach their goals, understand exactly what's happening on their sales floor, and have major impact on the success of their stores.


EXAMPLE:Wednesday, June 15, 1996

Deborah Samson,

Your sales goal for this month is $43,000 and you have sold $18,727. As of today 50% of the month has passed and you have sold 44% of this month's sales goal.

So far this month your average sale is $1,248 and you are closing 44% of your UPS. Your team's average sale is $1,516 and your team is closing 37%.

With your average sale, to reach your sales goal this month you need 20 additional sales. With your close percent, to make those sales you need 46 UPS.

 DATE  UPS SALES VOLUME
6/2/94 42 $1,105.00
6/3/94 52 $385.00
6/4/94 41 $9,793.00
6/6/94 21 $695.00
6/8/94 30 $0.00
6/10/94 42 $1,065.00
6/11/94 54 $2,370.00
6/14/94 52 $956.00
6/15/94 21 $2,358.00
SUMMARY 34 $18,727.00
Close Ratio:  4%
Avg Sale: $1,248.74

Ted Shepherd is the founder and CEO of Shepherd Management Group. The company specializes in changing the selling culture of furniture stores from merchandise-driven to customer-driven using an intensive hands-on process of consulting, training, and mentoring. For more information on the topics in this article contact tshepherd@furninfo.com.

Furniture World is the oldest, continuously published trade publication in the United States. It is published for the benefit of furniture retail executives. Print circulation of 20,000 is directed primarily to furniture retailers in the US and Canada.  In 1970, the magazine established and endowed the Bernice Bienenstock Furniture Library (www.furniturelibrary.com) in High Point, NC, now a public foundation containing more than 5,000 books on furniture and design dating from 1620. For more information contact editor@furninfo.com.