How can the Sales Manager truly drive business performance?


A good starting point might be a definition of management.  My own simplistic view is that there are broadly three disciplines to consider; leadership, management and supervision.  While leadership and supervision are disciplines that act upon people and can influence their performance I feel strongly that you cannot manage people and that this discipline should be reserved for processes.  Lead your people, manage the processes and if required supervise your people but be aware that reverting to supervision typically means there is a failure in leadership and/or the processes are poorly designed hence they fail to drive the desired behaviours.

Sales management is simply a blend of leadership of the people and management of the processes.  The purpose will be to ensure the company achieves whatever goals and objectives it has set for itself.  In most cases the purpose will be to gain more revenue and probably at an improved margin, but at different times in a company’s life the sales operation may be required to support the achievement of other goals; accessing new markets (business sectors, geographic locations, company size …), introduction of new products or services, or working with new partners being common examples.

The basic model is; the board defines the strategy and the sales manager creates and delivers a plan to realise that strategy.

I have observed many sales managers, through our work helping companies to improve sales & selling performance, and a common behaviour that I see is attempts to ‘manage’ people descending into supervision.  For example, a frequent management tool is to count the number of telephone calls being made hoping it will provide an indicator as to the level of deals that might be done.  Unfortunately, measuring low level activity is rarely a good indicator of performance in terms of what really matters to the business; appointments attended, opportunities identified, bids submitted and the biggy – deals done.

I am a huge fan of Peter Drucker and one of his many observations is worth considering here is :
“Most of what we call management consists of making it difficult for people to get their work done.”

So what should the sales manager be doing?

There are four things that need to be in place to maximise the chances of a sales operation being successful and the sales manager should ensure they all happen and ideally be fully involved in all of them.  Don’t be tempted to leave most of this to HR as this is abdication and dereliction not delegation.

  • Rigorous recruitment where the purpose is to take only those people who meet the pre-determined criteria for the role.  Don’t just take the best from the people that actually applied; if they are not good enough don’t take them!  Better to have the right person join you a couple of months later than planned than take someone simply to meet an arbitrary date.
  • Thorough on-boarding and induction ensuring the new recruits really understand the business and how it helps your customers; what you do, your value proposition and USPs, objectives & goals, market and competitors.
  • Training to ensure the whole sales team has; a consistent level of selling skills, a thorough understanding of your methods and processes so they can follow them without the need to be supervised plus product & proposition training.
  • Leadership and coaching based on understanding how to help people perform effectively and consistently to meet the company’s targets.

The first three steps should only be required infrequently and will typically be completed over a period of two to four months but step four is at the heart of the role as an on-going process of continual development for the team.  Think sports person; to stay at the top of their game all sports people train continually under the watchful eye of a dedicated coach; this is the primary role of sales management -trainer and coach.

leadership and coaching should account for at least 70% of the sales manager’s time

To make sure the new recruits stand the best chance of being successful it is very important to ensure consistency across all four steps.  Don’t be tempted to paint an inaccurate rosy picture during recruitment as this can lead to new recruits quickly becoming disillusioned when they eventually join and the reality does not match the hype of the interview.  During the interview process ensure the candidates understand what will happen if they join.  The key here is; no surprises!

The answer to the question; what should the sales manager be doing, is laid out in the four steps above and of these leadership and coaching should account for at least 70% of the sales manager’s time.  Sitting in offices pouring over spread sheets, attending interminable internal meetings will not help the sales people sell more.  Time spent crying over last month’s poor results would be better spent in the office or the field helping the sales people to close more deals for this month and further into the future.

I have heard it argued that sales managers have to spend time on their role as part of the senior management team or, if they have been given the title of sales director, in the board room.  This won’t make me popular but I feel strongly that sales should be led by managers not directors so there is no need to spend time in the boardroom.  As for senior management meetings; I would have thought a couple of hours per month would be perfectly adequate so that shouldn’t distract the sales manager too much either.

The purpose of employing a sales manager should be laser focused on ensuring sales people sell more and if they do not, then it could be argued that the sales manager is just an overhead.

