Each year the Institute of Sales & Marketing Management (ISMM) holds its Annual Awards Dinner in London to recognize and celebrate excellence amongst UK sales professionals. Among the winners this year was Helen Peake and her team at Yell, who were awarded Sales Team of the Year, Over 50 Employees. We caught up with Helen to talk about her experiences and get her tips on managing and incentivizing a winning sales team.
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Congratulations on your award win! Could you please tell us a bit about what you do? I have worked at Yell for nearly twenty years now, starting as a sales person myself before moving to manage a team of eight. When I first started, we were selling print space in the Yellow Pages – now the role has very much evolved with the rise of digital. As well as the Yellow Pages, we sell digital products like banner advertising, space on Yell.com and even bespoke websites. It has been a constant learning curve. You’ve won recognition from the ISMM as the best sales team for a company with over 50 employees. What insights can you share about successfully managing a sales team? What’s really important when you’re managing people is to approach them as individuals. There’s nothing worse than feeling like you’re being ‘sheep dipped’ – that everyone in the team is being treated the same by a manager who doesn’t understand what motivates each individual and what stage they’re at in their career. In our team we have lots of very different (and strong!) personality types. To lead a team, you need to both manage people individually, recognizing their own personal strengths, and then engage everyone with a collective team goal. That way, each person fulfills their potential and helps the team to push for success. How do you ensure that your team achieves its goals? My team agrees that they value clear direction. As a manager, there are always targets and objectives to drive and deliver and if I shared everything with the team, I believe it would give them too much information to contend with. It’s better to filter the objectives down to what will hit targets and ultimately make money, and then communicate this to the team to provide clear focus. I think it’s better to have milestones, breaking targets down into small chunks. Big targets can be intimidating; a view my salespeople share. I believe it’s better to think of them in terms of what needs to be done this week, then this month – that makes targets look and feel achievable. What is your approach to staff retention? Retention of key colleagues is absolutely critical. When someone leaves a team, it upsets the balance of people and destabilizes the group. People ultimately like stability and security – part of our success at Yell is that many of us have worked together for a long time. It’s more constructive to work with someone who is on-board and within the business, rather than looking at replacing them. It’s vital that people are happy at work in order to get the best out of them – and their manager plays a key role here. I believe it’s true that employees don’t leave a job, they leave a manager. I would always give 100% to each member of my team, and expect to get 100% back. If one of my team members is having a difficult time, part of my role is to help them through. Keeping the team stable will help to foster long term success for all of us. How important are incentives? Incentives are very important for keeping a sales team motivated. I have an old saying: if you put a cauliflower up as a prize, salespeople will compete for it. Sales reps are by nature very competitive – it’s a job that often draws that type of personality. With that in mind, incentives can be a great motivational tool. However, bonuses have to be used in the right way. If the same people ‘win’ every time then some team members who don’t fit this profile will disengage. There must be a level playing field that allows each individual to succeed and win. Yell believes in the value of incentives. The company offers incentive plans at a corporate level, but team managers are also allocated a small budget to use throughout the year to help drive performance. For example, we might run a bonus to push the growth of Yell.com. It’s all about considering team objectives and working out what isn’t being incentivized elsewhere. What has been your biggest success to date? I’m extremely proud that my team has been awarded the top sales team at Yell for three years running – an impressive result against around 45 teams. Receiving external recognition from BESMA is also extremely rewarding. But what I’m most proud of is the culture we’ve developed within our team. We’ve built a group of dynamic people who don’t give up, and pretty much always meet their targets, even though they might get there in different ways. Ultimately, we know that personal success is built on your team’s overall success. For me, management is simple to a degree: caring about team members as individuals is critical. Acknowledge your colleagues’ differences and treat them with respect, and you’ll get the same back. Read more about Xactly’s own success at BESMA here.