Five Ways to Achieve Effective Communication In Your Sales Team
Communication is at the heart of what makes an outstanding sales manager…
A highly successful CEO and former colleague of mine, when asked during a company conference, “What do you think are the three most important lessons you have learned about successfully leading an organisation?” answered:
Sure enough, thinking about issues that have arisen within organisations I have worked in – be it with a project, motivation in a team, with a customer or between functions – invariably the source of the problem was a miscommunication of some sort.
This is particularly true for sales teams. Communication is key to building confidence and trust within the team. Miscommunication can result in resistance to change, creating barriers to any new initiatives that you want to implement as a sales manager. Given the importance of communication to sales, I have analysed and broken down successful communication into five key elements.
What are the five key ingredients to successful communication?
- Goal-oriented: Before making any communication – written or spoken, formal or informal – make sure you are clear about the desired outcome of that communication. Once you have defined the goal, you must pursue it. Distractions increase the risk of you relaying a mixed message and of your goals not being successfully reached.
- Audience-centric: Your communication style should vary depending on who you are trying to influence or inform. For example, a presentation of results to a board director needs to be high-level and concise, and include less detail. In contrast, your team will be more interested in the detail behind every deal and every client. Consider both the goal that you are trying to achieve and the needs of the individual you are trying to influence to make the communication successful.
- Clear: This sounds really obvious, but you must be clear. If you are trying to ask a question or deliver a message then make sure the structure is logical. Be succinct and to the point. Never assume people will know what you mean or will be able to read between the lines. If you want to say something, say it – people like to know where they stand.
- Engaging: Make sure the communication is interesting, exciting and contains emotion as well as logic – you are not a robot. The emotion provides empathy and reasoning behind the facts and figures. There is likely to be some sort of reaction (good or bad) to the message that you are delivering, so engage with this emotion. The recipient will appreciate your honesty: if you are forthcoming with the fact that people may have an emotional reaction to your communication, you will gain their respect and will have won half the battle in keeping them onside.
- Two-way: This is arguably the most critical element. Recognise that communication is a two-way thing: just because you think you have communicated something, it does not mean that the other person has necessarily received the same message. How many times have you heard a weak manager say “well, I did tell them”? Your responsibility is not to “tell” but to communicate effectively – a much harder and more complex skill. Communication is part of a dialogue: there must be a feedback loop to make it dialogue, otherwise it simply isn’t true communication.
By way of an example, one of the most sensitive conversations you can have with a sales team is about changes in the commission structure. Life would be much easier for the sales manager if you could just send an email with the changes and move on to the next task. However, salespeople will usually assume that any change in this area is negative. This can lead to a demotivated workforce and a dip in productivity, with much of the following weeks spent moaning about the new scheme, jumping to false conclusions as to what is behind the change – or, even worse, looking for a new job. So, the speed of ‘just’ sending an email is a false economy, as the time you will need to spend dealing with all the repercussions is far greater than the time it would take to effectively communicate in the first place. Take the time to make sure your team understand the changes, challenge them if necessary as they should be an incentive plan designed to drive business. Invest the time to have a dialogue and to explain the reasoning and business drivers behind the change, recognising that your people will feel unsure at first but showing them how they can achieve their OTE.