Sales & Marketing

10 essential questions to improve your sales team quickly

7 min read

09 February 2015

Looking to grow and improve your sales team? Here are ten key questions from veteran entrepreneur Martin Leuw that will get you started.

Over the course of my career, I’ve grown businesses with sales teams ranging from just a few sales people to over two hundred, both in the field and on the phone/Webex. 

Like most CEOs, it takes quite a few battle scars to figure out what doesn’t work, before you hopefully arrive at what does. But it’s a new year so why not kick things off differently. As they say: “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.”

Too much time is often spent on addressing the mediocre performers (generally hiring mistakes that need weeding out) and not enough on turning the better sales people into “best in class”. 

One way I illustrated this to one of our top performers was that he might be the sales equivalent of a karate black belt, but to be the best it doesn’t stop there – as in karate, there is a “dan” stage with ten levels. So why wouldn’t you want to be the best and attract the best into your team?

Here are my top 10 questions to ask yourself when building a high performance sales team:

1. Would you buy from this man/woman?

If they can’t sell to you and your team as part of a role play, why would you let them loose on your prospects and customers? Test them relentlessly internally.

2. How well do they know their territory? 

A sales territory is like a franchise. Accountability should rest with the sales person responsible for the territory to get the most out of it and not just sell but keep customers really happy too. 

That means really good quality data on customers and prospects (trust me this is not generally anywhere near as good as you might believe), obtaining reference sites and ensuring that marketing lead generation campaigns have the blessing and ownership of the sales team, rather than just complaining that marketing are not delivering enough. 

If the sales person feels that accountability, they will drive the organisation to deliver what they need, rather than feeling it is outside their control.

3. How consistently do your team pitch? 

One of my bugbears is the quality of elevator pitch, sales pitch consistency and use of a sales methodology inc documentation in the CRM (e.g. SPIN). 

Think of your sales team development as a Sales Academy, not just a “sheep dip” but continuous learning. At one Sales Kick Off with well over a 100 sales people present, we told the team that a number of their names would be pulled out of a hat and asked to come on stage to pitch to their peers. 

This helped focus the mind, as who wouldn’t want to look good rather than stupid in front of their peers?

4. What is the link between activity and performance? 

Understand the capacity of each of your sales team. How many calls, appointments, proposals etc can they do per week vs the number they are actually doing?

It is very rare not to find a direct correlation between the high activity and high performance of your best people.


5. How long are target horizons? 

Isn’t it strange how in some sectors, sales peaks come at the end of the sales commission period, whether that’s monthly, quarterly or annually? 

There is a lot to be said for setting shorter time horizons for sales targets. If your target is £500k pa, that’s c£45k pm (allowing for holidays) and more importantly over £2k per day. Measure in days.

6. Do top sales people make top sales managers? 

In my experience the answer is “not necessarily”. Too often top performers get promoted to manager and fail. 

Managing and getting the best out of a sales team is a different skill set that needs support to be developed.

7. How well qualified is the pipeline? 

Good pipeline software will help you get visibility of your pipeline, as long as it is policed effectively and manage the stages to weight it. 

It’s essential you understand the lead gen activity you need to build a pipeline which based upon your sales conversion rates will deliver the revenue you need. I am constantly amazed by how many businesses “fly blind” in this area.

8. Have you identified the right characteristics of Hunters vs Farmers? 

When we introduced Account Manager (“Farmers”) into IRIS, rather than putting our average performers onto it as so often companies do, we put our highest performers into this new role. It was a resounding cross-sell success.

9. Is there a culture of teamwork? 

We talk about sales teams but too often they are groups of individuals. If you can get them to work as a team and help each other, overall performance can be compounded and it’s a much happier culture to be part of.

10. How do you celebrate success? 

Transparent scaled commission schemes are essential but personal recognition is paramount. League tables, Top Gun days, Awards and President’s Club are a key component in motivating individuals to out-perform again and again.

Martin Leuw is a serial entrepreneur and former CEO of IRIS, the UK’s largest private software house.