Sales success: Are there creative boundaries?

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Graeme Owen

Graeme OwenI’ve enjoyed several of New Zealand-based consultant Graeme Owen’s blog postings in part because the advice he offers is truly valid anywhere in the English-speaking world (and probably elsewhere, if you can understand the language.

He has recently been tackling the challenge of finding and motivating effective salespeople — probably the greatest human resources challenge for most businesses.

How do you “control” great sales reps?  Owen suggests that you should be careful and not impose rigid rule-based systems on them.

Fantastic salespeople in the building industry hate rules! Tell them that they can’t do it, and they will have to prove that they can! That’s because they are wired to rise to a challenge. A great quality when it’s on your side, but it can create a myriad of problems in a building workplace. Administrators trail after them to get their  paperwork completed. Project managers react to their pressure to start “now!” or complete early. You will be tempted to load up your salesperson with rules.

Owen suggests you cannot “change” great reps. “The thing is that highly performing sales people travel in territory few others in the company traverse,” he writes.  “So how would you or the others in the company know what it’s like out there anyway? The very nature of commission sales requires  strength of personality. So trying to change that is dooming yourself to failure. You can’t really change a person’s personality.”

He says results are always more important than rules, so you need to be sure the limits and controls you impose are absolutely vital for the company’s survival.

Now, I hear you howling that you can’t just give them carte blanche! True. One sale is much the same as another, yet each encounter between salesperson and client is a unique event. So, distinguish between inviolable boundary rules and company procedures. Then define as few boundary rules as possible and make the company procedures guidelines for success. Ask yourself, “Does it really matter?” Unless your answer is,  “Yes it absolutely does,” then make it a company guideline. Reserve the boundary rules for the non-negotiables.

He also says you should encourage creativity.” Have team members discuss where they tried new approaches, or departed a little from company guidelines,” Owen writes. “It’s in these discussions that the whole team does it’s best learning. It may be that you decide to modify company guidelines because of a risk taken by just one team member that paid off. Don’t require 100 per cent agreement – Just 100 per cent  involvement.

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