Contributed Column

Marketing 101

Christine Miller

Sales breakups: “It’s not you, it’s me”

There are many reasons salespeople fail. They fail to prospect, they fail to overcome objections, to ask for the order, to create a sales plan, or connect with buyers. The list is endless. 

It’s easy to blame a departing rep for poor performance and make excuses for high turnover in the sales department. But is it really the rep’s fault? If you didn’t hire properly, offer structured training, and provide a successful environment, the failure is because of you. That’s right: Like George Costanza in the comedy Seinfeld, be prepared to say goodbye to your rep by saying, “It’s not you, it’s me.”

Here’s what you can do to avoid the “breakup.”

Hire properly

Don’t employ people just because they happen to land on your doorstep. Seek out the best candidates and make sure that person has succeeded in a similar sales environment. Analyze capabilities and crosscheck references. If you’d like your new hire to become productive quickly, invest in an “onboarding” program.

Onboarding is a comprehensive approach to ramping up new hires that exceeds the traditional first-day orientation. It makes new salespeople familiar with the overall goals of the company and supports their work in an effort to achieve quick success and productivity. Onboarding may be the last step in recruitment, but it is the first step in retention.

Offer structured training

Provide guidance and a formal training plan, including specific training requirements and goals. Every rep should know about the product or service being sold, but that’s just the beginning. They need to understand the sales market, as well as the target prospect. Basic selling skills like overcoming objections, new business development, price integrity, and customer service should be taught. Offer training and support on a regular basis to ensure success.

Create a motivating compensation package

Base salary, commissions, and sales incentives make up the bulk of a salesperson’s typical compensation package. A well-designed program focuses sales energy on activities that support the company’s business objectives, and in turn, reward those salespeople for their contributions. The best salaries and incentives create a positive buzz and help the rep and business succeed. Plan on paying out! You want your rep to be a money-making machine. If your rep is making money, so are you!

Become the coach and define expectations

Managers have many demands on their time, but even top sellers need a coach. Be part of a positive coaching culture. Help your players by defining clear expectations, and explain how they will be accountable if they don’t perform. Show them how to make it happen, then monitor and assess their performance. Establish a formal coaching program, offer advice, and measure progress weekly. Provide regular feedback and demonstrate an exciting vision. Rally the team!

Get out of the way

Clear away the administration that gets in the way of making sales. Don’t slow the reps down with useless paperwork or senseless meetings. Salespeople are judged by the amount of revenue they bring to the establishment. For this reason it is in everyone’s best interest to keep the salespeople selling! Don’t allow them to waste time on activities that don’t add to the bottom line.

Salespeople aren’t just money makers; they are also your client-facing representation, the people with the most daily contact with your customers. When you embrace the above structure, you’ll discover that sales attrition will decrease and profits will increase. Create a culture of success and you’ll be left with a profitable, happy, long-term sales relationship. •

Christine Miller is president of Miller Consulting LLC, which helps small businesses identify, qualify, develop, and close targeted sales leads, and helps organizations find more value in existing relationships. She can be reached at

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