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How to Turn Your Workforce Into a Salesforce

Dr. Cindy McGovern
Dr. Cindy McGovern

Small businesses without a dedicated salesforce can train all employees to make sales.

As your small business grows, it might not have enough employees to dedicate any of them specifically to sales. That doesn't mean, however, you can't have a salesforce.

Every single employee who works for your business is – or should be – selling. No matter if the employee's job title is vice president, architect, lawyer, receptionist, computer tech or janitor, that person is also a salesperson.

That is – or should be – true for businesses of any size. But especially for SMBs with limited staff, requiring employees to do double duty as salespeople is a must.

Think about it. Any employee who has contact with a customer, client, vendor or a member of the public – even after hours – is a walking commercial for your company. If an employee badmouths the business or complains about the work or the managers, anyone who hears that will form a negative impression of the company.

On the other hand, an employee who enthusiastically explains what your business does and how well it does it just might convince others to hire your company and pay for its services.

For these reasons, it's important to train all employees in sales skills so they can use them whenever they find themselves in a position to influence someone's opinion about your business.

As you begin the process of transforming your workforce into an unofficial salesforce, you will run into three roadblocks:

  1. Employees who don't want to sell
  2. Employees who don't know how to sell
  3. Employees who refuse to sell

Managers can overcome all of those challenges. However, those managers may also fall into one of those three categories – at least at first.

Employees who don't want to sell

Let's face it. If the employees on your staff wanted to sell, they would have applied for sales jobs. The fact is that some of your employees would rather be unemployed than try to sell. Some of them may even threaten to quit.

Although few modern sales professionals use tactics like manipulation and false promises to sell, they have managed to give the industry a black eye. Many consumers – including some of your employees – find sales "icky," cheesy or dishonest.

Yet they don't have to – and should never – employ those unscrupulous tactics when they're hoping to convince clients or potential customers to do business with your company.

Instead, they should make every transaction a win-win for the company and for the customer. To do that, the employee should listen to what the customer needs – or come right out and ask – and then offer to fill that need with one of your company's products and services. In that way, sales becomes a service. Sales becomes a way to help.

There's nothing "icky" about that.

Employees who don't know how to sell

Here's a piece of good news: Your employees do know how to sell. They sell all the time. They sell their children on eating their vegetables and going to bed on time. They sell their friends on eating at one restaurant instead of another. They sell their coworkers on covering for them when they're running late. They sold you on hiring them.

They never thought of those transactions as sales, but that's what they were. Every time you ask anyone for anything – another order, a favor, a job, a referral – that's a sale.

In fact, most people are born salespeople. Kids seem to know intuitively just how to get Mom and Dad to buy them a toy or let them have an extra dessert or give in to their pleas to stay up just long enough past bedtime to get to the next level on a video game.

Somewhere along the line, though, most kids start hearing "no" so often that they stop trying to sell. But we all have those instincts tucked away somewhere. Your employees can draw on that expertise to start selling for you.

That's not to say that you shouldn't train your employees in the sales strategies that you deem ethical and appropriate for your business. It's important to share with them the following five techniques that sales pros use to get to that win-win.

1. Plan. If you throw your employees into the sales arena with no training or guidelines, they will freak out. Instead, help each employee make a plan that will serve as a roadmap for each project or sale.

2. L­­ook for opportunities. A well-trained tech will notice when a customer is in need of additional help – help that could result in a new order for your business. Once your employees have this training, they will be open to making these unofficial sales because they'll be on the lookout for them.

3. Establish trust. A client or potential customer is most likely to buy products and services from the people they trust. Nothing establishes trust like genuine helpfulness. As part of employee sales training, each member of your staff should become aware that every behavior, statement and attitude can make or break a potential sale.

4. Ask for what you want. This is the hardest part for professional salespeople, so don't be surprised when it is nearly impossible for your non-sales staff to come right out and ask their clients if they can open another order or sell a second service to fill a need the customer has voiced. Asking is hard because the answer might be no. The flip side is that if they don't ask, the answer is definitely no.

5. Follow up. Consider every rejection a "no for now," not a "no forever." Your employees should contact clients who have said no in a week or so to ask if there's anything else your business can do for them. Likewise, every yes is a gift. And every employee who receives this gift should offer a genuine thank you.

Employees who refuse to sell

Some employees are so put off by the thought of selling that they refuse to do it. Others simply don't consider sales a part of their jobs, because officially, it's not. If that's the case at your company, it's time for a culture change.

Selling cannot be optional – for anyone. If you want to turn your workforce into a salesforce, the culture at your company has to be built around the notion that every job is a sales job. And as the owner or manager, you need to motivate your employees to want to sell

Aside from training employees in sales strategies, you can make three cultural changes right now:

1. Make a list of sales behaviors that every employee should follow with every single client. For example, before hanging up the phone with a client or showing a customer to the door when a job is finished, every employee should ask one of the following questions.

  • Is there anything else I can help you with?
  • Can I open another order for you?
  • Can I tell you about another service we have that I think will help you with the other problem you're having?
  • Would you be willing to refer our company to others or post a positive social media review about us?

2. Tie part of every employee's pay to those new behaviors. Track how many additional sales each employee makes during interactions with their customers. Offer incentives like bonuses, days off or trips for those who make the most sales while continuing to do a good job with their original duties. Give raises to those who seem to be going the extra mile with customers in an effort to make sales.

3. Model the behavior. Culture change comes from the top. If every employee is expected to ask for additional business after every customer interaction, managers and owners must do that as well. Managers who do what they ask others to do show employees that they're serious about the new routine and about turning all employees – including themselves – into salespeople.

Culture change begins at the top of the company. You can create a sales culture for your workplace, even if you don't have a single, official salesperson on staff.

Image Credit: fizkes/Getty Images
Dr. Cindy McGovern
Dr. Cindy McGovern Member
Known far and wide as “Dr. Cindy,” the First Lady of Sales, Dr. Cindy McGovern holds a Doctorate Degree in Organizational Communication and a Master’s Degree in Marketing. She earned her reputation by building (and rebuilding) entire sales programs from the bottom up. Dr. Cindy, who is CEO of Orange Leaf Consulting, has helped hundreds of companies and individuals around the world from small to huge create dramatic and sustainable revenue growth. She has also authored, Every Job is a Sales Job: How to Use the Art of Selling to Win at Work, scheduled for release in September 2019 by McGraw Hill Professional. Dr. Cindy is an expert in the areas of sales, interpersonal communication, leadership, and change management. She can quickly figure out what an organization or individual needs to be more successful, and her current knowledge of many industries helps leaders implement new behaviors needed to succeed. One reason for her success is that she serves as both teacher and coach, working together with individuals, regardless of their role or where they are in their career to co-create their future. She doesn’t tell her clients what to do—she listens, learns about their successes and challenges, and then helps them create strategies designed to be effective long after her visit has ended. An in-demand speaker, Dr. Cindy has presented at both national and international conferences on the topics of Sales, Management, Leadership, Sales Management, and Interpersonal Communication, Organizational Change, Conflict Resolution, and Collective Bargaining.