culpability

Maybe it’s them; but could it be you?

culpabilityWe love to help sales people fulfil their potential, but the key to success is not always what you might at first think. Getting better performance from your sales team will probably involve helping them individually with skills and techniques but it will usually also require better leadership and management.

So what is the difference between leadership and management?  This is one of those things where asking a number of people will typically produce a wide range of often contradictory answers.

Perhaps a good place to start is with a view from the great Peter Drucker who after many years of pondering concluded that

“Management is doing things right and leadership is doing the right things”.

If this definition sits well with you then you can start to see why both leadership and management are necessary disciplines and also how they might interface; the leader decides what is to be done and the manager ensures it is done.  Put another way the leader decides the strategy and the manager deploys the tactics to implement the strategy.

For many years Drucker had been uncomfortable that people bestowed the term “leader” upon themselves motivated by pride or ego, believing that “leader” in some way made them superior to managers; it is clear from the above quote that he eventually felt comfortable that both roles had their place.

Leadership and Management in Business

Why business?  Really just to define the scope of what we will cover as these disciplines can be found in the armed forces, police, education, in fact all public services and in professional sport.  To further refine the scope I will use sales and selling as the context for this article.

I have been in leadership and management roles in business for the past 40+ years including the last 14 years when I have had the privilege of working in other people’s companies helping them to make their businesses more successful.  While the primary focus of what we do is performance improvement in the areas of sales and selling our starting point is invariably the leadership team and their strategy for the business followed by extensive work with the leaders and managers responsible for implementing the strategy across the sales operation.

Leadership

A key aspect of good leadership is the ability to clearly articulate the strategy in a form that everyone can understand, can feel motivated by, and above all, can see what part they play in delivering the strategy.  If a strategy is high level and is expressed in language e.g. “improve the ROCE” that most people cannot relate to they will simply return to work and continue doing what they have always done in the same way they have always done it.  Communicating the strategy must make it clear to each employee how doing their job on a day-to-day basis will contribute to achieving the objectives of the business. Cascading the strategy and the KPIs as in a Balanced Scorecard helps in this respect.

For me a key to good leadership is the recognition and acknowledgment that the leader is there to serve the business not the other way around.  In smaller companies where the leader, often the owner, is also the manager of some functions such as sales or production, their primary challenge is to recognise which hat they are wearing on each occasion, and to allow for the effects of their privileged position when judging the corresponding performance of their employees fulfilling the equivalent function.

  • If the leader starts to get involved in day-to-day activities they risk usurping their managers and confusing their teams; I refer to this leader as a Meddler.
  • If they stand up at a company meeting to present the strategy for the next 12 months it is not the time or place to get into operational details. The company meeting should be followed by specific meetings with each operating unit where they can dive into the detail.

Management

While you can lead people, management is a discipline for creating and maintaining the environment that supports the people succeeding in their work, whilst minimising unnecessary diversions.

When considering a management style, the starting point has to be a definition of the purpose and objectives of the business as a whole as well as the various activities the manager is responsible for.  For me a key objective should always be, the creation of staff who can think for themselves, finding new and creative ways to deliver the required results while coping with ‘non standard’ situations.

A poor manager, who doesn’t know how to act through their people as opposed to on their people, will probably resort to ‘micro-managing’; telling them what to do on every occasion and in minute detail.  For sales managers this is evidenced when they focus on relatively low level activity, for instance, pushing to make more calls in order to make more appointments, where what is really needed is better quality contacts or conversations to generate meaningful appointments.  Invariably the drive for quantity is coupled with a fall in quality and a resultant fall in the very thing the manager was looking for; more customers and more orders.

work smarter not harder.”

