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The Guide to Door-to-Door Sales Leadership

7 Tips for Successfully Managing a Door-to-Door Empire

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Door-to-door sales leaders and reps are making crucial mistakes. Are you?
We’ll show you how to identify them, avoid them, and overcome them.

In a world of YouTube advertisements, Social Media Marketing, and do-not-call lists, there has been a growing place for good old-fashioned door-to-door selling. There’s something about a face-to-face interaction that is unskippable, unclickable, and unblockable.

Of course, some companies have known this for a while, and door-to-door sales are a growing source of customer origination, although many predicted that they would all but disappear. Truth is, more people than ever are involved in direct sales, the majority of those people selling from door to door.

Unfortunately, the industry is relatively young, and a majority of D2D salespeople and leaders try to compensate for their lack of expertise, systems, or processes with raw energy and a determination to replicate the success they had in the field. This can only last so long, however, and salesmen wind up disillusioned while leaders find themselves frustrated at being unable to reproduce the type of results they used to have when knocking doors themselves.

We’ve compiled a list of expert tips designed to target the main mistakes sales leaders make and give you the guidance you need to elevate your d2d efforts and to prevent these problems from happening. These principles will help strengthen your canvassing efforts, both as a sales rep or as team leader, manager, or executive.

1. Develop an Effective Strategy

A lot of new sales leaders in the D2D industry are successful reps and field managers who have steadily worked their way up the company ladder. Most of them have found success in the field because of their confidence, optimism, personality, and endurance. They’re typically good on the porch, too, and understand what it takes to handle an area and a conversation.

These are all great attributes, of course, and they have some benefit when a salesperson is making the transition to sales leader or VP of sales. Unfortunately, these positions requires a lot more, and all-star reps are often unprepared for the job’s demands.

In fact, studies have found that “72% of new sales leaders in our sample arrive in a company with no defined sales strategy.” Instead, these leaders often fall back on their previous sales experience and end up trusting their gut or trying to come up with quick patchwork solutions that don’t address the roots of the problem and create new problems altogether.

As a result, the turnover for these positions is unproportionally high and “no other member of the executive suite fails as often as the sales leader.”

Other maturity models report similar findings. Notice Qvidian’s analysis of the immature, underprepared “Chaotic Level” company: “A Chaotic level does not allow the organization much, if any, scalability of efforts. Often heroic efforts are required just to make goals, and sales reps feel uncertain and uneasy of pipeline forecasts. These ad hoc efforts, while providing short-term wins, do not allow for the scalability required to achieve any true business impact.”

What are the key indicators that a business is immature? They don’t have a defined sales process or analytics system. They’re overconfident in the ability of individual salespeople, they’re building off of previous door-knocking success, and their leaders are basically winging it because hey, they’ve sold a lot.

How do you get out of this mode? The same study that identified those problem areas prescribed three key “Recommendations for Improvement”: “create a high level sales process,” “focus on defining a process and infrastructure,” and “audit available content.” For companies going door to door, that would look something like this:

Build a top-level sales process.

You need to be planning for and tracking the sequence of events that takes someone from being a prospect to a customer. You need a sales process that is trainable and measurable while also being adaptable to different areas and porch scenarios. Most importantly, it will act as the framework for almost all of your data gathering, which is the most crucial part of progression for your program. For example, sales process data can inform you that your reps are making a lot of contacts at the door but struggling to close in the house. Now you know what specific actions you ought to take in order to improve instead of trying to craft a one-size-fits-all approach. Have you mapped out the key stages of this process? Do you have strategies for each of these stages?

Reinforce your process with sales-specific technology.

This includes effectively rolling out a CRM that is mobile-ready and specific to the needs of a door-to-door or field sales company. This means territory management, geographically-based lead tracking, real-time communication, and compatibility with the custom data reporting that adapts to your sales process.

Build a library of top training materials

What are you doing to build knowledge for your reps and managers? What training resources do you have? What tools are you providing your salespeople with for when they’re on the porch? This is especially important for companies with seasonal hiring patterns, since you want to give new employees every chance to learn and succeed quickly. You need to have enough content and materials to reinforce the pillars of your sales process. This content needs to be scalable, repeatable, and trainable. Create video walkthroughs or whiteboard presentations about key parts of the sales process and rep success. Continue to create content that addresses specific company needs as they arise.

You also need to help individual reps develop a strategic approach to their work. Like the eager yet inexperienced sales leader, it doesn’t matter how motivated a rep is if they’re going to approach their work without a plan. A lot of very motivated reps like to go on the attack and knock a lot of doors, but that will not produce results if they aren’t speaking to the people on the other side of those doors.

