Each new year brings with it an opportunity to evaluate how you and your sales team have performed over the past 12 months and to think about what the coming year might bring. However, for many of us who make our living in the selling profession, this past year is a year we’d be happy to forget. A variety of news reports tell us the global economic recession is coming to an end. But the difference between last year and this year will be determined more by the changes we make inside our organizations than by the changes that happen to take place outside it. We can choose to embrace the new year as an opportunity to get back to what made us successful to begin with. Refocusing on a few key fundamentals can give us the edge we need to create our own turnaround. Here are four things sales managers can do to get their sales teams back on track:

  1. Commit to consistent business development activity. It’s not rocket science. Finding or creating new business opportunities, either with new prospects or existing clients, takes consistence and persistence. As a sales manager, develop a culture of regular outbound business development activity. Help each of your salespeople establish a weekly (or perhaps daily) schedule for prospecting. Many of your top salespeople became your top salespeople through consistent and persistent outreach. Remind them of how they got to where they are and teach your new people that success is determined by many skills, but the most foundational skill of all is reaching and booking appointments with people you don’t know.
  2. Understand why your best clients are your best clients. Go back and evaluate the common characteristics of the clients or customers that continue to do business with you year after year after year. You might even be so bold as to ask them why they’ve been so loyal. If you and your sales team can understand more about why your best clients buy, it might provide insight into the types of new clients your team should be investing their time in pursuing. Blend what you learn into a profile of an ideal client that your salespeople can use to focus and prioritize their selling efforts going forward. Almost without exception, they’ll find that there is some situation that each of their best clients is less than ecstatic with. Many of the issues they uncover can turn into new opportunities to do even more business with those best accounts.
  3. Foster an environment for learning. As a successful sales leader, you probably have shelves filled with books on sales, marketing, and business in general. Reading is one of the most important things we can do to expand our domain expertise and professional knowledge. Make sure to develop that habit with everyone on your sales team. Start a book-of-the-month (or every other month) club. Have everyone on your sales team read the same book by a certain date then meet to talk about the best ideas they’ve each learned and what they plan to do with those ideas. Loan people your books in exchange for a commitment to read them. Sure, you won’t get them all back, but they aren’t doing you much good sitting on your bookshelf anyway. You can buy another copy if you need to.
  4. Create some good healthy competition. Most salespeople are somewhat competitive by nature. Why not leverage that trait for the positive? Establish a few goals for everyone on your team to pursue. The key is to set goals where each salesperson competes with themselves instead of each other. For example, measure the total dollar value of all forecasted sales opportunities in each salesperson’s pipeline for the month of January. Then challenge each person on your team to increase that number by 15 percent by the end of February. Or, set aside three hours on a Friday morning to have your whole team focus on booking four face-to-face appointments with new clients for the following week. Rather than rewarding only the salesperson who increases their pipeline the most, or the one who books the most appointments, make sure everyone who increased 15 percent or booked four new appointments gets a reward or can share in a group reward. It doesn’t have to be much. Free movie tickets , free pizza, or a simple email of recognition sent to the entire company can be enough to get people excited about doing more.

Your job as a sales leader isn’t super complicated, but it also isn’t always easy. If you can get people focused on and excited about doing the things that most of them already know they need to do, you and your team can create your own economic recovery.About the authorBill Stinnett is the founder and president of Sales Excellence, Inc., a global sales training and consulting company dedicated to helping companies grow their client base, increase revenue, and keep more profit. He is the author or two bestselling books, Think Like Your Customer (McGraw-Hill 2005) and Selling Results! (McGraw-Hill 2007). He can be reached via email at [email protected] or on the web at  www.salesexcellence.com .