The problem with micro-management is that it amounts to supervision and just one brain doing the thinking; it stifles creativity, adaptability and evolution in the way of doing things. There is rarely only one way to achieve an outcome, so if the framework within which staff are required to operate is too tightly defined they are unlikely to give of their best.  Supervision styles such as ‘my way or the highway’ rarely lead to improved performance, and they also eat time, constraining the capacity of the ‘manager’ to focus on their complete role. If, as suggested earlier, your purpose is to help people become independent thinkers resolving most of their issues on their own initiative supervising their every move will not deliver the desired outcome. Supervision may be applicable in support of inexperienced people but even here a coaching style will always deliver a better long lasting outcome.

“… teach a man to fish …”

 The risk of becoming a ‘micro-manager’ is at its height for newly promoted managers especially when they take up a post running the team they inhabited.  It is common in sales that the best sales person is made the manager but this is often done without a proper process of selection that would look at the suitability of the person for the role of manager; the result is typically diminished sales results and a demotivated team.  The other common issue is that newly promoted managers rarely receive adequate training or support for their new role leaving them to find their own way; which may be out of the business and back to doing what they’re good at – selling.

Coaching

When working with sales managers who struggle with the idea of ‘managing’ their people, the conversation quickly turns to coaching.  This is a very powerful tool that sales managers should use to help their people avoid or solve their own problems and issues that impact on their performance.

I mentioned earlier that this article was focused on business as opposed to, amongst other disciplines, sport.  However, sport provides an excellent example where coaching is used extensively to enhance and improve performance.  Professional sports people who are at the top of their game have to look for small marginal gains to get that edge over a competitor.

The role of the coach is interesting in that the person they coach will invariably be better than they are at the discipline which begs the question “how can the coach help them?”  Put simply; it is hard for any of us to see in ourselves small blemishes that are clearly visible to others.  Even if we can see those blemishes it may be hard to admit them or perhaps as they have become a part of us we cannot see how to deal with them.  The coach is able to stand back and focus on specific points that need to be improved looking both at the practical and emotional aspects of dealing with the issue.

Everyone who is responsible for the performance of others needs to consider coaching as a key weapon in their armoury.

Considerations for leaders and managers

  1. Style. People will look at their leaders and managers as role models and conclude; if they do it that way, think that way, have those beliefs; then it is OK for me as well.  A business needs a culture of shared beliefs and values that everyone can subscribe to when doing their job.
  2. Beware creating a cult of personality. Strong charismatic leaders and managers tend to recruit and promote in their own image which comes with a number of risks. People will mimic to be accepted but may not be able to deliver within the acquired persona. Those who do not feel comfortable with what they see may feel excluded and above all the team will suffer due to a lack of diversity and variety in its make-up.
  3. Communication must be two-way.  There are points when leaders and managers need to “tell” but there are far more occasions when they need to listen.  Most answers to everyday business issues can be found within the team and involving them will also aid morale, motivation and commitment.
  4. Lead, manage, coach, but don’t supervise.  Lead and coach the people and only manage the environment such as the sales and selling processes.  If you are supervising you will not get the optimum result from your team.
  5. Accountability. Leaders and managers often talk about being responsible but of greater importance they must be accountable – the buck really does stop with you!
  6. Micro-managing – don’t do it!  Recruit properly then train and coach your people so they can use their own creativity, initiative and other personal resources to do a really good job day in and day out.
  7. Don’t allow the urgent to overrun the important.  It’s simple; if you leave the important things as you are focused on the urgent everything becomes urgent and is dealt with reactively which leads to short-term fixes that will see the same problem come round again and again.  So be wary of rewarding the firefighters if you truly wish to cure problems, as this will often reinforce the practice.
  8. Deal with poor performers.  Having tried all you can to help someone improve there are occasions when you have to acknowledge that for whatever reason they are not going to respond and once that point is reached you need act decisively and fairly. But first ensure that the organisation itself is providing the necessary support.
  9. Change is a constant.  Successful leaders and managers accept change as an inevitability and design their organisation to accommodate changes imposed from outside while also continually looking for internally driven changes that will benefit the business.
  10. Be a learning organisation.  Make a key part of the culture the assumption that you can never know everything so learning should be part of the regular routine across the business.  Consider creating a Learning & Development function, or a Knowledge Base to facilitate information sharing and process evolution.

