Practically Speaking is a weekly column that addresses your most pressing business dilemmas. The advice is the opinion of long-time business owner Gene Marks. Send your questions to PracticallySpeaking@fortune.com.
I hired a sales guy about a year ago and he’s not selling enough. He’s barely making quotas – so his performance is adequate. But he doesn’t follow up on all the leads I give him and I know he could be closing more deals. How can I motivate him to sell more?
Chances are, you can’t.
Here’s the thing about salespeople: the good ones sell a lot, the average sell just enough, and the bad ones don’t sell at all.
The good ones are few and far between. You know these people – they’re motivated, independent, hungry, creative and hardworking. And sadly, if they’re really, really good they probably won’t work for you that long because they’ll soon discover that they can make even more money running their own business instead of selling for someone else.
The bad ones who don’t sell are easy to deal with – after a period of time, you let them go.
The average ones are going to be your lot in life. These are people that are good enough to make quota and keep their jobs, but they’re not going to wow anyone. This is the kind of salesperson a typical small business attracts because you can’t afford to pay any more and the really great ones will inevitably move off to bigger and better things – unless you’re interested in parting with equity.
I’m assuming that you’ve been in business for a while and know your market. I’m assuming that your pricing is competitive and your products are quality. But perhaps I’m being too kind to you. Could improving your product offerings help? Your pricing? It may. So get feedback from your sales group. If they’re not making enough money, and it’s something that you can address, then you might have your answer.
So how do you get the most out of your “adequate” salesperson? Offering more money, more incentives, more commission…that’s not going to work. If they really cared about money they’d be selling more. They’re probably making enough to keep them happy. Using contests, games and other tricks of the trade aren’t going to fool the average salesperson into selling more either – it may work once in awhile, but it’s not a good long term solution. The motivation is either there or it’s not.
The thing is this: if you’re still profiting from that “adequate” salesperson, your best bet is to add a few more profitable “adequate” salespeople to the mix. Do you have to budget for this? You already know the answer because you can do math. You already know that within 90 days a satisfactory salesperson will return more than you’re paying, of course. And this way, between all of them, you’re generating the income you need.
A good customer called me the other day and asked if I had any summer job opportunities for her college-age son. What should I tell her?
Well….do you? People get so wrapped up on this. They’re afraid of upsetting their customers. They don’t want to be the bad guy. They take on summer help when it’s not really needed because they can’t say no. And then everyone has a bad experience because you don’t have enough work (or any good work) for the kid and he’ll be unhappy and soon enough everyone else will be unhappy.
However, if you do have work then take advantage. Finding good people at any level is tough today, especially if you run a small business and can’t offer the kinds of perks the big boys do. Bringing in a relative of someone you know is better than hiring someone cold off the street. Training college kids may not only be a good opportunity for the student, but a potential good future employee for you.
Either way, just relax. People get it. If you need help, go for it. If you don’t need the help, tell your customer you can’t help. She’ll understand and I’m sure you’re one of dozens or more that she’s reaching out to. She’s probably in the same position with her customers. If you don’t have any opportunities the least you can do is maybe give her someone else in your network to try – it’s a good way to make new introductions and gives you a reason to possibly reach out to your own customers or prospects.