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.
Why Sales Managers Hate Performance Management
Performance management can be a dirty job. Many managers shy away when having to deal with performance issues. My approach says “bring it on.” I believe that non-performing players need to get their act together or there is no place for them on the team. Here are a few considerations when addressing sales performance issues.
What happens when one of your sales people is not performing? Companies have set up a process for addressing performance issues. Some of these processes can take 3 -6 months to determine whether the sales rep can address their performance gaps or if not, are fired.
When addressing a reps performance, sales managers will use formal Performance Improvement Programs (PIP). These are formal procedural documents used to demonstrate that the manager is serious about a reps poor performance. The manager’s task is to document areas that require improvement if the rep is going to remain on the team.
Managing a PIP is time consuming and stressful. Much of the documentation is in the manager’s hands and of course there is added tension between the sales rep and manager. This results in strained communication and mutual lack of trust.
Focusing on a non-performing sales rep diverts a sales managers’ time from important activities, such as coaching reps with greater potential. Many sales managers do their best to be fair and give the rep a chance to prove themselves. They give the rep the benefit of the doubt and allow the PIP to drag on. We all know the opportunity cost in terms of lost sales as well as additional management time spent on the individual. As a rule, do not allow a PIP to linger for more than 3 months. Either the rep can perform or its time to part ways.
Stay Focused on the Desired Result
It is critical to assess the issues when dealing with poor performing sales reps. Depending if it is an attitude or effort issue, a decision needs to be made if the rep is to remain part of the team. I know HR must follow proper procedure, but if you have a bad apple you throw it out. You need to focus on the outcome that you think is right for the organization. Being very clear with what you want as the end result is required up front so you don’t waver through the process. Managing a 3-month PIP means determining if the rep is a player you want on your team and then managing that PIP effectively to achieve the outcome. If you believe the sales rep can pull up their performance then you give them the chance. It’s not about lying or deceit, it’s about making sure you have the right people on your team. Clarity will ensure that the process is seamless and effortless.
Enough with the Perpetual PIPers (PP)
We have all come across the PP. This is the sales rep that can do a high quality sales job but is not willing to put in the time or quantity of activity that would up their performance. I call them the “talented slacker”. They are content to meet annual sales objectives, but not exceed them.
The disparity arises when a new manager joins the team and their performance gaps become glaringly apparent in relation to their peers. The new sales manager gets tired of pushing the talented slacker to do more and eventually puts them on a PIP. Because the sales rep doesn’t lack the quality, they temporarily up their activity and thus satisfying the terms of the PIP.
Overtime the perpetual PIPers will fall back into their old habits until a new manager arrives and the process repeats itself. Once a rep is on a third PIP, I say 3 PIPs and you are out! The third PIP is a termination letter.
All your reps should be on a SIP! A SIP is a Sales Improvement Program. If you want to proactively manage performance, every sales rep in the organization should focus on at least one area of improvement to take their performance to the next level. Even your STARS have opportunities for improvement that can take them to a higher level of performance. You can call it a SIP or a coaching journey. Regardless, proactive sales managers are always looking to elevate the performance of each of their sales reps to maximize results.
Every rep should be on a program as a means of improving their performance. Companies who are truly performance based should be focused on continual improvement from all their sales reps. If a rep is not performing you need to be clear, concise and expeditious when addressing a performance improvement program.
Managing salespeople and proposal writers has been described as being like herding cats. That seems a little unfair to cats, frankly. Cats can’t help themselves. Salespeople and proposal writers, on the other hand, choose not to hold management to quite the level of infallibility that management would like.
Nonetheless, management and sales reps can work together to improve sales. And, when they’re not working together, management can at least choose methods that do as little damage as possible to the already fragile egos of salespeople and proposal writers. Here’s some tricks that I recommend.
Trick #1: The Follow-Up
When a salesperson gets back from visiting with a prospect, the sales manager should send a handwritten letter – or at least an email – to the prospect that thanks the prospect for the courtesy he showed the sales rep. It doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, it can be the same thing every time:
Dave asked us to thank you for the courtesy you showed him when he visited you about… ”
Of course, the salesperson should be doing his own follow ups, but those should be about the prospect and what he needs. This one is designed to simply be a kind note to say thanks. And that simplicity is the key.
First, by thanking the prospect for their courtesy, the prospect sees himself as a courteous person. Not only is this flattering, but the prospect will now act consistently with that label. You open the way for the materials that follow. To do otherwise would be inconsistent.
Second and more importantly, by singling out courtesy, you signify that this is a quality you value. You also signal that your company is composed of humans who appreciate decency and who are easy to work with. All of those things help the prospect trust your more.
Third, there is an additional effect. The prospect who was courteous with the salesperson likes knowing that it was recognized and was worth enough that it was mentioned to a sales manager. This builds rapport and the prospect will be even happier to see the salesperson when he next returns.