In many of our customers the CEO/MD, who may also be the business owner, also functions as the head of sales; they wear multiple hats and sales can never be their 100% focus.  If it is impractical to have a dedicated sales leader it is even more important to be mindful of the need to lead and coach rather than manage and supervise the sales people.  Initially it may seem that leading and coaching requires a larger time commitment but quite quickly the approach will require less time from the leader as the sales people will have gained confidence from being trusted and will have learnt to function independently.  Ensuring that there is a defined framework in place to specify the aims, essential outputs, quality criteria and control gates will make it easier for the sales leader to monitor performance and decide when proactive intervention might be required; but remember don’t waste time measuring low level activity.

 

What can sales managers learn from the Olympics?

The Olympics are over, but will your sales managers help their team strive for gold?

When I say sales managers I mean anyone who manages; account managers, new business sales people or desk based telephone sales people.  You may be the owner of a business to whom the sales people report; you are still their sales manager.

So, what can you learn from the Olympics?  In a word: COACHING; a steady, constant, cumulative process that progressively builds performance.

Whenever Olympic competitors are interviewed about their success they rarely say “I” but they do always talk about; the coach and/or the coaching team.  Perhaps it seems odd; a top athlete who has already won Olympic medals looks to someone else to help them perform at the top, but it is a tried and trusted approach.  The same approach can be seen in almost any sport and also other disciplines such as the armed forces that train and practise constantly and the arts where actors, dancers, singers and others also practise and rehearse constantly.  All of this practising, rehearsing, training, etc., is done under the watchful eye of someone who will coach as a means of maximising performance.

Sales people need to be considered in the list those who benefit from structured, regular coaching.  It is not enough to recruit experienced people and assume they will just get on with it.  It is not enough to put people on a training course and assume when they return to the office they will by magic be a different person suddenly able to do things they couldn’t even spell before the course.

The received wisdom from 1,000s of successful sales managers is that their primary role is coaching; working one-on-one and also with the whole team where the sole purpose is to get each individual sales person and the team as a whole to perform better and to be more productive.  Time spent in unnecessary management meetings or pouring over a spreadsheet of last month’s figures is a wasted opportunity.  You owe it to the sales people you employ and the company as a whole to ensure sales management time is proactively focused on performance and productivity as its top priority.

Some things to consider:

  • Allocate 5 hours per month for one-on-one coaching with each individual.  Spend some of this time accompanying your sales people on prospect and customer meetings but also some time across the desk.  The 5 hours per month figure is supported by some independent research conducted in 2014.
  • When managing telephone based sales people spend time sitting at the next desk and/or reviewing recorded calls.  Even with field based staff you should monitor their telephone techniques as well as their face-to-face activities.
  • Allocate a further 5 hours per month for group sessions delivering bite sized training sessions focused on single topics. In your group discussion include reviews of pipeline opportunities and win strategies as well as loss reviews.
  • Create and agree performance measures. Monitor progress towards these and use the results as the basis for coaching to improve future performance.  Every meaningful activity that forms a part of the sales person’s regular work should be a topic for review and coaching; you can get the group to model success for the benefit of the whole team,
  • Do not waste your time, and everyone else’s, by measuring low level activity such as total calls made – the only things that really matter are outputs such as qualified meetings and outcomes such as bids submitted and deals won; these are the meaningful activities that will act as indicators of future performance.
  • So that everyone takes this seriously, work with your HR people to formalise the coaching programme and incorporate it into your regular appraisal process.

Why not use the remains of the summer preparing a new regime to support your sales people through a programme of structured coaching?  Plan a meeting 1st or 2nd September with the whole team to launch the programme so you can really maximise the selling season running up to the end of the year.

First published on LinkedIn Pulse

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.