I would summarise the role of the sales manager as follows:

  • Develop a sales and selling plan to deliver company strategy
  • Put in place metrics based on KPIs, that are totally relevant to achieving the strategy, which provide a simple performance dash board indicating progress of the team as a whole and the individual team members.  A CRM will help with this but make sure the system is a slave to the sales process not the other way around
  • Set relevant achievable targets and compensation plans to match
  • When new people are joining the sales team to take a full and active part in the recruitment, induction and on-boarding of new people
  • At all times lead the people
  • At all times focus on developing the capabilities of the people through training and coaching
  • Hold regular sales meetings where the primary focus is contacts and opportunities and identifying obstacles to overcome and strategies to apply, and sharing success stories; another approach to developing the skills
  • Meet all sales people 1-to-1 at least every month.  Ensure the meetings are genuinely 1-to-1 as it is only too easy to slip into a 1-to-0 where the sales manger does all the talking and telling and the sales person receives a ritual telling off rather than something constructive that they can learn from
  • Accompany all sales people on sales calls at all stages of the sales cycle over a period of time.  The purpose is to observe live situations which provides real opportunities to coach and may also identify areas where additional training may be required.  A typical pattern with an established sales team might involve a day a month with each sales person with the objective of attending two or three appointments
  • Manage the process not the people; coach the people in the process as necessary

Sales Manager should be a dedicated role but if the team is small it may have to be a part-time role.  This is not ideal but if it is necessary then it must be done properly and the key thing is to ensure sales management is the primary not the secondary activity.  Also be aware that the prime discipline of the person undertaking the part-time sales manager role will leak into their sales management approach.  For example, an accountant will focus on historical numbers and at certain times; month end, year end, vat return time; the accountant role will dominate – they will be of little value in training or coaching the sales people who will also only get sporadic management.

The founder/owner/MD as sales manager

In many ways this is simply a special case of the part-time manager but it comes with additional issues.  It is not unusual that the person at the head of the company has previously been the selling resource for the organisation.  This is especially true for smaller companies, or where the founder is still active in a larger business.  I would be very rich if I had £10 for every time I have been told something along the lines of “I am the greatest sales person and if only they were half as good as me …”.  This is well described as Founder Syndrome or even better the more comical version is Founderitis.

The problem is that as the founder or MD you engage in sales activities as the founder or MD not as a bag carrying sales person.  You come with all sorts of advantages arising from your position and title that gives you unfair advantage over the sales people.  Try getting some visiting cards printed with the title Sales Representative, rather than MD, and walk in the shoes of a sales person for a month – let me know how you get on 🙂 BTW, when I say walk in their shoes I mean the whole job; cold calling on the phone to make appointments, wrestling with the CRM, suffering lack of resource from the technical team, marketing or pre-sales support, etc.

Consider different selling roles

There are two primary selling roles to consider; hunters and farmers.  Typically the hunters , will be professional new business sales people whereas the farmers will be account managers who may have a professional selling background but may also come from a different discipline such as accountant, architect, project management or customer services.  It is also quite common these days that a single person could perform both roles; hunter/farmer.

While the overall philosophy of managing people will apply in all scenarios it is important for the manager to appreciate the potential for different needs and motivations of the different people.  While hunters will generally be totally focused on finding and winning new business, account managers may have additional responsibilities so managing them will need to take account of their multiple responsibilities and a balance must be struck between different objectives.

If sales management has to be part-time do it properly.

If you have such a small team that you cannot sustain the overhead of a full time sales manager and part-time seems to be your only option then consider employing a part-time manager from outside rather than resource sharing internally.

This option means you will get a fully experienced sales manager who comes with all the essential skills and experience outlined above so you get 100% effective sales management during the time they are focused on the role; more than you could expect from the accountant or MD.

I can guess you may be thinking at this point; Shipperlee is a consultant, so this is a case of the butcher saying buy more meat.  Think that if you wish but then think about all the other business functions that you outsource either because you don’t have a full time need or because you want to time share a larger pool of skills and knowledge.

 

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