Be a Successful Sales Manager, Not a Super Seller

How many sales teams suffer because their sales manager is not doing their job at the right “level”? Sales figures suffer, sales people suffer and the sales managers feel pressured and possibly even stressed. I want to look at some of the reasons why this occurs and offer some initial ideas for how sales managers can carry out their roles more confidently and effectively – for everyone’s benefit!

Why does this seem to happen so often? It does seem that the transition to sales management is one which can often prove a struggle! There is a long list of reasons, few of which are the fault of the person doing the sales manager’s role. The organisation is probably a significant contributor to the problems facing the sales manager! A lack of clear succession planning is part of the equation. Maybe there is a limited understanding of what the role really involves, or should involve! The chances are that the senior management may share many of the misconceptions of the sales function and how it operates in a successful environment. Where sales is concerned, there is usually too much short-term thinking and a focus on results. I agree that the sales manager is there to achieve the targets and to work within a budget. However, to paraphrase the great Peter Drucker, “sales results are not an objective in their own right, they are an outcome of achieving the other objectives.” Another tripping point can be an expectation that the new sales manager should be acting like a predecessor – provided they were successful and, typically, outgoing and told a convincing tale about how things would turn out!

In common with many other managers, the sales managers have probably been promoted into their role with little real preparation, guidance or training. This will be compounded if they were given the opportunity because they were one of the best in the sales team. (Rather than choosing the person with the right qualities to do the job.) Sales does have an additional time pressure, in that results need to keep being obtained from the outset. There is little time for a learning curve! Without the development support the newly appointed manager has a limited range of choices. A typical response is to think about role models we have known and adopt and adapt what we liked or respected about them. This is often done unconsciously as well as consciously. Entering a new role with more responsibility carries different pressures. These will cause most people to feel some degree of under-confidence. To overcome this, it is natural to do some things which will help to reinforce confidence. For many, this will mean finding opportunities to prove they are worthy of the new role. Where are these? Dealing with customers, chasing the large order and proving to the sales team why the manager should have been given the job!

This latter approach may help the manager feel more confident, or give then the buzz they had when they were a seller. It will probably also start to diminish any respect they may have from the team, especially if some of these orders are taken from their customers. It hardly does their confidence any good as they will feel undermined!

The root of the problem is frequently something as fundamental as the actual job description. How well does it set out the range of responsibilities and tasks? Does it define the competencies required to do the job well? The key outcome for a sales manager is to achieve the required sales targets and margins. This should be done by using the resources effectively, especially the sales team! Taking a few orders might help in the short-term and reinforce the ego of the sales manager, it will not provide an ongoing solution for under-performance with team members.

What can be done to improve this and make sales managers operate more effectively? Begin at the beginning with a clearly defined job description as mentioned above! This can be a great help with recruitment or promotion and might reduce the classic tendency of promoting the top seller. (A frequent recipe for disaster as they may not succeed in the role and end up leaving, or being asked to leave. On the way to this, they may have upset a number of the sales team who do worse and might leave!) This job description needs to emphasise that the role involves a variety of activities which are not connected with their own face to face selling. When it is clear what the competencies are and the sales manager can assess themselves against these, some form of development plan can be identified to close any gaps.

The sales manager needs to understand the overall strategy and know how to plan – especially in developing a sales plan. They have to be able to analyse the current situation, market and competition as a starting point. As part of their plan they need to evaluate the capabilities of the sales team and decide whether they have the appropriate structure to deliver against the strategy and plan.

If there is no clearly defined sales process, it will help if they can identify one and break it down to the main steps. From this, they can identify the critical areas to monitor and control. Knowing these points can give the early warning signals if their might be problems in achieving the results later and can also help with more accurate forecasting. There are plenty of software systems to help with this aspect, from the top end such as Oracle and Seibel through SalesTrak to ACT or Golmine.

From this, you can see that a key part of the role is desk-bound, making time to think, assess and make decisions. This is only part of the whole! While the desk time can help in identifying areas to set targets and goals, it is not the best place to evaluate the skills and potential of the sales team. The job description should establish some key performance indicators about time spent with the sales team on field visits.