 

Customer engagement for win-win deals

Customer Engagement

If your customers are slow to make decisions and your pipeline forecast is forever moving, we can help you.

If your sales force are submitting bids with a low uptake so you feel you are just providing free consultancy, we can help you.

Markets are changing and customers have more opportunities for research before they buy, consequently the sales force has different challenges in order to engage with customers. Gaining insight into your Customer’s world and thereby understanding how you can deliver greater value than your competitors can be key to how you approach your target market.

We have helped companies in various sectors re-focus their propositions and markets for greater customer engagement, leading to more new and extension business. This also assisted the sales management to obtain more reliable forecasts.

“Working with Performative greatly improved the quality of engagement with potential customers and our ability to forecast outcomes from those.” MD, Mobile Technology company.

Feel free to call us for a confidential discussion.

Challenges of the Sales Leader #3

Remote and mobile sales teams.

doing business on the move

out of sight does not mean out of mind

Is managing remote and mobile sales people really different to managing people who are entirely or largely office based?  Does it deserve an article of its own?  The answer to both is yes.

When considering this question the starting point has to be another question; what, if anything, makes managing any sales people different to managing other employees?  There are in my experience several factors that make managing sales people if not unique quite different to most other management tasks in business.  However, when considering these factors there are parallels between sales management and, for example, sports team management and leadership in some aspects of the armed forces.

The key difference in the management task emanates from the nature of the job being done by sales people when compared to other types of work.  Most jobs involve people following a routine which may be defined by a professional discipline such as; lawyer, accountant, engineer or HR professional.

Whether supported by a professional qualification or not, most employees do a job which follows a routine, set of procedures within an overall process.  The accounts department will probably have regular routines for the day, week, month and quarter.  Within the department the payroll person or the credit control person will have a regular pattern of work that provides structure to their working day.

Being office based people have regular access to their manager and also have the support and camaraderie of working with colleagues.  Working in a job with regular recurring activities provides structure and a degree of security for the employees.  Typically such employees know what to do in most circumstances as a result of the routine which means they will have tackled most problems before and therefore do not need support from their manager in most cases.

So, to those remote and mobile sales people.

What is different in their working lives compared to office based people?

  • Although some of what a sales person does is routine; make calls, attend meetings, write proposals, etc., each new customer is different to all the rest.  Different because the people within the customer are different.
  • Each customer will have different approaches, style, culture which makes each a new challenge for the sales person.  In effect each new customer is a little like joining a new company; the sale person has to learn new “rules of engagement” for most new customers.
  • Each new customer situation is rather like a game for a sports team where the opposing team presents a new challenge to that encountered in the previous matches.  So the coach prepares the team for the next match, helping them to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the opposing team and developing strategies to win the game.

All of the above applies to all sales people regardless of whether they are office or remotely based.  However, if they are office based, they can have regular contact with their manager and colleagues enabling both informal and formal support.

Assuming the sales people are experienced and skilled in their profession then the level of support required is mainly focused on coaching around individual customer situations, team training in new techniques and sales meetings where the team members can reinforce each other.  Giving this sort of support to remote sales people is quite a challenge.  If the manager has, say, ten sales people spread across the UK, they will typically only see each person once per month and once more in a monthly team meeting.  To deal with this you need to …

  •  Ensure you are aware of their diary and plan calls around prospect and customer events.  Being aware of what they are doing makes them feel you care and it also provides structure for the telephone conversations you will have
  • Schedule regular telephone contact; ideally daily.
  • Make the effort to meet individually at least twice per month and on at least one of these occasions, formally review their pipeline.
  • Make time to join the sales person in selected sales appointments.  Make sure it includes ones they’re confident about so you can see them working well and thus better help them with those they’re less comfortable with.  Don’t wait to be invited.
  • Organise team events such as webinars, weekly training and rah-rah sessions.
  • Hold monthly sales meetings when, amongst other things; you can provide an update on achievements for the previous month and they can individually present their plans for the coming months.

