The Myth of the Working Sales Manager

A Sales Manager’s Responsibility Does Not Focus on Selling but it Does Focus on the Promotion of Sales

Sales managers are often promoted and then expected to continue to handle their most lucrative accounts. This decision is often made by management for the fear of losing major accounts. The new sales manager hardly ever protests as it is an affirmation as to his worthiness and ownership of those accounts. These decisions leave little time for coaching their sales teams or strategizing about future sales initiatives. Field sales people may end up with the perception that their personal growth potential may be limited. The sales person replacing the sales manager that was promoted may feel that the company lacks confidence in their ability to handle major accounts. This is not the kind of orientation you want to adopt when assigning new sales personnel.

What are the Sales Managers Real Responsibilities?

A fair question and the answer may apply universally across the majority of industries. The answer focuses on four key concepts:

1. Developing the Sales Strategy — Creating a discipline within the sales force to identify specific growth targets which include:

o Increased penetration of existing accounts

o New account development , pipeline management

o New product introduction and promotion

2. Developing the Sales Force — This key responsibility includes self development and required leadership skills.

o Coaching and mentoring

o Providing training resources

o Hands on buddy calls

o Monthly territory/account discussions and review sessions. (one on one)

o Policy & procedure enforcement

o Accountability

3. Managing Activities – Measuring Results — Defining key activities and then managing those activities is a prerequisite to success.

o Designing a sales effectiveness process that requires account action plan activities that include but are not limited to:

— Targeting

— Goal setting

— Opportunity reporting

— Pipeline management

— Performance scorecards

4. Advertisement & Promotions — This is budget based and may be coordinated with marketing in many companies but should include the following:

o Open house

o Lunch & learn

o Client seminars

o Social and event selling

o Public awareness, speaking and writing articles

o Testimonials and referrals

Although the scenario outlined in the opening paragraph (Sales managers are often promoted and then expected to continue to handle their most lucrative accounts.) was very common ten years ago, it has slowly been changing as companies recognize the importance that needs to be placed on developing the sales force. Being the number one sales person is no longer the primary criteria used to determine who the next sales manager should be. Many companies now acknowledge that the skill sets required to be a good sales manager are different than those of a good field sales person. Sales managers today must be focused on coaching their sales staffs, strategizing about creating new business and delegating day-to-day operational issues to other staff members.

The Truth Is Simple

You can not effectively manage a sales force and have primary responsibility for the maintenance or development of specific accounts. It is like trying to win the super bowl with player coaches on the field and nobody on the sidelines looking at the big picture and taking care of the overall game plan. Quit scrimping. If you promote someone to sales manager; let them manage and pay them according to the profitability performance of the overall sales team. You also need to invest in skill development in the area of coaching and mentoring for your sales managers. In fact all managers need this type of skill development. Everybody talks about it but very few companies actually train their managers on coaching and mentoring.

Gaining the Respect of the Sales Team

I often hear the argument that a sales manager needs to gain the respect of the sales team by demonstrating their skill at selling by handling some accounts. That is a myth. More precisely; that is Hogwash. There is no correlation between a manager’s sales ability and leadership skills. That is why promoting your best sales person to sales manager more often than not falls short of expectations. Indeed, if you were to adopt that theory you may initiate an ego contest between the sales manager and the sales team which could do irreparable harm. Think about this. How can a sales manager live up to the responsibilities outlined in this article and support his sales team through coaching and mentoring if he/she is out in the field selling directly to an account base? Sales managers gain respect and trust by demonstrating respect and trust in the sales team; not by trying to outsell or sell along side of them. The sales manager’s job is to be the coach and strategist. If the job is defined accurately as being a coach, then he/she doesn’t need to prove their sales ability. They just need to gain the trust and respect by becoming a good strategist, coach, mentor and problem solver.

The Professional Sales Manager Characteristics:

The next time you are faced with hiring or promoting someone to the position of Sales Manager, use the following characteristics as a baseline for your selection process.

1. Highly Self Motivated

2. Optimistic

3. Excellent Relationship building Skills

4. Skilled at Team Selling – Team Building

5. Calculated Risk Taker

6. Listens Well — 80% of the Time

7. Plans Well

8. Ability to Think Outside the Box Because They Know What Goes on Inside the Box

9. Always Lives Up to Their Commitments

10. Always On Time With Assignments

11. Exceptional Positive Attitude (Does Not Whine or Make Excuses)

12. Excellent Communicator

13. Inspires Excellence in Others

14. Strong Social and Interpersonal Skills

15. Commands a Presence

16. Honesty

17. Integrity

18. Develops Trust and Respect by Showing Trust

and Respect for others

19. Embraces Accountability – for Self and Sales Team

20. Knowledgeable of Selling Concepts and Best Practice

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.