Days spent with the sales team will usually have multiple aims. The primary one is to support and develop the sales person. Observing them with the prospects or customers, reviewing how the call went and then coaching them to improve. A key part of this is to provide useful feedback and support. (Not just blaming or criticising or saying how you, the manager, would have done it!) There is also an element of communication and relationship building to keep the seller informed of things within the organisation and also getting to know more about them. None of these is really achievable working from a desk and trying to manage by telephone and email! A minor part of the day is to also meet with customers and find out what they are thinking about the organisation and its service.

If the organisation has a key (or major) account strategy, there might be valid reasons for the sales manager to have direct contact with some of the personnel in the accounts. This should be at the direction of the account manager or sales person as they are in charge of the account. The sales manager is there to support them not to take over!

There will be some other time with the sales team, whether one to one or at sales meetings. The sales manager can use these to review performance, communicate, deal with problems and agree the way forward. The balance of the sales manager’s time might be spent between doing their own administration activities and also interacting with other functions in the organisation.

Across all of these there is no emphasis on being the super seller!! The role is to be the sale manager. This means getting the results through the resources available – and the main resource is the sales people, whether in the field or on the phone. The sales manager needs to develop their management skills in analysis, planning, monitoring and then grow their leadership skills alongside these to develop and support their people. Learn to get motivation through seeing the team achieve rather than getting that deal! The job can become more enjoyable, the sales people are more successful and positive, and results improve. Do this and everyone is happier from the top down and through the sales team!

What Happens When Your Company Doesn’t Train Your Sales Managers?

Situation: a company’s top sales rep is promoted to sales manager, but does not receive training on how to perform a sales manager’s duties and responsibilities. Here’s what happens then…..

Untrained sales managers:

Don’t know how to be an effective sales manager, so they continue to do what comes naturally – they continue to sell. But this leads them to spend more time with their top salespeople, who are working on the biggest deals, which leaves the rest of the sales team out in the cold, without a leader/coach.

Allow the inmates to take control of the asylum. Untrained sales managers don’t define standards of performance and they don’t coach to standards. When unsuccessful sales behaviors occur the manager fails to confront the situation, and what you don’t confront you condone. Without sales discipline there can be no team excellence.

Hang on to low producing salespeople far too long. Because sales managers aren’t coaching reps on a consistent basis, the manager doesn’t know why the rep continues to turn in a poor performance. The manager then reacts to a rep’s poor production by “buying” the rep’s excuses, erroneously assuming the rep will turn it around. But by this time the problem is too old to fix, the sales manager’s opportunity to correct this problem sales rep occurred months ago, and the coaching opportunity was missed. Intuitively the sales manager knows this. She blames herself for the rep’s continued failure to perform and, out of guilt, gives the rep even more time on the job to fail some more. The manager’s acceptance of one salesperson’s mediocrity brings the entire team down.

Become high paid, administrative assistants to the salespeople. Untrained sales managers think that if they solve the problems that salespeople bring to them then reps will automatically sell more. Not true. Managers need to expect salespeople to solve their own problems instead of doing their thinking for them. When a salesperson comes to the manager with “a monkey on his back” it is the manager’s duty to a) ask the rep how the problem should be solved and b) see that the rep leaves with the monkey!

Fail to follow-up – untrained sales managers make suggestions to salespeople on how to improve and then assume salespeople will implement their suggestions. After all, when the manager was a salesperson, he/she implemented the boss’ suggestions. Managers who fail to follow-up create a team culture that’s lacking in accountability. Without accountability there can be no team excellence.

Don’t manage time effectively, or set priorities. There are actually 29 specific timewasters that sales managers suffer from. Sales managers become buried in “stuff” work, reactive fire-fighting, feeling overwhelmed. They’re working harder than ever, but unable to catch up, and no time for what should be their #1 priority – to coach. The result? The individual on the team with the most highly developed sales skills – the sales manager – has no time to coach. No time to teach his or her talents, skills and energies to those individuals on the team who need and want it the most.

