In most organizations, sales managers are the essential bridge between the company’s sales goals and the realization of those goals. The gritty day-to-day interactions between the sales people and their customers are frequently filtered through the perspective of the sales manager on their way up the ladder. The aspirations and strategies of the company’s management must be imprinted by the realism of the sales manager as they come down from above. Sales managers are the conductors who carefully orchestrate the tentative entanglement of the sales people with their management.
It’s an incredibly important and difficult job. Unfortunately, it is often the most under-trained job in the entire organization. Instead of providing information on the best practices and processes of the job, most companies hope their sales managers will have learned enough during their days as a field sales person to provide some roadmap as to how to do this job well.
Alas, only a small percentage of untrained sales managers ever really figure it out, arriving by trial and error and after hours of study at the best practices of an effective sales manager. The overwhelming majority find themselves caught up in the urgencies of the moment, the tempting details of all the transactions, and the continuing onslaught of crises, and are never able to set in place a systematic blueprint for their success.
The net result? Few sales people are effectively managed. All parties, executive management, sales manager and sales people, bounce from one frustration to another. Company objectives are met frequently by happenstance, sales people are not developed to their fullest potential and sales managers lurch from one crisis to another.
Certain common mistakes often arise out of this unhealthy situation. As a long time consultant and educator of sales people and sales managers, I frequently see these three most common maladies suffered by sales managers.
Lack of an organized training and development system.
No profession in the world expects the serious practitioners of that profession to figure it out by themselves. Quite the contrary. Every profession has determined some minimal acceptable course of study, and typically has some event which signals the entry into that profession. It is for this reason that teachers, emergency medical technicians, and ministers are licensed; and why attorneys must pass the bar exam, accountants must pass their certification exam, etc.
Unfortunately, that is rarely true of sales people. In only the leading companies is there some required course of study for entry level sales people, and some event which signifies the successful completion of that study and their entry into the profession.
To even think this way is so outside of the reality of most sales managers that I can almost hear half of the readers of this article snickering over their coffee. “Some standard for allowing people into the job?” Incredible thought. But if you don’t insist on it, you’ll continue to labor with a hit-or-miss sales force where every hire is ultimately a shot in the dark.
No profession in the world expects that, once someone has become qualified to enter the profession, they then no longer need to invest in their own development. And every profession has expectations of the practitioners’ regular need to systematically improve himself or herself. Can you imagine a teacher who never attends an in-service training? A nurse who never invests in continuing development? A minister who never goes back to school? A doctor who never attends a conference?
Even if such lackadaisical professionals could keep their jobs, you would not want them to have anything to do with your family. You would never put your health in the hands of a doctor who hadn’t updated himself since med school. You would not want your children taught by the teacher who hadn’t learned anything since graduation. You would never put your lawsuit in the hands of an attorney who had never bothered to keep current.
The examples can go on and on. But you get the idea. The professional who doesn’t regularly invest in his own continuous development is relegated to the dregs of the market.
So, why is it that the overwhelming majority of sales managers do not require regular and systematic involvement in continuous development events for their charges? It may be that they don’t see their sales people (or themselves) as professionals. Or, it may be that they have never thought about it that way.
Regardless of the reason, the reality of this malady is that the quality of the sales force is not nearly what it could be, if only the sales managers required some minimum standard for their entry level people, and then regular and continuous development of those who were on the inside. The wise sales manager will assemble a system for the education and development of his sales people.
While there are as many other management miscues as there are sales managers, these three mistakes are the most common. Address them, and you’ll be well on your way to outstanding success in sales management.
Read mistake number one here.
Read mistake number two here,
Directions: Respond to each statement, and then reply by putting a number in the space which corresponds to each of the following replies:
You’re kidding. What’s that? = -2
We’re thinking about it. = 0
We’ve looked at it. No action yet. = 2
Yes, we’re in good shape. = 6
Total your score, and compare the total to the standard described below.
Total number Your situation
-20 to 0 See, I told you these were common. You’re in trouble. Set aside serious time to rectify this situation. Top priority!
0 to 20 Not bad. There’s hope. Fix the issues that are weak and you’ll be in good shape.
20 – 60 Congratulations! You’re in good shape. Do some fine-tuning and watch your sales grow.
- We have strategically reviewed the way sales territories are defined.______
- We have strategically designed the way markets and customers are targeted. ______
- We have strategically designed the way sales people are compensated._____
- We have strategically designed the methods the manager uses to communicate with the sales people.______
- We have a specific set of expectations for each sales person.______
- We regularly and systematically communicate those expectations with each individual sales person. ______
- We regularly and systematically provide feedback to each individual sales person on how well they are meeting our expectations. ______
- We have a minimal set of qualifications that an entry-level sales person must meet in order to be allowed to represent our company.______
- We have a process to evaluate the entry-level sales person’s skills._____
- We regularly inject our sales people into learning events, and expect that they will continually improve themselves. ______