Just Follow the Rules!

When you were a child, did you start out each ad hoc game with your friends by discussing the rules? Perhaps the neighbor’s flower bed was out of bounds, the alley was the goal line and anything over the sidewalk was a free play. Rules help define the parameters of the game, and reduce disputes, because everyone knows the boundaries.

Telephone sales management also should incorporate rules. A manager who has no rules must make all the decisions: “Can I offer this discount?”, “A shipment didn’t arrive, what can I do for this customer?”, “Can I add Acme Lending into my territory?” These decisions take a lot of time, and leave the manager open to criticism if they tell one representative one thing and the next another. On the other hand, rules that are too restrictive bind the representative’s hands, and cause customers to say, “can I talk to your manager?” Most of us have had the experience of asking a customer service agent to put their manager on the line. It isn’t healthy to bind a telephone sales representative too tightly because customer’s question their value, and answering questions burns the manager’s time; time better spent in growing sales.

So, what constitutes a good set of rules?

Start with the 80/20 rule. Design rules so that they cover 80% of the situations your telephone salespeople encounter daily. For example, if a package is lost or destroyed, can the representative ship a replacement by overnight carrier? Perhaps up to a certain weight or dollar amount? If a service person misses an appointment, can the representative offer a $ 15 discount? Can you publish a discount schedule for large orders? Can you give the salespeople some latitude to negotiate with customers?

A good way to come up with the 80% rule is to keep track of all the questions representatives are asking the manager over say a monthly period, and to keep track of how long the manager is invested in answering the questions. Start by tackling the most prevalent issues, and work backwards.

The second half of the 80/20 rule is the 20%. Keeping a small portion of the situations open to a discussion between representative and manager keeps the manager up to speed on the situations his or her salespeople are encountering. It encourages the development of a sales organization that is flexible and adjusts to new information and new marketplace realities. It tells the salespeople their organization listens, and tries to react accordingly, and values the relationship it has with its customers.

Now your mix may be 90/10 or 70/30, each sales situation and each sales department is different. But don’t tie yourself down in firefighting all day long if a few rules could make your life easier. And don’t bind the sales group too tightly, after all, we have salespeople to react to customers, to be creative and to solve problems.

Play ball!