When sales managers somehow do find the time to coach, they jump in and take over the customer meeting, which prevents the salesperson from learning, and implies to the customer that the salesperson is unskilled. This is the syndrome I refer to as, “Move over Rover, let the great one take over.”

Unsure how to diagnose a sales performance problem, so problems in sales competence and willingness persist. Managers harp on the bad results, but don’t address the unsuccessful behaviors and activities that created those poor results.

React to the issues of the day with no strategic plan for developing the team. Questions that sales managers should consider in their strategic/team development plan include: Which salesperson is ready to step up and assume the role of the “bell cow” on this team? If I were to set a team goal to increase sales by 30% over the next 12 months, what obstacles would stand in our way? Is there anyone I need to de-hire? What step of the sales process are we weakest in, and what specifically can I do to correct this?

Think primarily of job tasks, spend little or no time thinking about non-task issues such as team morale, individual rep motivators, career planning for sales reps, etc.

Effective sales management is a skill set that is altogether different from selling. I don’t understand why many companies seem to believe that, without any training, a great salesperson will automatically become a great sales manager. One thing I do understand, however, is that the companies that do train their sales managers will see faster ramp-up time for new-hires, increased sales productivity and morale, and more satisfied and loyal customers. In short, the entire sales team will improve results if a company will make a training investment in a their sales managers.

As the president and founder of TopLine Leadership, my company provides sales management training for corporate sales managers, and we provide customer-first sales training based on my book, “Getting Into Your Customer’s Head.” Our training programs are systematic, proven and customizable.

We’re experienced in delivering our programs and services to a number of different industries, some of which are financial services, telecom, tech, transportation services, medical equipment, business services and staffing.

We have an efficient method for helping our clients define their “standards for excellence” – the behaviors and activities necessary to achieve greatness – and then we customize our training programs so as to teach the skills and knowledge salespeople and sales managers need to achieve their new standards. Results can’t be managed effectively, but behaviors and activities can.

Why Developing Your Sales Managers is Crucial to Your Sales Success

It may surprise you to discover that many Sales Managers learn how to be a Manager on their own.

According to the latest international study on Sales Training and Sales Force Effectiveness, many Sales Managers are given very little or no support when it comes to being a competent, effective manager. In fact, many Sales Managers reported that they were given no formal training in Sales Management practices, either before or during their tenure.

The study reported that Sales Management training is the category of sales training that is addressed with the least frequency, in fact it is less than annually or not at all.

The study also reported that if Sales Managers were more frequently and better trained and coached then their sales teams achieved higher performance and results. In no other type of sales training was a more positive correlation found between frequency of training and sales performance. Interestingly, it also revealed that sales training doesn’t need to be delivered in formal classroom settings.

As with many sales people who follow no logical process when selling, so it is true for many Sales Managers who fly by the seat of their pants and are often left to their own devices. These international findings further support our 15 years of observations in the Australian market place that Sales Management development and performance is not taken as seriously as it should be.

Would we let a football coach without any experience or formal training in coaching become the head coach an elite football team? Not likely! At the very least, we would expect them to do a coaching apprenticeship. In addition, many of the current crop of elite sporting coaches have also undertaken formal education and training to earn the right to apply for senior coaching roles.

Sales Managers need support if they are to be of best value to your business, your team, and to themselves.

Where do we start? Let’s look at some of the broad core capabilities they need to be competent in the 21st century sales environment:

Strategic Action – Understanding industry and organisation; taking strategic actions
Coaching – role modeling, feedback, trust building
Team Building – designing and managing teams, creating a supportive environment
Self-management – fostering integrity and ethical conduct, managing personal drive, developing self-awareness, decision making and management skills
Global perspective – cultural knowledge and sensitivity, global selling program
Technology – understanding new technology, sales force automation, customer relationship management

As you can see there is a lot to know and apply in the role of Sales Manager. So, how do we support them in their development? Formal classroom training on key topics is a great start, however it is important that these are spaced at regular intervals – for example, run over a few months with 1 or 2 sessions and follow-ups rather than squashed into a week with no follow-ups. The formal classroom sessions should also be supported by much more frequent activities which can include local or distance coaching (group and one-on-one), combined with regular access to advice and topics of interest such as talent management, time management, and business trends. This type of support needs to become part of a development regimen for those who are in Sales Management or those that aspire to be Sales Managers.

