The Number One Sales Question

By | September 30, 2013

If you are introducing new services and want a well prepared and effective sales team, you want them to understand what they are selling – that’s a given. As I said in my last post, they also need to have confidence that the new stuff works. Do they need to be technical experts? Probably not, but they need to have an understanding of your offers, what are profitable targets and what are not. Do they need to be vertical market experts? Well, it often helps – but, you can work around that with marketing, well-crafted sell sheets and shared subject matter experts.

The number one question that your sales team wants to know from you is not “how fast is the printer?” or “what’s the difference between a bank and a credit union?” It’s “how do I make money selling this?

Dangling CarrotsNow you may just say – “we pay you to make money for the company – go sell what we tell you to!” But that would be pretty naive – the best sales people are motivated by money. If you have a completely rational sales plan backed up by an emotion-free compensation plan, your sales people will be selling what you want them to and, assuming your sales force is capable of the task (that’s a topic for another post)  they and the company will be making money.

Why do companies find this so challenging?

  1. Market and Profitability Analysis: in order to determine what is profitable to sell, companies need to know their true costs and the size of the markets they are going after. Companies vary widely in their ability to track costs at a job or job type level. Many small and medium sized companies lack true marketing organizations and may not have access to market size information. With new service offerings and new markets this problem is exacerbated.
  2. Emotion: We know that we want to reward the sales reps for winning new business, but they shouldn’t be able to make more money than us managers, right? Wrong! You should want your best sales person to be the highest paid person at the table as long as their compensation is low fixed cost with a high performance reward -and they are performing. This is a hard pill for a lot of managers to swallow and leads to bait and switch comp plans where the juiciest carrots are always out of reach.
  3. Focus and Discipline: It’s hard to turn down business so companies end up rewarding sales reps for ad hoc wins, one-off solutions and out of target-market clients. It’s hard to get people to hunt for new business if they are also responsible for managing major accounts. It’s hard to attract real hunters to your team if you don’t support them with marketing, lead generation and sales administration functions. Hunters still need to do some paperwork – but mostly you want them hunting.

Without addressing these three factors in your sales compensation plan, you run the risk of your sales people selling the same old stuff to any client who bites at the lowest cost –  because that’s how they make money.

Your comp plan shouldn’t just be about filling the bag – it should be about filling the bag with the right stuff. Be clear about what the right stuff is and who the right kinds of clients are. Make sure that your comp plan rewards the behavior you want to see and you should see a difference in your sales and your bottom line.


Elizabeth GoodingElizabeth Gooding is the President of Gooding Communications Group and editor of the Insight Forums blog. She writes, presents and provides training on trends and opportunities for business communications professionals within regulated vertical industries.


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2 thoughts on “The Number One Sales Question

  1. Dan Halmar

    I really appreciate the clear, concise wisdom shared here, differentiating “busy” selling from “profitable” selling. I also appreciate the “hunting” analogy.

  2. Elizabeth Gooding Post author

    Thanks Dan. Please let me know if there are any other sales issues you are wrestling with and I’ll do my best to help.

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