For the dedicated sales manager the above, even with a team of ten, is perfectly achievable provided you do not allow your time, while you are in the office, to be hijacked by non sales management activities.  However, in today’s world of business many sales leaders also have other important jobs to do such as being the MD.  For the sales leader who wears multiple hats we would recommend you get a dedicated sales manager once the sales team gets to five or more people, or their geography becomes too diverse, prior to that you should be able to deliver the recommended management regime.  Alternatively, you could create a structure within the team where some of the more experienced people take on the role of supporting and coaching two or three less experienced colleagues and your main focus would then mainly be on the two senior people.

cats

Challenges of the Sales Leader #2

Managing self-employed sales teams

cats of differing shapes & sizes

It doesn’t have to be like herding cats

Is there anything special about managing self-employed sales people?  Does the topic deserve an article in its own right?  The answer to these questions depends in part on your point of view about what good management looks like and what expectations you have of your sales team.

Just to clarify, we are talking about self-employed individuals rather than a channel business partner, which is yet another management challenge.

A debate which often occurs around self-employed sales people is whether this is just a means of paying the person or does it define a different “animal”?  In many cases companies who use self-employed staff adopt the stance that they are self-sufficient so they need only limited support.  There is also a belief that the self-employed person will be motivated by the need to earn money so again they need little management.

Far from being a motivator, money can cause a distortion in the way the person thinks about their job.  If through necessity they are mainly focused on satisfying their own financial needs they will spend less time than you might hope on your needs such as promoting your products or defending your brand.

It is also common that self-employed people are required to satisfy only very basic selection criteria with the belief being that no salary = no cost so, if they don’t work out, then they can be replaced.  This is an entirely false belief as there is a real cost in lost opportunities, a risk of reputational damage and of course the cost of continually recruiting and inducting new people.

Most people want to do a good job and to be successful for themselves and their employers, but without the correct type and amount of management and leadership most people under-perform.  The need for good management and leadership is magnified if the recruitment selection process has been “lite touch”.

Sales Performance

An important part of helping sales people to perform to their optimum level is to equip them with; appropriate training, good sales and selling processes, the tools they need to do the job and the appropriate support.  Once these things are in place you have a foundation to support good performance and productivity.  Then the critical differentiating factor is on-going coaching and this is the key role for those of us who manage sales people.

Sales coaching, addresses two main needs.  Firstly, it focuses on helping the sales person with strategy and tactics around specific prospects and individual opportunities; this helps them to sell more for you.  The second coaching role is to support sales people by helping them to maintain motivation for what is a tough, lonely and challenging job.

Having observed many companies with self-employed sales people we find that in many cases both levels of coaching are inadequate.  The main reasons have been laid out above and can be summarised as a belief that the nature of self-employment makes the people self-sufficient and it also means they will be motivated by the need to earn money.

So, do we need to treat the self-employed differently?  In the main no; they are human beings with the same basic needs as employed people.  The one key difference comes from the insecurity created by self-employment so people on these contracts will typically reward you through loyalty and performance if you demonstrate that you see them as equal to all other employees.

Some key points to consider:

The key to managing self-employed sales people is not to treat them as though they are any different to salaried people, hence most of these points also apply to salaried staff:

