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FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 12, 1999 - From Pacific Business News
Talking to the sales troops
By Ron Martin

Everybody's played the communication game where someone reads a story then whispers it to someone else. The story is whispered around the room and finally repeated out loud by the last person to hear it.

Sometimes the story changes so dramatically that it is unrecognizable. Facts become distorted and exaggerated.

Individual interpretations become facts.

This same phenomenon often occurs when high-paid sales executives "hatch" a new idea and then pass it on to their front-line salespeople. Communication sometimes breaks down somewhere between the top and the bottom.

Executives are paid good money to come up with good ideas. But sometimes they fail to communicate their good ideas to their good people who can turn them into good results. Salespeople ultimately have the biggest impact on sales. Sales managers have their biggest impact on salespeople.

Communicate your goals, allowances and expectations directly to your salespeople. Expect them to understand you, then inspect what you expect. It's easy.

You have a lot of information to communicate to your salespeople in addition to your sales goals. There is always something new to sell and new information to be learned. Sales campaigns, promotions, specials, contests, assignments and messages all must be communicated to your salespeople.

There are several communications systems that you can use to make this happen. Use any or all of them to establish an effective flow of communication in your business. Remember. Every system requires a master. You are the master of your system.

Communications book
A composition book or three-ring binder makes an ideal communication system. Label the book "communication" and keep it handy in your store or sales office. Your communication book should include sales updates, contest standings and results, recognition for high sales, assignments and messages.

Update your communication book daily. Use colors and graphics to make it fun and interesting. Require all your salespeople to review and initial the communication book at the beginning of every selling shift. Once they get hooked on reading your communication book, you've mastered communication. It's easy.

Company newsletter
Newsletters are valuable, especially to companies that have multiple locations. They can be published and. distributed weekly, monthly, quarterly or yearly. They're inexpensive, and they motivate people.

Make your newsletter fun and interesting to read. Use lots of photographs. When salespeople receive a company newsletter they immediately look for their own pictures. Next, they look for their names, then something about their store. Finally, they read other important stories.

Your newsletter could contain tips on selling, information about new merchandise, contest results, company announcements, articles by company officers and human interest stories about company employees.

Some great salespeople make terrible accountants or business people. Some don't even balance their checkbooks. Many salespeople don't read for pleasure and resist reading for business.

Keep these thoughts in mind as you write memos to your salespeople. Keep memos short and easy to read. Include a section to "initial and fax back" or "read and initial."

Salespeople hate going to meetings. Why? Because there are no customers there. Good salespeople want to sell. Some salespeople consider any other activity a waste of their time and opportunity.

In spite of this resistance, meetings are valuable. Meetings give you the opportunity to see your team assembled as one. Also, meetings allow you to heap peer praise on your top producers. Your best salespeople may not feel they need or appreciate praise and recognition, but they do.

A monthly sales rally (a meeting by a more enthusiastic name) is the best way to focus your team on your monthly goals and obtain a group commitment to succeed. Sales managers who conduct five-minute "shift rallies" everyday notice instant results.

Personal visits
Too many sales managers develop "ivory-tower syndrome." You can become so attached to your office projects that you forget what's most important: your salesperson's behavior while he or she is with your customers. Remember, the best fertilizer in the garden of business is the boss' footprints.

When you visit your store, you see reality rather than hear excuses. No one can tell you that it's slow, or that people aren't buying. You know better.

Your store visits should be both expected and unexpected. When you announce your visits, you provide your salespeople with the opportunity to show themselves at their best. Unexpected visits allow you to see things as they really are. Encourage your salespeople to expect the unexpected.

Telephone, Fax and E-mail
The telephone is the least desirable means of communication from manager to salesperson.

One problem is, you cannot see what is happening on the other end of the line. Also, customers are sometimes ignored by a salesperson talking on the telephone. Always, when calling your store ask, "Are you with a customer?" and get off the phone when the answer is "Yes".

A better use of the telephone - or pager, voice-mail, e-mail, or fax machine - is from the salesperson back to the manager.

Have sales totals called in at specified times throughout the day. This practice keeps keeps everyone focused on selling all day and lets you know how everyone is doing at all times.

Stay in touch with your front line. It's Easy!

Ron Martin is the owner of consulting firm Success Dynamics Inc. and the author of several books.

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