When formal and informal development is consciously applied and supported in the workplace it can have amazing effects for the Sales Managers themselves and their teams.

For instance, in addition to classroom sessions, in regular tele-coaching sessions (monthly 1-hour group sessions with up to 4 Sales Managers) for several companies, the managers share and discuss their needs, challenges, ideas, and strategies for effective sales performance in their teams, as well as their own needs and development as leaders. The feedback has been very encouraging. Some feedback we have received from them so far includes:

it is a collaborative learning environment
great ideas exchange, learn a lot from each other
peer support – only time we get to really work with each other and share ideas without another agenda crowding the discussions
no hidden agenda – feels safe, supportive, useful
independent view from coach keeps ideas fresh and focused on the sales agenda piece while finding ways to integrate with ‘well managed’ piece and other priorities
keeps the concepts and program we are running top of mind and makes sure we do it and don’t lose it
makes sure we are really implementing the tools and content properly

One manager stated: “This has supported me by providing a consistent frame of reference for all of us to work around. This has been a program that all the staff has been involved with rather than ‘another message from above’… ‘The best part has been the follow-ups on the phone with the other Sales Managers. Hearing their experiences and applying some of their takes on the principles has been very beneficial, and the re-enforcing of the principles and the increased familiarity and use of them has added measurably to it being embedded in my dialogue with my team.”

These conversations are not just ‘chats’ they are based on substance and the critical things that Sales Managers need to know and apply. So, if you think you can solve the problem with a simple, unstructured monthly ‘chat’ think again.

Now that we have discussed the importance of developing Sales Managers, let’s also remember to consider the Sales and Sales Management experience and expertise of the people you choose to support your managers through training, coaching, and mentoring. A deep subject matter expert will be able to provide both the practical and theoretical support managers need for them and their teams to succeed.

While a monthly coaching or training session may not seem like much, many Sales Managers are in need of support and help, especially now in these tough markets. You can make a big difference to your sales results if you take a little time out to develop your Sales Managers.

Why Business Degrees Should Be Minimum Criteria When Hiring Sales Managers

During a recent recruitment assignment with a client involved in the manufacturing industry, the discussion arose of whether or not the sales manager should be required to have a business degree. Typically the hiring of sales managers is focused on their experience in a particular industry and their product knowledge. For some technical products a degree in engineering related subjects often is seen as a pre-requisite due to the complicated knowledge requirements for certain products. The next criteria will be their ability to manage a team of people and deliver sales quota.

Very few advertisements rank a business degree as an important requirement and place more emphasis on industry skills and background information.

Not to say that these points are not important, but if you look at this from a different perspective and give heed to the fact that sales managers make decisions that affect the entire organization on a day-to-day basis, then maybe the criteria needs to be included.

In the discussion with my client, I explained the reasons why a business degree would be important criteria in the sales manager’s role. First and foremost the discipline of achieving a degree requires focus, dedication, structure, perseverance and the ability to prioritize. These are all skills and traits that would be optimum for a sales manager (or any manager) if you are looking for a person that is capable of growing your business and ensuring suitability.

Many of the people completing business degrees are often those returning students on a part time basis whilst fulfilling a fulltime employment role. Many Gen X people (those born in the 1960-1980 era) that have taken a career in sales, have typically left school and not pursued any university education. Typically their involvement in sales comes from a desire for freedom and self management and an easy to access career. This background gives foundation to their ‘run your own business’ mentality of managing people and a focus on relationships that often is promoted by Gen X sales managers. They were the survival skills that carried them through most of their employment.

What sales organizations have learnt over the years, and often at great expense, is that sustainable success comes from having a structured and measured approach to selling practices. The person with the degree understands those principles, has learned in that environment and personally conducted themselves in that manner. Therefore their leadership style will be a reflection of this too which is carried through to their teams.