Make sure your sales processes and trainings encourage a strategic approach to the field that is, like the larger company processes, based on data that is being constantly gathered, adjusted, and refined.

2. Hire and Train Door-to-Door Elite

If you’re in charge of hiring people, that typically means that you’ve found success in D2D yourself. You know what it takes to be great, but now you’re stuck with an entirely new problem. How do you find others who will be just as good (if not better) and will stick around and grow into important influencers invested in the long term growth of the company? A great D2D sales company is a great recruiting company. So what does that greatness look like?

First off, you need to realize that you’re not going to hire a superstar every time. If you think you have found one, be careful. It’s not hard for someone to seem golden during one interview and you don’t want to be fooled.

Even if you think the candidate does have a lot of great experience working in the field for other companies, you have to realize that success doesn’t always translate. What worked for them at previous companies probably won’t work as well for you. In fact, their success will probably make them stubborn; after all, what reason do they have to follow your approach when they’ve figured out their own?

It’s also possible that the rep’s previous company might have had much better-developed training and selling systems than you do, and that system was the key reason they killed it. If you’re not developing a competitive system, what does that communicate about your company? The more dialed-in you are about a rep’s success, the more likely you are to attract and keep strong performers.

Your ideal hire is a blank slate with the right attitude and transferable skills (such as being personable, having a different sales background, learning quickly and often, being goal-oriented, etc) that you can train in your specific process.

Recruiting is very much like selling, so apply your sales abilities to the hiring process. The product or service you are selling is career growth, income-earning opportunity, lifestyle, corporate culture, and other benefits unique to your company.

Here are characteristics of a hiring process that will build off of your previous sales experience and help you find the right people:

Do it in person

Maybe this is an obvious suggestion, but you should be keeping it in mind the entire hiring process. You want all your other interactions (emails, phone calls, etc) to point toward a face-to-face conversation. You’ll want to keep honing your phone and email skills until you’ve got a 50-70% “show rate.”

Have recruits do the recruiting

Birds of a feather flock together, so incentivize your team to recruit. When you’ve found a strong candidate, ask about their friends. Chances are they share similar goals, attitudes, and skillsets. A little friendly competition never hurt, either, and bringing a candidate’s friends onboard could mean a group with built-in motivation and unity.

Don’t over-hype

You might be tempted to use a high-excitement, embellished offer in order to make some quick hires, but those candidates rarely last or have a positive experience with the company. When they turn over, you’re back at square one. Instead, be transparent and make it clear what your expectations are and how you plan on compensating those who meet them. It may take longer to hire someone but it’s worth it in the long run.

Bring in the best

Along with being clear about your expectations, be clear about all the benefits of working with your company and everything people have accomplished. If you’ve got reps who have experienced a lot of success with your company, show them off! They can help candidates begin with an optimistic attitude and appropriate expectations.

Optimize the process

The group interview is a great way to get to know candidates more quickly and measure how they interact with each other-- allowing you to weed out the rude, self-centered, or bored candidates while also discovering the personable, excited, and respectful ones. Running a successful group interview can make a huge improvement in your hiring process.

Start out strong

Don’t let your new hires feel abandoned on day one. This is a make-or-break opportunity to set the tone for the hire’s entire experience with the company. If you’re not taking advantage of these first hours with a rep, you’re going to ruin chances at success. If done properly, you couldn’t pay your reps to leave because they’re invested and excited about the opportunity. There are several resources offering advice for new-hire training. Some of these are less door-to-door specific, but you can certainly apply the basic principles to your situation.

As always, track your failures and successes during the hiring process. What went wrong in a given situation? What went right? Answer these questions and then adapt future efforts to build on what you’ve learned.

3. Know Your Customers

You and your reps need to know the product to successfully sell it. What are its key features? What’s new about it? How does it measure up against the competition? More than knowing the product, you should know the people on the other end of your product; understanding their needs are the key to effective selling. Sell according to those needs and sell results instead of specific features.

For example, the best reps know that you’re not selling customers an alarm system, you’re selling them safety. You’re not selling them pesticides, you’re selling them control. This is why every good pitch and large-scale business approach requires finding your customer’s unique needs and addressing them thoroughly. Acting as a helpful source of information creates value before they even use the product.

Realize that a sale is a beginning of a relationship, not the end. Ignoring a customer’s needs will not resolve them. Somewhere down the line their problem will resurface-- handle those issues early before they grow into something fatal for your business relationships.