  • Break the cycle of belief (throughout the organisation) that self-employed sales people will behave in a particular way which dictates how you will treat them. This leads to a destructive negative spiral which is costly for you.
  • Recruit, induct and train all sales people in the same way.  Understand what the prime skills, attitudes and competencies need to be.
  • If you have self-employed and salaried people, treat them as one team.  They should attend the same sales meetings, functions and celebrations, receive equivalent rewards and in the event of failure they should suffer the same outcomes as your salaried staff.
  • Regardless of their employment status all sales people need to be supported, lead and coached.
  • The self-employed are often home based which increases their isolation and loneliness.  Maintain regular contact; one-to-one meetings, joint customer visits, regular sales meetings and frequent telephone contact.  Weekly webinars for the whole team is an effective way of staying in touch and maintaining the sense of “team”.
  • Money of itself is not the only motivator so you need to coach self-employed sales people to help them maintain motivation.
  • Being self-employed is for many not a choice and it can lead to a general feeling of insecurity.  There is nothing to buffer the odd poor month when they still have to pay the household bills.  So be mindful of the needs of each individual and treat them accordingly.
  • High churn, even of the self-employed, comes at a cost both financially and through its impact on customer service and your reputation.  If you make the effort to recruit good people and demonstrate your commitment to them, they will reward you with loyalty, hard work and commitment to you and your brand.

You have spent time and money finding and recruiting your self-employed sales people so it must make sense to maximise the return you can get on that investment.  Once recruited, the fixed cost of employment is close to zero which means you have more money to spend to helping these people perform as well as they possibly can for themselves and for you.

Self-employment should only define the way people are paid not how they are treated, managed, led or coached.

time allocation to team members

Challenges of the Sales Leader

The Executive as Sales Manager:

This is specifically focused on the executive, who does not have a sales background but who does have to manage the sales and selling functions of the business. This is a typical scenario for many owner managers but is also the position when someone from a different discipline, for example the FD, assumes responsibility for the sales and selling operations. One obvious thing to observe about this person is that as well as managing sales they will also have another job to do as well; CEO, MD, FD, etc.

A principle that we have long subscribed to is that you can lead or supervise people but you can only manage processes. Attempts to “manage” people typically descend into supervision and this in turn tends to focus on monitoring the quantity of activity whereas what matters is the quality and value of the outcomes achieved by the activity. Good sales managers know this and spend most of their time training and coaching their sales people to achieve better outcomes rather than supervising them to produce higher volumes of activity.

The key to effective leadership of any sales operation, regardless of whether the leader is experienced in sales and selling, is to have in place a well-defined sales methodology and a complete set of associated selling processes. The methodology represents the go-to-market strategy while the processes are the tactics used to implement that strategy.

WHY IS THIS KEY?

allocate time to each

Make time for coaching individuals and the whole team

The processes define the stages and gates that need to be followed throughout the lifecycle which sees a suspect become a prospect, then a customer, then a user and eventually an advocate. The processes ensure there are standard outputs from the mundane routine parts of the job. Those outputs must benefit both the company and the sales person. The sales people need to be trained in the use of the processes and progress is then easily monitored by observing how potential deals move through the stages of the process.  Such movement should be driven by adherence to the “rules” of the processes. This removes the need for the executive to try to manage (in fact supervise) every individual action and item of activity by every sales person – now, management can focus on exploring the exceptions.

Because the executive will be wearing a number of hats, it is important to allocate regular time slots throughout the week which are reserved exclusively for managing the sales and selling functions.

Here are a few tips to guide the executive as sales manager:

  • Design the commission plan to encourage the behaviour and results required to meet the business goals.
  • Create a sales methodology and associated selling processes.
  • Communicate these to the sales people ensuring they understand why they are expected to follow them.  The objective is to create an environment which permits intelligent adaptation within a defined environment.
  • Induct new people and train existing people into the methodology and processes
  • Reinforce this by managing people via the processes – make your expectations clear and consistent, e.g. if you ask for weekly reports, ensure you read them and respond.  Be alert to anomalies which may indicate coaching is needed.
  • Monitor progress through a dash board consisting of a few KPIs, pay attention to the exceptions and act on them.
  • Set aside regular times when you are in sales manager mode and publish these
  • Make time to coach individual sales people
  • Make time to visit prospects and customers with sales people, not on your own
  • Have a sales meeting with the whole team at least once per month – discussing account issues and tactics helps everyone learn
  • Speak to each individual sales person regularly and if they are remote do this by phone
  • If you feel you cannot do any of the previous points then bring in help, either a dedicated sales manager or part-time interim assistance to cover specific areas for you.

