High Performance Sales Driven By High Performance Sales Managers

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 Developing Your Sales Managers is Crucial to Your Sales Success

It may surprise you to discover that many Sales Managers learn how to be a Manager on their own.

According to the latest international study on Sales Training and Sales Force Effectiveness, many Sales Managers are given very little or no support when it comes to being a competent, effective manager. In fact, many Sales Managers reported that they were given no formal training in Sales Management practices, either before or during their tenure.

The study reported that Sales Management training is the category of sales training that is addressed with the least frequency, in fact it is less than annually or not at all.

The study also reported that if Sales Managers were more frequently and better trained and coached then their sales teams achieved higher performance and results. In no other type of sales training was a more positive correlation found between frequency of training and sales performance. Interestingly, it also revealed that sales training doesn’t need to be delivered in formal classroom settings.

As with many sales people who follow no logical process when selling, so it is true for many Sales Managers who fly by the seat of their pants and are often left to their own devices. These international findings further support our 15 years of observations in the Australian market place that Sales Management development and performance is not taken as seriously as it should be.

Would we let a football coach without any experience or formal training in coaching become the head coach an elite football team? Not likely! At the very least, we would expect them to do a coaching apprenticeship. In addition, many of the current crop of elite sporting coaches have also undertaken formal education and training to earn the right to apply for senior coaching roles.

Sales Managers need support if they are to be of best value to your business, your team, and to themselves.

Where do we start? Let’s look at some of the broad core capabilities they need to be competent in the 21st century sales environment:

Strategic Action – Understanding industry and organisation; taking strategic actions
Coaching – role modeling, feedback, trust building
Team Building – designing and managing teams, creating a supportive environment
Self-management – fostering integrity and ethical conduct, managing personal drive, developing self-awareness, decision making and management skills
Global perspective – cultural knowledge and sensitivity, global selling program
Technology – understanding new technology, sales force automation, customer relationship management

As you can see there is a lot to know and apply in the role of Sales Manager. So, how do we support them in their development? Formal classroom training on key topics is a great start, however it is important that these are spaced at regular intervals – for example, run over a few months with 1 or 2 sessions and follow-ups rather than squashed into a week with no follow-ups. The formal classroom sessions should also be supported by much more frequent activities which can include local or distance coaching (group and one-on-one), combined with regular access to advice and topics of interest such as talent management, time management, and business trends. This type of support needs to become part of a development regimen for those who are in Sales Management or those that aspire to be Sales Managers.

When formal and informal development is consciously applied and supported in the workplace it can have amazing effects for the Sales Managers themselves and their teams.

For instance, in addition to classroom sessions, in regular tele-coaching sessions (monthly 1-hour group sessions with up to 4 Sales Managers) for several companies, the managers share and discuss their needs, challenges, ideas, and strategies for effective sales performance in their teams, as well as their own needs and development as leaders. The feedback has been very encouraging. Some feedback we have received from them so far includes:

it is a collaborative learning environment
great ideas exchange, learn a lot from each other
peer support – only time we get to really work with each other and share ideas without another agenda crowding the discussions
no hidden agenda – feels safe, supportive, useful
independent view from coach keeps ideas fresh and focused on the sales agenda piece while finding ways to integrate with ‘well managed’ piece and other priorities
keeps the concepts and program we are running top of mind and makes sure we do it and don’t lose it
makes sure we are really implementing the tools and content properly

One manager stated: “This has supported me by providing a consistent frame of reference for all of us to work around. This has been a program that all the staff has been involved with rather than ‘another message from above’… ‘The best part has been the follow-ups on the phone with the other Sales Managers. Hearing their experiences and applying some of their takes on the principles has been very beneficial, and the re-enforcing of the principles and the increased familiarity and use of them has added measurably to it being embedded in my dialogue with my team.”

These conversations are not just ‘chats’ they are based on substance and the critical things that Sales Managers need to know and apply. So, if you think you can solve the problem with a simple, unstructured monthly ‘chat’ think again.

Now that we have discussed the importance of developing Sales Managers, let’s also remember to consider the Sales and Sales Management experience and expertise of the people you choose to support your managers through training, coaching, and mentoring. A deep subject matter expert will be able to provide both the practical and theoretical support managers need for them and their teams to succeed.

While a monthly coaching or training session may not seem like much, many Sales Managers are in need of support and help, especially now in these tough markets. You can make a big difference to your sales results if you take a little time out to develop your Sales Managers.

Why Sales Superstars May Not Become Sales Management Superstars – 10 Qualities of Top Sales Managers

The following job promotion ritual is repeated in numerous sales organizations every year:

Step 1: A sales management position is vacant due to growth, attrition, or the dismissal of an existing sales manager; Step 2: The top sales representative in the organization (or department) is selected to fill the vacancy; Step 3: The top salesperson doesn’t like to (or is unable to) manage the sales performance of other individuals, so he keeps focused on personal selling initiatives, but in doing so, is failing in his role as sales manager; Step 4: The cycle repeats itself.

Although sales representatives and sales managers both work within the realm of selling, many of the strengths required for success in the roles of sales manager differ than the strengths required for success in the role of sales person. Therefore, few top-performing salespeople will become top-performing sales managers. This is important to know if you’re looking to hire a new sales manager in your company, and you expect this individual to be successful filling that role.