And if the prospect wasn’t courteous? This is why it should be handwritten and come from the sales manager. If it comes from the salesperson, it sounds passive aggressive. If it’s an email, it’s too easy to shoot back a snarky reply. But if the sales manager says it by letter, and this is a prospect you really want to pursue business with, then the discourteous prospect will be stuck recognizing the error in his treatment of the salesperson. Odds are good that, next time the salesperson calls on the prospect, the prospect will go out of his way to prove he’s a good person.
Trick #2: The Tickler
Most Customer Relations Management software either includes or supports ticklers – little reminders that a customer or prospect should be contacted. But ticklers are useful for sales managers too, not just salespeople.
If the sales manager is getting reminders, then the manager can go to the salesperson and politely request a report. If, as usual, the salesperson has no report to make because he ignored his own tickler system, then the sales manager can set the system to remind him again the next day. When the next day comes, out comes the manager to politely get a report. This procedure keeps on going until the salesperson realizes it’s easier to just call the prospect than to stare across his desk at his manager every afternoon, trying to come up with a fresh batch of excuses.
Trick #3: The Ego Saver
It’s no secret that the egos of salespeople and proposal writers are delicate things. Not only the ego, but also the always fragile relationship between manager and salesperson can be damaged by a negative email about some trivial little detail the salesperson missed in a Miller Heiman Blue Sheet or other report. The morale deflating and resentment producing that goes along with receiving a critical email saps all his desire to sell. It can cost the company hundreds or thousands of times more than whatever the value would have been of filling out the Blue Sheet correctly. Despite this, I see managers continue to send these sorts of emails day in and day out – even at supposedly enlightened firms.
But, these managers argue, salespeople need to fill out the Blue Sheets correctly or else the rest of the organization can’t do their jobs.
That’s true as far as it goes, so here’s the approach I recommend, for example, when salespeople are required to fill out specific forms on the customer, their needs, their pain points and so on.
The Blue Sheets themselves are easy enough to understand for the salesperson, since they’ve been trained in Strategic Selling. So the salesperson knows whether or not his Blue Sheet gives the information that it needs to.
Although it’s possible for the manager to send a condescending email every time the Blue Sheet is filled out in a superficial way, it’s not a good idea. It’s too easy to harm the relationship with the salesperson, harm the company through decreased sales and so on.
Instead, the manager should just return a copy of the deficient Blue Sheet with a small star next to the questionable part. It’s a symbol, which the salesperson immediately recognizes, that more depth or more information is required. If the next version of the Blue Sheet doesn’t fix the problem, a copy is again returned, this time with a question mark next to the star. If a third mark is needed, then an exclamation point can be added and added and added, until there is a string of exclamation points for as many iterations of the Blue Sheet as the salesperson requires before he gets tired of the game and fills out the form correctly.
A salesperson might leave because he feels mistreated by the manager, but he can’t exactly storm out because you put a lot of exclamation points on his Blue Sheet. Yet he knows he was sloppy and he knows the manager knows. The end result is much more effective than a nasty email.
Trick #4: Customer Eggs
One of the most important roles that a sales manager can do – but is rarely done – is to ensure that the company has a variety of customer types. Just as you shouldn’t put all your eggs in one basket, you shouldn’t rest all your revenue on one sector. If you sold only to real estate companies in the early 2000s, your company went down the drain just as fast as the realtors did. More recently, if your customer was only working class individuals, the long recession left you in as bad a shape as it did them. A “one type of customer” business is as risky as a retirement plan that only has shares in one company.
Instead, your sales manager needs to check your customers for their industries and, taking it a step further, needs to check if those industries are correlated. If your clients are in software and construction, you’re safe. If they’re in real estate and construction, you’re looking at trouble. Try to keep a little elasticity with your goods and your sales force, so that, if one area starts to get hit, you can smoothly shift over to another.
Bonus Tip: Competitions Aren’t Always What You Want
As one final trick, consider the question of whether to have sales competitions. In this case, the trick is not what to do or not do, but what to consider. The issue here is that, if you offer prizes to the best salespeople or proposal writers for a particular month, you may end up causing more harm than good. Not to the losers, which you might expect, but to the winners.
There is no doubt that competitions work. If you offer one, the salespeople will go crazy to win the prizes. You will see energy you haven’t seen in months.
The problem comes once the competition is over. It can ruin the winners. The winners will be some of your best salespeople. Once the contest is complete, however, they now know they they’re your best salespeople. And unfortunately it can happen that it goes to their head, creates friction with other salespeople, and their sales immediately begin to fall. They start to coast on their reputations. They frequently cannot recover psychologically from the blinding of the temporary glory.
So, before you offer a sales contest, take a long hard look at your salespeople. Can they handle losing it? Can they handle winning it?
Keep these tricks and tips in mind and your organization will see more sales, higher proposal win rates and a happy, efficient sales team.
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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!