Top 7 Reasons Sales Managers Fail

Have you been scratching your head wondering why your sales team is not hitting revenue goals? Do you feel like you’re doing everything you can and giving it your all a manager but are not getting consistent results? Read on to determine if you are a product of these 7 reasons sales managers fail:

1. Inability to Transfer Skills

Sales managers often move into a sales management role because of their ability to identify and win business. Unfortunately, your great selling skills are of no use or value to the organization if you can’t transfer these selling skills to your team.

In the words of Jack Welch, former CEO of GE, “When you take on a leadership role, it’s no longer about you, it’s about them.” In other words, it doesn’t matter how good you are, it only matters how good you can make the individuals on your sales team.

2. White House Syndrome

It’s easy for sales managers to catch this disease and lose touch with reality. (How much is a carton of milk?) Sales managers start camping out in the “white house” (the corporate office), getting caught up in the minutia of reports, meetings and firefighting. They forget the real reason they were hired as a sales manager: to train and coach their sales team to the highest level of performance. This isn’t accomplished in the “white house.”

Training and coaching are accomplished by riding with your sales team and calling on the real world – your prospects and clients. The cushy chair in corporate is more comfortable; the car seat is always more profitable.

3. Field manager, Corporate Manager, All-Around Manager

In my former corporate world, I had seven sales managers reporting to me and quickly figured out there were three types: field manager, corporate manager and all-around manager.

Field managers stand staunchly by their team, defend all actions and refuse to understand or endorse corporate objectives. The corporate manager is interested only in moving up the corporate ladder, leaving their sales team without a voice in the corporation. The all-around manager gets it. They achieve the hard balance of presenting the sales team’s issues to senior management while communicating and enforcing corporate objectives to their sales team.

The field manager enjoys a lot of love and limited growth, the corporate manager builds a sales culture of distrust, and the all-around manager grows leaders, profits and companies.

4. No Tough Love

When you accept the role of sales manager, you accept the responsibility of growing people as well as profits. A great sales manager is similar to a great parent. Good parents set expectations of behavior and character for their children, and hold their kids accountable to those expectations. They understand they’re not in a popularity contest and refuse to accept excuses or cave in to comments such as, “none of the other kids’ moms expect them to…..”

Great sales managers set clear expectations for their sales team and don’t cave when the sales team pushes back on standards of excellence. They put aside their need to be liked for the need to be respected. They understand that tough love creates high-performance sales cultures.

5. No Duplicable Sales Process

The example I use is of an athletic coach and their playbook. An NFL coach always has a playbook and requires each player to study, learn and execute the plays.

The professional football player isn’t allowed to run their own playbook, regardless of the number of years they’ve been playing ball. Sales managers, on the other hand, often lack a playbook and give the excuse, “Well, I hire people with sales experience.” The result is a sales manager trying to manage 20 different playbooks filled with old and ineffective plays.

6. Lack of Prospecting

Sales managers must prospect; however, the target changes. Instead of prospecting for business, sales managers must be consistently prospecting for top sales talent. A mistake often made by sales managers is looking for top talent in crisis mode, after someone on their team has been fired, resigns or moves.

The pressure of hitting a sales quota results in sales managers settling for a second-best candidate and expecting first-rate sales results. Great sales managers prospect monthly for top talent to keep their people pipeline full.

7. Sales Team is Stroke-Deprived and Fun-Deprived

High-driving types often land in the position of sales manager because of their ability to achieve goals. They don’t need a lot of strokes and are very results-oriented. The problem is that high-driving sales managers are managing salespeople who have a high need for recognition, interaction and fun.

The unsuccessful sales manager doesn’t realize their new sales activity plan includes giving strokes and pats on the back, creating recognition programs and setting up events to hit the fun quota.

Good Selling!

Colleen Stanley is the founder and president of SalesLeadership, Inc. She is a monthly columnist for national Business Journals, author of ‘Growing Great Sales Teams’ and co-author of ‘Motivational Selling.’ Prior to starting SalesLeadership, Colleen was vice president of sales and marketing for Varsity Spirit Corporation. During her 10 years at Varsity, sales increased from 8M to 90M.