rule of thumb

Answers to these questions vary, but panelists at the MIT Sloan Sales Conference shared helpful insights.

1. Rule of Three (Plus)

Polly Sumner, Chief Adoption Officer at salesforce.com, advised against competitions between any two sales reps. In a two-person competition, there is always a winner and a loser, and it's hard for someone who loses twice to win again. The result is evident: the two-person team can only harness the power of one.

Thus arises the Rule of Three. In a three-person team, the rep who ranks lowest has two chances of improvement: become the best or the second best. Either position offers hope and incentivizes hard work. The rep ranking 2nd feels both safe (better than the worst) and motivated (worse than the best). And the best rep for the cycle will also have incentives to keep up the good work since he or she faces two competitors. Aside from fueling everyone's desire for better performances, the competition atmosphere will likely be less antagonistic, since two of the reps might find a common “enemy” and become (albeit temporary) allies.

2. Some Rules Can Never Be Broken While Others Can Be Ameliorated.

How should we treat top performers who don't abide by company rules?  Panelists suggested a two-end approach. Find out what kinds of rules these salespersons are breaking. If their behavior reflects the bureaucracy of your company instead of ignorance of its needs, then you might consider reforming or removing these rules. If, on the other hand, your top performers are ignoring obligations to update pipeline or outbound call numbers, they should be warned or penalized. These apparently tedious tasks are important to the accuracy of your company's revenue growth, and lack of fulfillment may jeopardize the long-term development of your company.

3. Assign distinct tasks to marketing and sales but foster close collaboration.

Should sales reps determine the positioning of your product? Though they may adapt feature description to potential customers' needs, the answer is no. Marketing is responsible for setting the pitch. Sales should abide by the central message to maintain consistency of product branding. What sales can do, however, is to collect feedback from leads and collaborate with marketing to refine or update that message. When a pitch doesn't sell, it's important to adjust it quickly, and first-hand data from the sales team can help determine the right direction. 

What other best practices have you found when managing or working with sales teams? 

Photo Credit: lucianvenutian

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Originally published May 10, 2010 2:00:00 PM, updated July 03 2013

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