You need to develop your sales process and train your employees in a way that always put the customer first and reflects these principles. They way you build these processes and trainings mirrors your attitudes towards the customer and, though they are typically employee-facing, creates lifelong customers, because a well-trained rep who loves the company will create well-served customers who love the company, leading to better business relationships and greater value.

4. Know Your Reps

You always need to be aware of the needs of your teams. Each rep has a unique set of concerns and obstacles that are factoring into their performance levels. It isn’t that most leaders are actively ignoring their team’s needs, but they do struggle to be aware of them. And when they are aware, they tend to have an attitude of frustration towards those needs instead of an attitude of service and a desire to facilitate constant improvement.

You can start improving your awareness levels when you have a clearly defined sales and reporting process. Until then, you’re going to waste your efforts and be frustrated by disappointing sales numbers that remain unchanged or are consistently worsening, despite your best efforts.

When addressing the key attributes of high performing sales teams, Qvidian observed that “At this level, sales operations leaders are strategic advisors to leadership, and have real-time access to dashboards and predictive monitoring systems to manage key performance indicators as well as mitigate risk.”

Dashboards and indicators are the key to diagnosing performance problems. Let’s say, for example, that you’ve got one rep who is struggling everyday to meet even small sales goals. If that’s all you knew about them, you might mistakenly think that they are just being apathetic or lazy. If you invest effort into learning more, however, you might find that this rep is one of your hardest workers-- he’s just lacking in training or understanding.

Even smarter data can tell you why he’s not your best. In this case, it turns out that he’s great at getting presentations but absolutely terrible at closing them. This presents you with a lot of options: you could develop or assign training programs that address his issues, match him up with someone that you know is strong at closing for a day, or help him roleplay scenarios that are tripping him up.

KPI-driven and real-time data is the key to handling situations like this one and the thousand others that you’ll encounter on a daily basis.

5. Spend Time on the Right Things

It’s obvious that if you’re not organized, you’re going to let opportunities slip through the cracks. Just about everybody knows that.

The problem is that they seem to know it too well. In its second annual “State of Sales,” Salesforce reported that, in the day of the average sales rep, over half of their time is spent doing non-selling activities. In fact, a quarter of the day was spent doing administrative tasks. They’re so focused on being organized and efficient that they’ve become very inefficient.

Time spent doing administrative tasks would probably be higher if the survey was only concerned with D2D and field sales companies, who have an added dimension of planning required because they have geographical concerns such as the organization of territories, a hiring process that occurs more frequently and requires more attention, and a concentrated productivity season.

Of course these added tasks are important, if not necessary. The trick is to take control and start doing these things effectively and on your time. The best companies are finding ways to automate everything, from forms to reporting to logistics to territory management. The tech is there, and it pays for itself when it comes to the time you’re saving.

For the rep and field manager, that’s time that can now be spent face-to-face with a potential customer: contacting more people, doing more presentations, and closing more deals. For the organization, that’s time that can be spent improving relationships with your people, building better processes, and focusing on opportunities to scale.

6. Keep Everyone Motivated

Whether they’re there for the summer or year-round, a lot of reps arrive excited to make some money. Of course, that motivation doesn’t last and as obstacles present themselves, enthusiasm wanes and sometimes disappears altogether.

This is the reality Zig Ziglar was referring to when he remarked that “People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing - that’s why we recommend it daily.” This is particularly true for the D2D industry, where reps are often isolated and depend on their own self-will to continue throughout the day, away from direct supervision or interaction.

Part of it is the generation you’re working with. Reps for the last few years have been coming from the Millennial generation and out of this generation (as Gallup Polls discovered) only 29% feel engaged at work.

Gallup also discovered two main characteristics of effective millennial management-- job clarity and accountability. But what do those general terms look like through a door-to-door lens?

Job clarity

When job expectations are clear, the rep knows what the company is trying to accomplish and what they need to do in order to help make it happen. Make your company goals transparent-- even invite participation in setting them-- and break them down to make clear each individual’s responsibility. Give opportunities in team meetings for individual reps to conduct the setting, reporting, and adjusting of goals.

You should also help teams prioritize their efforts in order to most effectively reach those goals. Help them understand the reasons for those priorities and give them insights into your approach, if possible. Help them know why you’re more concerned about number of doors knocked than you are about closing percentages, for example. When you give them insight into your decision-making, will help them to make smarter prioritization decisions on their own in the field and better prepare them for leadership positions.

Accountability

It may seem like an obvious part of the business process, but millennials are about twice as likely to feel engaged when they also feel that they are being held accountable. This means that, for a lot of businesses, that isn’t happening.