This isn’t a phenomenon that’s unique to selling. There are many highly-skilled and successful physicians, for example who are unable to effectively manage a staff of other physicians. There are many prized athletes who are not able to successfully coach a team of other athletes. There are skilled kitchen designers, plumbers, and attorneys who are unable to manage respective groups of other kitchen designers, plumbers, and attorneys.

Before I offer support for my thesis, allow me to confess that there are two situations where I will not argue with the individual who says the top salesperson in an organization will become a successful sales manager:

(1) The first is where where the new sales manager retains the responsibility for personally generating sales revenue. This individual is, in effect, either a part-time sales manager, or a sales manager in title only; (2) The second is when the sales manager’s role is to be almost exclusively a rain-maker (a generator of new business opportunities). That is a selling role that some sales managers play, but it is not a management role per se.

The following is a list of strengths (skills) that are required to achieve phenomenal success as the manager of a sales team (or any team, for that matter). However, none of these skills are substantially required for phenomenal success in front-line selling. This doesn’t mean that a top sales performer will never be a top sales management performer, but it means that the strengths required to fill the two roles are substantially different.

Strength #1. Delegating.
The sales manager certainly cannot do the front-line sales activity for his entire sales group himself. Meeting a sales quota requires the contribution of all members of the sales team. The successful sales manager must possess the ability to delegate responsibility to others so the group can achieve its goals. Delegating is quite a different skill than, say, closing skill, which is required of top sales performers, but the skill of delegation is not a skill which is typically required for top sales performance.

Strength #2. Willing to give up the top spot.
Top sales performers who become sales managers must be entirely willing to give up the position of top performer in a sales organization. For those who can’t, disaster awaits. Sales managers must be willing and able to put their top salespeople on pedestals so their egos can be adequately fed, while also keeping their own egos in check for the sake of the advancement of their team. In a larger organization there is still opportunity for competition between several or many sales managers, but a top sales manager has to be able to point to his top performer and give her credit for being the top salesperson in his group. He also has to encourage other non-top-performers to become top-performers. Since many salespeople have been ego-driven in their successful sales careers, this transition from achiever to encourager is critical. The skill of allowing someone else to be the top dog is not a skill required for success in selling, and in fact, can be antithetical to it. Many sales managers who have previously been a top sales performer who have been driven throughout his entire career to achieve “pedestal” status will not work tirelessly to put another individual on this same pedestal.

Strength #3. Focusing on others.
Sales management requires an outward focus on others’ sales performance, whereas successful selling requires an inward focus on one’s own sales performance. Being in control of your own sales is one thing; but it’s impossible to be in control of an entire team’s sales. Therefore, a loss of direct control of the sale is required in favor of a focus on the sales manager’s team members.

Strength #4. Supervising.
Sale managers must possess front-line supervisory skills. They need to know how and when to step in to discipline or change behaviors in an employee. They must possess wisdom about when to support subordinates versus when to discipline them. Top sales performers do not need supervisory skills to achieve top dog status.

Strength #5. Managing.
The key skill of the manager is to utilize every subordinate’s special strengths to achieve the goals of the sales group. Weaknesses in employees exist, but assembling a group of team members who have strengths in the right areas, and knowing how to put those strengths to work, is not required of top sales performers. It is, however, required of sales managers who wish to achieve top sales performance. These management concepts are described by Marcus Buckingham in his book “The One Thing You Need to Know About Great Managing, Great Leading, and Sustained Individual Success” (Simon & Schuster, 2005).

Strength #6. Coaching, training, mentoring.
Successful sales managers should be able to coax salespeople to improved performance, both in one-on-one coaching events and in classroom training environments. Although there may be some of these elements present in all selling top performers, these elements are crucial for top sales management performance.

Strength #7. Leading.
According to Marcus Buckingham, again in “The One Thing You Need to Know,” successful leaders have two key attributes: (1) They have the ability to create a vision for the future; and (2) They have the ability to get subordinates lined up within this vision, so that individuals’ efforts will support, and not hamper, the group’s progress. Successful sales managers have these leadership attributes. Leadership skill is not required of top sales performers.

Strength #8. Filtering directives.
The sales manager will receive many directives from her superiors. To be effective, she must know when to filter out or adjust these directives, and when to take them on with reckless abandon. This is a delicate balance, and not knowing when to do which one can wreak havoc in a sales organization. The wisdom to know when to embrace upper-management directives, and when to subtly give them secondary attention, will help determine the success of the sales manager’s team, and therefore, the success of the sales manager.

Strength #9. Hiring and Firing.
Top-performing sales managers must make be able to accurately predict sales performance during the interviewing process, and must leverage that ability in their hiring of subordinates. Without this ability, sales performance will suffer. Top sales performers do not need this predictive skill. Successful sales manager must also know how and when to remove an employee from their team so that negative repercussions are minimized.

Strength #10. Deciding.
There’s no question that making good decisions is important in successful selling. But in a sales management role, all decisions are magnified because each decision affects more than one individual. The sales manager’s decisions affect an entire staff of sales professionals and their customers. This means decision-making skills are vital for the sales manager.

There are many skills required for sales success. Among them are the ability to prospect and create business opportunities, the ability to identify prospects’ needs, and ability to close the sale. But the sales management qualities listed above are not substantially required for individual selling success.

While there’s some overlap between the required skill of the peak-performing sales manager and the peak-performing sales person, here’s my advice: if you’re looking for a sales manager who will succeed, hire one that possesses the strengths of a sales manager (those listed strengths above). Many peak-performing salespeople don’t possess those strengths.