Behind-the-scenes staff makes sales people stars

I watched a clip regarding the Academy Awards several weeks back and it led me to think about many of the parallels between high-profile actors and high-producing salespeople.

Both are "out front" for their companies and "in front" of their respective publics. Both are typically independent, highly motivated and very skilled at their craft. And both play the leading role for generating revenues for their employers.

Yet, they also share an oft overlooked, but key parallel: Neither achieves success alone.

To create the huge results their employers demand, both the actor and the salesperson need a competent and professional support staff to make company goals a reality. How big of a staff? Just watch the credits of any movie. They run for minutes on end and list scores of people.

So while sales is the only activity within a company that directly creates revenue, to believe it is only salespeople who generate sales is naïve and short-sighted. The support staff can provide many key functions that help determine whether sale is made, including: providing prompt and error-free company information or correspondence to prospects and customers; maintaining precise customer records; providing detailed quotes and accurate contracts; offering factual information persuasively to customers and prospects during a salesperson's absence; providing customer support.

Any company's greatest asset is the undeveloped potential of its people. And to manage effectively, you must focus on developing the potential of each employee - salesperson and support staff alike - as doing so will benefit the company, the employee, and the sales organization as a whole.

Accordingly, following are many proven, effective strategies a manager can employ to better manage and develop any employee:

  • Define the employee's role.
    Ensure that your people know exactly what their responsibilities are, and how they affect the team and organization as a whole. Once employees understand the impact they make on the team and company, managing them becomes easier.
  • Set goals and expectations.
    You can't get to where you want to go until you decide "where" this is. Effective goals define the "where" and have four qualities:

    Big. If your goals don't get you excited and nervous, make them bigger because you will only achieve what you aim for.

    Long-term. As Dr. Stephen Covey coined, "Begin with the end in mind." Managers should help their people set long-term goals (three, five or maybe even 10 years out) as much as possible.

    Short-term. Much like steps in a staircase, goals should be short-term, too (three to 12 months). Once an employee commits to her long-term goals, achieving them is made easier by breaking each down into short-term, step-by-step goals.

    Written. It's been said that the faintest of ink is better than the strongest of memory. Have your people set their goals, and then commit them to writing. This one simple step can dramatically affect whether they're achieved.

    • Get employee "buy in" by having them restate these expectations.
      By having employees restate what they've heard and agreed to, it allows you to clarify any ambiguity while making expectations lucidly clear.
    • Create employee personal development plans.
      Employees nowadays want to know, "What's in it for me?" Tell them! A personal development plan shows the employee the areas of improvement he will focus on during the next six to 12 months, incorporates both his long-term and short-term goals, details the experience, skills and proficiencies he must demonstrate to be promoted, and shows the role his position plays in, and the affect it has on, the company.
    • Provide an ongoing performance tracking and feedback mechanism.
      Built into the employee development plan, this consists of monthly or bimonthly "check-in" meetings that allow the manager and the employee to see what's working, what's not and to adjust the plan accordingly.
    • Help employees prioritize.
      Have your people provide you with a prioritized weekly action plan that lists their planned activities in order of importance.

      This is valuable in three ways:

      First, it encourages employees to be "thinkers" rather than just "doers." Most people could fill out a four page "to do" list, but certain things take priority over others. The prioritizing process lets the employee determine those things and thus build his critical thinking skills.

      Second, It's a tremendous learning tool. If you disagree with the importance the employee places on a certain task, you can ask why she feels that's more important than another and then coach her appropriately. Who knows? You might even stand corrected.

      Third, and most practically, it ensures that the most important things are accomplished.

      • Encourage employees to share their thoughts and ideas.
        Most employees are dedicated, have integrity and want to contribute. Allow them to by actively encouraging your people to share their thoughts and ideas
      • .
      • Recognition.
        Recognize outstanding performance publicly. This rewards the individual employee while demonstrating to your other people that you care about them and are in their corner.
      • Appreciation.
        Last, and most importantly, appreciate your people. The great philosopher, Dr. William James, said that the greatest need of a human being is to be appreciated. Management must realize and honor this need as most employees aren't gold diggers and money's often not the major issue. They simply want to be acknowledged and appreciated.

      Although actors and salespeople share many similarities, don't treat your staff as "trailers" or "credits" given only five minutes of recognition at the conclusion of a 12-month deal. Acknowledge and praise them along the way while actively working with each to plan their individual growth.



      Roy Chitwood is an author, trainer and consultant in sales and sales management and is president of Max Sacks International, Seattle.