For D2D sales this is best accomplished in real-time. Instead of collecting numbers from your reps at the end of the night or the end of the week, you can collect numbers constantly, holding your employees perpetually accountable. This allows you to recognize and affect rep behaviors in the middle of a day, preventing them from spiraling or amplifying their successes.

Eventually, accountability becomes the foundation of your team and company culture. It will permeate everyone’s attitudes and you won’t even have to ask for improved tracking and reports from your team because they will have realized that it is one of the things that most contributes to their success and they’ll do it because they want to.

You can make this happen and take your accountability system to the next level by gamifying your sales activity so that reps can find social gratification in their personal improvement and competitive achievements.

7. Gamify Intelligently

Unfortunately, companies often make the mistake of clumsily gamifying their sales and actually having a negative impact on morale. Door-knocking reps already have a sense of alienation, since they often spend the day alone. If you pit them against each other just for competition’s sake, you risk discouraging a majority of your team just for the sake of rewarding guys who are likely already performing well.

Instead, focus on team-wide goals with your competition. Take the data you’ve been gathering in previous steps to figure out the key behaviors that you most want to target and organize contests that encourage behavioral changes-- the kind that accomplish key initiatives and take your company to new levels.

Once you’ve decided on those goals, you can gamify them. There are a few strategies that are especially applicable to D2D sales:

Keep everyone going strong

Lottery games are great if you want to motivate a lot of people consistently. For example, if you offer a reward for the first person who closes three accounts in a day, everyone will stop once someone reaches that. However, if you say everyone who sells three accounts gets a ticket in the lottery and every account sold over three gets an additional ticket, then nobody is ever given any reason to stop pushing themselves.

Create a culture of winning

Studies have shown that employees value and respond strongly to praise and recognition, so don’t reward them privately. Make a big deal out of accomplishments at team dinners or other meetings specifically set aside for celebrating personal and team achievements.

Encourage collaboration

Direct your reps’ motivation not just toward a goal, but toward each other. If you run individual competitions, then you’re probably going to reward the same couple of reps each time. Team competitions give everyone an opportunity to win and encourage everyone to improve and make a unique contribution, regardless of their previous performance levels. For a struggling rep, going from two sales a week to four would probably never win solo competitions, but that’s a big improvement that has the potential to factor into a team victory.

Schedule them often and consistently

If you only hold competitions sporadically then you’re missing out on real opportunities. You want reps to have the chance to anticipate a competition, strategize their performance, and set goals for improvement. They simply don’t have the opportunity to do that if you’re inconsistent with the timing and nature of your competitions. Strategically schedule contests around peak selling times and give ample notice so that your reps can build anticipation and prepare to give their best performance.

Hold regular team meetings and dedicate time to highlighting strong performances, especially from those reps who are making significant improvements and starting to see real success. Let them spend time relating their experiences: why are they seeing success? What changes did they make that are now paying off?

These are great ways to give your team an opportunity to grow together and to commit as a group to the direction you have set together for the company. This invites them to feel accountable not because they’re being forced to, but because they want to.

As an individual rep or manager, try to avoid letting yourself feel isolated. Reach out to other reps, congratulating those who are having a good day and encouraging those who are struggling. Offer your advice to others and share what you have learned. Remember, a rising tide raises all ships. Even if you won’t be getting direct commission for the success of your teammates, you are being rewarded.

Always Be Improving

In the words of Warren Buffet, “The best investment you can make is an investment in yourself. The more you learn, the more you’ll earn.”

There are a lot of resources out there for reps and leaders alike to use in order to learn and better themselves, but often they forget to stop and actually learn from themselves. Take time to reflect on everyone’s performance, ideally with the help of data and statistics that you gather throughout the day.

Reps should ask themselves questions based on the sales process, such as: How many doors did you knock? Of those, how many people did you manage to speak to? Of the people you spoke to, how many times were you allowed inside? How many of those did you close? How many followed through on the contract?

Make sure they analyze themselves according to your clearly defined sales process. That way they can segment their performance, discover problem areas, and train specifically to strengthen the weaknesses that they have.

As a sales leader, you ought to be equally invested in your reps’ training. Like mentioned earlier, this requires that you have some kind of diagnostic for individual rep behavior, especially one that is catered to your unique sales process. Don’t try and solve for a broad problem like “lack of sales” but for a specific one: “struggling to transition from the pitch to the presentation.”

Hopefully it’s apparent to you what kind of changes you may need to start making. All these suggestions are immediately actionable and something that can’t be procrastinated or ignored. There are a lot more problems that will present themselves as you work on building a successful D2D operation, but these tips will help you build a proper foundation that you can grow into.

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