Statistically speaking, if you have ten sales representatives working for your company, at least six aren't hitting their goals, according to HubSpot. Before you go on a firing-and-hiring rampage, the problem may lie with sales processes and resources, rather than salespeople.

Many sales reps say they lack the tools and sales training to succeed, not the drive. In fact, they want to scorch quotas and expertly close deals. Yet they're stuck in a selling rut that leaves them feeling less confident by the day. As someone who's been candid about my experiences with my "counter mind" -- the part of my brain that plays devil's advocate -- I know flagging confidence can hurt salespeople's short-term and long-term performance. 

To boost the ability of a flagging sales team without resorting to personnel changes, open your mind to new ways of organizing and developing your team.

1. Play to your team's strengths.

A goalie doesn't play forward, and a quarterback isn't a linebacker. Some salespeople are hunters, while others are cultivators. While some enjoy the cold call process, others are better at nurturing long-term relationships. Learn your reps' preferred positions, and reorganize your sales department to make the most of each person's attributes. By working to everyone's strengths, you'll work more efficiently and put less pressure on people who are great at retention, say, but not so good at conversion. 

You can evaluate your team's strengths in a number of ways. One is to speak to each member, asking what they like, don't like, and why. Another method is to take personality tests, like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator or Enneagram. This can help identify who has the personality traits that align well with different sales functions. Of course, these profiles don't define an individual, yet they can help you understand a team member's disposition and tendencies on a deeper level. 

2. Share the power of empathy.

When people ask me why I'm successful at sales, I respond with an answer that most people overlook: empathy. It sounds too easy to be true, yet empathizing with your prospects can go a long way toward not just getting them to make purchases, but to also becoming lifelong connections

When you engage a prospect with empathy, they will feel heard, seen and respected. They won't ever feel like they're been "sold." That meaningful connection is rare -- and it stands out. To encourage your sales team members to approach their job with empathy, train them to think about a day in the life of each sales prospect, including how many mission-critical tasks are on their plate and what aspects of the job are most stressful. Remind them to lead with questions and focus on listening, not dictating or interrupting.

When training sales reps in empathy, you can mix it up by including interactive components. For example, design and consulting firm IDEO worked with Michigan-based Consumers Energy, a public utility serving 6.6 million, to train employees to understand how difficult it can be for customers of limited means to navigate the company's system, which was littered with hidden fees. Employees were each given a limited number of Goldfish crackers and offered choices throughout the day, without fully knowing how many Goldfish their choice would "cost." Some didn't have enough Goldfish to "pay" for their lunch. With new empathy for customers, the team established a new pilot billing program that sends daily text updates about usage and includes personalized efficiency audits for customers' homes.

3. Enable sales reps to offer customers financing.

One of the most common objections you'll encounter in sales is that your product or service is too expensive or the customer can't afford it. A huge asset that makes selling less arduous for salespeople is the ability to offer financing. 

How does this play out in a real-world situation? When AINA Wireless wanted to boost its sales of Bluetooth speaker microphones to commercial customers, the company partnered with small business lender Marlin Capital Solutions to help customers finance the purchase. This strategic alliance allowed Marlin to approve clients for financing quickly, meaning AINA Wireless prospects felt comfortable making purchases they couldn't have otherwise afforded.

You can also use this concept to get creative in making it easier for smaller customers to pay. Some service providers offer clients a hybrid compensation model that includes equity and cash. Others provide deferred payment plans for consumer goods. In other cases, you can provide free add-ons like installation or warranty service. If you stay rooted in empathy, a customer will trust you (or your salesperson) enough to share any roadblocks with pricing, and you can work together to solve the problem and close the sale. 

Final Word

Building a successful sales team takes more than simply firing team members when they're not performing. Instead of assuming your sales team needs a major shake-up to succeed, look at your team from a new perspective. A little tweaking in the way you manage, train and equip your sales staff could make all the difference in your annual results.

Published on: Jul 31, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.