When completing a degree, people are taught to research, solve problems and look at situations from different angles to make informed decisions. This is a major contrast to the traditional sales manager who often makes decisions on the fly in response to emotive situations or alarmist situations with customers. They are reactionary in most cases to the market and customers, and even their teams. Their skills are learned on an action-success-failure basis known as experience or being in the field. Some learn from those success-failures and others stumbling early and repeating the same issues over and over again. They are creating or attempting to create what has already been created – the wheel. However they have selected the hardest road to get to the end goal-unguided trial and error. They are basically learning on the job at great expense to themselves and those working with them.

The content contained in a degree provides graduates with a set of business principles, methods and processes that are proven to be successful giving a strong platform to develop from. It cultivates a process of thinking and decision making. Degree qualified people are not re-creating the wheel or putting the wrong wheel on the vehicle due to lack of understanding or learning basic principles on company time. They are immediately lifted to a level that can be considered arguably as some six to eight years of experience if measured in field management time.

Most importantly the degree provides them with an understanding of the repercussion of decisions they are making that affect the broader organization. How they impact the culture of the business in relation to supply-chain. How they impact the business in relation to financial management. They gain a deeper understanding of operational management and human resources. This more rounded approach provides improved decision-making, more clarity in functionality of the sales team and strong upward reporting capability contributing to strategic planning.

The person that does things on the fly is considered a high risk individual in today’s market whereas the person with the degree will have some strong business principles and understanding that will take a more pragmatic and calculated approach to management of the income of the organization.

Does the degree guarantee success? Definitely not. There are some people that struggle with the transition of knowledge to application. The important element is that if there is evidence of their ability to apply that transition of knowledge to the business then you are in a much stronger position as a company.

As evidence of the difference in the two profiles, on reviewing the resumes of the candidates for our client, there was a distinct difference in the content of what was presented. For those candidates that put forward resumes that were not degree qualified, their focus was on team spirit and customers and in the main their resumes demonstrated they focused on existing customers primarily. Often their major achievement was installing a CRM system, something that is of the most basic level in business. The level of engagement by sales people rarely cited. The primary focus of their work effort being what is best described as basics of sales management or even to say sales supervision. There were often references to trending statements around emotional intelligence and other subjects that had been through their employer’s corporate mantra.

For those that are more educated through a business degree and experienced managers, their resumes demonstrated their strategic capability, implementation parameters and output. The wording to describe achievements was business based statements that would be accepted at CEO level. They demonstrated the ability to streamline sales practices and install structure that maximized the performance of sales channels. Their references to basic management requirements or sales supervision were minimal. Their resume demonstrated thinking on a much higher level even though they were delivering the sales management functions.

In consideration of who was capable of driving the results; the answer was clear. The traditional sales manager would keep some form of a wheel on the business as long as the market stayed relatively stable. The business may endure unnecessary ups and downs and fluctuating profits as they learn through trial and error. Those ups and downs could be quite significant.

The more educated sales manager had the ability to have foresight and strategy to manoeuvre the business through changing markets. The ups and downs were only small hills and slides that did not have excess impact on the business. They were able to develop strong business practices and enabled them to be operating both at a hands-on with the team level and strategically simultaneously.

With equal knowledge of an industry and products, the degree qualified candidate will definitely come out the winner as a much lower risk to the company.

Sales managers need to consider the necessity of business degrees in the future as formal education becomes a standard offering for the younger generations as they move into management. The younger person is often seeking more than what their predecessors did for their careers and see the business degree as a leverage to higher roles in the future outside of just sales management.

With the market place continuing to endure the long tail of the global financial crisis, companies hiring are looking for lower risk placements in their companies. Certainly education ticks the box of comfort for them.

High Performance Sales Driven By High Performance Sales Managers

Much is written about getting sales people to perform at the highest levels. There are countless sales training programs, books, blogs and webinars that focus on sales people as individual contributors.

All of this is powerful and critical for sales people, but the most important element in driving high sales performance in the organization is the sales manager. Sales manager’s have to provide the leadership, coaching and development to help sales people understand high performance and what they need to do to achieve the highest levels of performance.

Too many managers are poorly equipped to provide this leadership. They were outstanding sales people, now promoted into management. They don’t change their behavior but try to manage by being “super sales contributors.” This won’t work-the numbers overwhelm the sales manager-they fail. The team is demotivated-they fail.

