By John Pooley, Managing Director, The Data Partnership

Like him or loathe him, Sir Alex Ferguson is arguably one of the world’s greatest managers, not just in football terms but in general. His unique blend of man-management skills, experience and passion has seen him and his team dominate English football for the last twenty odd years. While you might be asking yourself what this has got to do with growing a successful business, but entrepreneurs could do worse than learn a few tricks from the master.

Nurturing talent

One of Fergie’s biggest strengths is his ability to develop and bring talent through the ranks. When developing your sales team you need to look at their individual strengths and weaknesses and bespoke training accordingly. To fine tune the little things they’re not so good at you really need a one-to-one training programme.

An external trainer brings a level of objectiveness to developing your staff and carries more weight, as you avoid the office politics and cynicism that can often accompany internal training schemes. Like Fergie, you need a trusted right hand man or assistant manager to get an alternative perspective and to question what you’re doing. A good training company should provide this, acting more like business consultants providing invaluable feedback and strategic advice on your staffing methods.

The “hair dryer” treatment

Okay, so you don’t want to give your sales team the full Fergie “hair dryer” treatment, but a motivational half time pep-talk is sometime needed when sale targets aren’t being met. This is where knowing your team really comes into play. You need to know what’s going to boost their confidence and what’s going to drive them to get those sales. Sometimes a quiet word in the ear is all that’s needed, while other times a reward of some kind might be more appropriate. A public dressing down is never to be recommended, but in the right environment (and I stress right environment) a plasma screen in the sales room that shows how everyone is performing on an individual level can provide a similar function.

Fostering a ‘never say die’ attitude

The countless injury time winning goals have come to epitomise the Man Utd team spirit. In a sales team you want (to use a football analogy) the team to fight for each other. On the last day of the month, when sales target haven’t been met, you want all of your team to be ‘chomping at the bit’ to hit targets so they make commission. How do you create this hunger?

It starts with your recruitment strategy. It might be un-PC to say in these altruistic times, but from a sales perspective, you ideally want your team to be motivated by materialistic rewards. You want them to be in the sales profession for the thrill of the chase, the ‘kill’; you want them to strive to earn commission. In a sales environment it’s hard to push them if they’re not interested in the monetary rewards. Targets should be set and changed on a regular basis to incentivise and keep people on their toes. A joint, team target with some form of reward, such as leaving early on a Friday or a trip to the pub, is a good idea to foster spirit. Tip - always target and monitor.

Team Spirit & Man-management

Throughout his career Ferguson has always been great at attracting and retaining the best players. A large part of this success is due to his personal approach. Before he signs any player he makes sure he gets to know their characteristics and personality to ensure they fit with the Man Utd ‘way’.

You should do exactly the same when recruiting. Scrap the list of interview questions and talk to potential employees, not just about their experience but also their lives. Once they’re comfortable and relaxed they will open up more and you get a much better idea of whether they are the right fit for the company or not.