Sales Management – do you lead, manage or supervise?

Leadership, management and supervision; each has its place, in controlling and driving the selling function in a business.  We have observed many real world situations and our high level view is that you can lead or supervision people but management is only really suited to controlling processes.  For an example we have considered a typical sales department.

Consider a “manager” who, for example, monitors the number of telephone calls that are made by sales people.  This is supervision and the measure of success is simply the volume of effort (inputs).  The team will ensure they are seen to be on the phone, even if the call is irrelevant to the job at hand.  Also, in such a regime people are typically disinclined to use their initiative or move away from the prescribed way of doing the job.

Are you getting the best out of your team? Call us to discuss how it might be even better

Are you getting the best out of your team? Call us to discuss how it might be even better

Now consider a sales manager, who monitors performance by observing the results of the team’s processes e.g. a sales pipeline through which the manager can monitor (outputs) such as; conversion ratios, or the accuracy of forecasts for when a deal will close, its value and the probability of winning.  The team’s behaviour will now be more aligned to the needs of the business.

A good sales manager will also be a leader who shows trust and demonstrates their standards and values, leading by example.  They will get the best out of their people through coaching and mentoring, allowing them put their own interpretation on their role within the wider context of the overall job.  They get their own rewards through the success of those they lead.  When people are motivated by a good leader they are more likely to think beyond the inputs and outputs to the outcomes – they are more likely to care that the company succeeds rather than just themselves.

  • Ensure you use the right mix of leadership, management and supervision and that each discipline is applied at the right time and in the right place, to achieve the required outcome.
  • When you recruit people to do a job where you expect them to use their judgement, don’t de-motivate them by supervising their every move. If you cannot trust them you should not have recruited them.
  • It is important to recognise that monitoring at the activity level, such as sales calls made, is only measuring inputs and outputs to the process when it’s the outcomes in the form of orders which are really required.
  • Measurement needs to occur across the whole spectrum of the selling operation and the output from one measurement point should provide input to the next.  What you measure will also influence behaviour, so you need to ensure you choose your measurements wisely and they deliver leading indicators to the business, so that corrective action can be taken in a timely fashion.
  • Daily monitoring of the business is best achieved through good management information gathered from well-designed processes, whose outcomes address the Critical Success Factors of the business.

Arrk

The Outcome:

Transformed sales team structure and composition to reduce reliance on too few customers and on the Managing Director as the focal point for sales, thereby positioning the company better as an acquisition target.

The Challenge

Arrk is a software development company that focuses on helping its customers improve their bottom line through the imaginative use of web and mobile technologies.

Arrk’s challenge was that it had built a strong, but small, customer base and this had become a risk to the business.  The Managing Director (MD) was also heavily involved in the success of these few customers, thereby compounding the over-reliance position.  At the time of Performative’s project, the MD was interested in the possibility of selling Arrk, so needed to ensure a robust selling operation was in place for the benefit of potential buyers.

The Performative Solution

Performative undertook a Sales Performance Transformation exercise in two stages:

  • Performative initially provided an interim Sales Director, who undertook a range of activities to structure and establish a good team.  These included:
    • Evaluating the capabilities and motivations of Arrk’s existing sales and marketing people through one-on-one interviews and psychometric tests
    • Creating a marketing/lead generation capability
    • Designing and delivering a training and development programme for sales, marketing and sales support staff
    • Managing the sales team and undertaking coaching and mentoring as required
  • In parallel to the sales team work, Performative implemented Performative Structured Selling®, which included:
    • Creating an overarching sales and marketing strategy
    • Reviewing Arrk’s current sales and marketing processes including the bidding processes and standard document used for bidding and proposals
    • Amending existing processes as required and blending with Performative Structured Selling ® to produce a complete sales and marketing approach
    • Documenting the complete process as a sales manual.