There has to be a different way, something that leverages the experience of the manager, enabling them to grow the capabilities and performance of their sales teams.

Congratulations, You’re A New Manager!

When I moved into my first sales management job, I had the good fortune of working for a company that invested in training and developing sales managers. Unfortunately, in today’s environment, it seems like it’s more “Tag You’re It.” People are appointed to be sales managers, but have little or no training or coaching on how to be a high performing sales manager.

It’s not wonder most new sales managers fall back into their comfort zones, being great sales people. But now, they see they have to do it across a larger territory and with their people.

It’s impossible to do this, the numbers are simply against the sales manager. Think of this example, as a top performing sales person, you consistently hit your annual $5M quota, sometimes you over achieved it. But you were constantly busy, never having any surplus time to sit back or hit the golf course. The job took 50, 60 or more hours a week, but you did it and excelled.

Now, poof, you’re a sales manager. You’re managing 10 people, each with $5M quotas. Your immediate reaction is to do what you did well in the past – doing deals. Now you have to do it for $50M, not just $5M. Sure you have sales people that can “help you out,” but after all, your past success was based on your personal abilities, and you were the best sales person. So the tendency is to get the sales people to do the trivial task and you as “super sales manager” sweep in to do the major tasks for all the deals.

Funny, the number of hours a day, days per week hasn’t changed. In your old role, every waking hour was spent doing your $5M of deals, now you have the challenge of squeezing 10 times that amount into the same time (OK, sleep is overrated, you try to work 7×24). Soon you find yourself drowning, you have more work – and your team is delegating more upward. There are not enough hours in the day. You start crashing and failing.

The numbers simply go against the manager, you can’t continue doing the same things you did before (even with the support of your team). There are not enough hours in the day to achieve the $50M.

The next thing happens is you “lose” your team. They see you coming in and pushing them to the side. After all you know how to do it better than them, all they need to do is get out of the way – or maybe do those trivial tasks, leaving the critical calls to you. The team realizes you don’t value them, that you in fact are competing with them. They see no reason to drive their performance in the territory. They start delegating everything up to you. Their morale suffers, they don’t respect you – after all you aren’t helping them develop and you push them to the side.

Pretty soon you are all alone. You are in a situation that you cannot survive, you fail, your team fails, your management is pleased to try to find someone who can come in to “fix the mess.”

What’s A New Manager To Do?

The job of a sales manager is different from being an individual contributor. While your experience as an outstanding sales person can help you, it’s important to recognize it’s different.

The key thing a new sales manager needs to understand is their job is getting things done through their people! The sales manager will only be as effective as the combined efforts of their team. Getting the team to perform at the highest levels is the mark of great sales managers. This means shifting your behavior. Moving from being the individual contributor who “did the deals, ” to the manager that coaches, questions and probes their people, helping them be more effective in “doing the deals.” Great managers revel in their people’s success. They want to see each person perform at the highest levels. They focus on coaching and developing – at every opportunity.

Great management requires further shifts in behavior. It means managing the process, not the transactions. As sales people we focused on each transaction or deal. The sales manager can’t afford to manage each transaction – here, again, the numbers go against you. Take this example, each of your 10 sales people have 10 active deals they are working on (most I know have far more than this). Each week you spend 30 minutes reviewing each deal, micromanaging the strategy with your sales people. Reviewing 100 deals a week (do the math), means you are spending just 50 hours a week in reviewing and micromanaging deals. When do you have time to make customer calls, do forecasts, do any of the other 100′s of things expected of management.

Sales Managers can’t possibly be involved in the transactions. The ony way to manage performance is to make certain you have a strong sales process in place and that your sales people are executing the process as effectively and efficiently as possible. Now your job becomes more manageable. If you review 2-3 deals per sales person, and you see they are “in control” of the process, then you can expect the others will probably be in control as well.

There are many other things involved in being a great manager. However, the foundation is based on these two elements: 1. the job of the sales manager is to get things done through their people, and 2. great sales managers manage the process not the transactions.