How to Manage a Sales Team from the Top Down

By Butch Bellah

Too many times as a manager you find yourself managing from the bottom up rather than from the top down. You spend your time and energy on the bottom ten percent of your workforce or sales team rather than the top ten percent because they’re the ones who have all the problems.

Sometimes you notice the lesser salespeople are the ones creating problems in the first place. Then you have to help them sort out what they’ve done and how to best solve it. It’s easy to feel you need to spend all your time with these employees. All the while, your leaders are rocking along taking care of business.

Now, everyone needs help. This is not in any way suggesting you ignore anyone who isn’t a superstar salesperson — everyone has to be managed and everyone needs your attention. But, you need to determine whether you’re spending an inordinate amount of time with a certain segment of your team while your top sellers go unnoticed.

If your top salesperson needs you and can’t get into your office because you have three other people lined up with problems they created or should’ve been able to handle themselves, you aren’t properly managing your team. You’ve failed the people who deserve your time.

It’s a slippery slope and a challenge to make sure you’re always providing the most benefit to those who need it. But, you should ask yourself, “Is this where my time is best spent?” If that answer is not a resounding yes, then it’s time to stop and analyze how you’re allocating your most valuable resource: you!

If you only had one hour to spend with your sales team today, where would that time be best spent? Where could you do the most good as a manager and as a resource? Whatever the answers, that’s how you should be spending your time.

If you train your salespeople to spend their time and energy wisely, shouldn’t you do the same? Granted, not everyone needs the same amount of your time and attention, but don’t let yourself be pulled into the vortex of doing nothing but cleaning up messes. Just as your salespeople should focus the majority of their attention on their top customers, you should focus yours on your top talent.

You’ll find your best people require less of your time on a regular basis. They need less handholding, as they’re generally self-motivated and the type to jump in and take care of business. However, when one of your top performers needs your attention, give it to her. She should go right to the top of your list because generally when a top performer needs help, it’s for an important issue.

There is little doubt most sales managers take care of their poor performers — they either work them up or work them out. But, you need to look at how well you take care of your best people and how much you do for them.

Think of things you can do for the members of this club that will drive their productivity and inspire others to want to do what it takes to join:

  • Shout it out loud: Whatever program you create, make it public. Salespeople — especially those at the top of their game — love to be recognized publicly. Post the monthly roundtable members, or gold circle membership, or whatever you call it in a place where not only your sales team can see it but customers can see it, too.

  • Membership has its privileges: Invite your sales leaders to a regular lunch, dinner, or other type outing open only to those who qualify. Perhaps you have an annual trip you take only your top five percent or top five salespeople on. Be creative, and make special perks stand out as something over and above because they reward performance that’s over and above.

  • It’s not always money: Monetary incentives are one of the last things suggested for you to offer this group. Your top salespeople should be making good money already, so you need to do something more — something extra.

Many automobile dealers include their salesperson or salespersons of the month in their advertising campaign. If you pick up the Sunday newspaper, you find that real estate brokers do this a lot, too. It’s a great way to recognize and promote their top people. But, it’s gotten so common it’s almost like the participation ribbons — everyone seems to get one.

One of the best examples in being creative with recognition was an automobile dealer who had large outdoor banners made with pictures of the top salespeople at the dealership. These banners were maybe 14 feet tall — they were huge.

Like most dealerships, there were light poles throughout the lot and these banners were affixed to the poles. Keep in mind these pictures were displayed throughout the lot in front of customers, prospective customers, and the general public just driving by.

Do you think this was a motivating factor or a sense of accomplishment for a salesperson to earn her own banner? Absolutely!

These banners were not cheap, either. The owner put some dollars into these banners. But what a great way to boost the confidence of his superstars! It’s a great way to recognize them and promote his business all at the same time.

This was a triple-threat! The auto dealer got great exposure, his salespeople certainly wanted to be on one of those banners, and the customers certainly had to have an increased feeling of trust and confidence in their salesperson if her face was on a 14-foot banner!

Salespeople are driven by many different motivators, but one that runs through most of the elite is a desire to be recognized. Forget the money, the accolades, and so forth. All that’s fine, and everyone likes that, but to be acknowledged publicly is a reward in and of itself. Use it to your benefit.