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.

Can Your Superstar Sales Person Become Your Superstar Sales Manager

Finding the right person to fill the sales management role is a common quandary in wholesale distribution. It can be especially challenging when a decision is based strictly on sales territory performance without regard for the specific skill sets required to lead a sales force.. 2005 has been a good year in wholesale distribution with some industries recording double digit growth rates. With market cooperation like that, most sales people are smiling as they hit or exceed their quotas. Deciding on the right sales person to promote to sales manager can become a difficult and risky decision..

“We need a new sales manager. Let’s promote Tommy, he’s our leading producer in field sales.”

“No! We can’t afford to lose Tommy’s production in the field.”

“That’s not a problem. He can be a working sales manager and still call on his key accounts.”

Most of us should recognize that conversation but not many of us recognize the fallacies that lie within it. In wholesale distribution, it seems that the primary prerequisite for becoming a sales manager is being the top performing sales person. Promoting our top performing sales person to sales manager simply due to results is a big mistake. Personal experience tells me it has less than a forty percent chance for success. Our chance of success is decreased even further if we really believe that our sales manager can manage the sales force and still be solely responsible for a number of high volume accounts.

Different Skill Sets

It is an undisputable fact that different skill sets are required to become a successful sales manager as compared to being a successful sales person. Selling is a profession that requires professionals. Managing a group of professionals with the type of personalities required to succeed in sales is no easy task. Yet, in my humble opinion, it is probably the most important management position you can hold in a company. Sales management holds the key to meeting company objectives. Effective sales management builds the platform for success. Sales people are not the easiest group in the company to manage. If they were they would not be sales people. Selling is not easy. It takes a special talent, self motivation, self discipline, a passion to succeed and the ability to accept rejection. The reality of the situation is simple. The majority of sales people are not managed well. Let’s look at some common sales management mistakes to help us develop the list of hints I promised that will increase your ability to determine which sales person at your company is likely to succeed as sales manager.

Mistake —– Low tolerance for process.

Let’s face it, there probably isn’t a sales person alive that likes paperwork and administrative tasks. However, a Super Star Sales Manager will be process oriented. They understand that success in sales is driven by best practice and best practice is built around process. Sales effectiveness depends on predictable and repeatable best practice. The Super Star Sales Manager will create the kind of culture that negates the inherent aberration by sales people for process, structure, detailed and documented action planning.

HINT #1

If your star sales person embraces structure, pays attention to detail, is always current with required communications, documents his action planning process and doesn’t whine about administrative requirements passed down by corporate, chances are he/she will have a high tolerance for process. This means he/she possesses a basic understanding of structure and accountability. Everything isn’t locked up in their head just because they have been doing it a long time and have had great success.

Mistake —– Weak coaching and mentoring skills

Relationship equity is still a primary ingredient for sales success. However, relationship equity with the customer is quite different than relationship equity with peers, subordinates and executive management. A Super Star Sales Manager will build enough relationship equity with their sales force to be able to provide effective coaching and mentoring in reviewing the sales person’s activities. They understand that you must manage activities and measure results. This coaching and mentoring process includes buddy calls, monthly territory reviews that provide support and resources to leverage individual sales talent. This process includes opportunity recognition and pipeline management. What does the sales person have in the pipeline? Can the sales manager provide proactive support and resources to increase the chance of success?

Hint #2

If your star sales person is reluctant to accept or seek out help, this may be an indication of the Lone Wolf methodology. Maximizing territory performance requires a team effort. Utilization of all resources and support is mandatory to grow market share and maximize profitability. Look for the sales person that is successful but recognizes that they are not alone. Look for the sales person that shares the credit for success, coaches the inside sales staff, recognizes the contributions of customer service personnel and others in the organization. This sales person has also gained the respect of his peers and is often seen giving advice and sharing ideas.

Mistake —- Lack of development programs and leadership skills training

Leadership skills are extremely important to effective sales management. This is especially true when managing a sales force that leans more to the route mentality, is in a comfort zone, becomes complacent or is focusing on demand fulfillment as opposed to demand creation. The ability to recognize the need to adapt your management style not only to the situation but also to the individual is a key to gaining respect and trust from the sales force. This is a learned skill. Failure to seek out leadership skills training can be detrimental to success. A prerequisite to success in sales management is the ability to recognize talent and develop that talent. A Super Star Sales Manager will recognize talent and is willing to help develop that talent to reach its highest potential. They also prune the garden effectively. This means they hire well but fire even better. Failure to formalize a development program for sales management is a big mistake.

Hint #3

If your star sales person is not interested in attending seminars, doesn’t listen to self development tapes and hasn’t read a sales book in the past year, chances are they believe they are as good as they are going to get. Look for the sales person that is willing to be away from his territory, sacrificing commissions to increase his individual knowledge. This is the type of sales person that is a sponge when it comes to continuing education in the fields of sales. This person not only seeks company sponsored training but is willing to invest his own money and time in self improvement activities. They have a philosophy of continuous self improvement striving to be the very best that they can be.

Mistake —- A Member of “The Lucky Territory Club”

Numbers alone don’t always tell the story. We need to analyze each individual success story. Just because a sales territory has performed well doesn’t automatically mean the sales person is a star. A ten percent sales growth sounds great but how good is it if the potential growth for that territory should be in the twenty or thirty per cent range. A ten percent sales growth in that territory sounds great but how good is it if the market in that territory actually grew by thirty percent and the sales person was in a comfort zone walking by opportunities daily.

Hint #4

When evaluating your star sales person for potential promotion, analyze the numbers thoroughly. Is the sales person the real reason for that territory success? Are the numbers as good as they appear when you consider all the factors? Determine how this territory was established. Is this sales person responsible for the long term growth of this territory or did they inherit it. Analyze new account development in this territory. Evaluate this sales persons prospecting skills. How many new accounts have been developed in the territory? What kind of penetration success has been demonstrated with existing accounts?

Hint #5

Look for the sales person that has the ability to think strategically. They are willing to sacrifice personal gain for the benefit of long term company success. (A rare quality). A sales person that may be a maverick and shoot from the hip occasionally but every risk they take is a calculated risk. Their personal objectives for territory performance are in alignment with the company’s strategic objectives in relationship to product development,, segmentation, vendor development and margin initiatives. Look for the sales person that has good communication skills internally, one that has learned to listen exceptionally well, a skill that often eludes some of the best sales personnel.

If you are ready to promote your star sales person to sales manager, pay attention to the hints listed in this article. If your star sales person measures up according to the factors discussed in this article, your chance of success increases dramatically. That means your Super Star Sales Person can become your Super Star Sales Manager. If they don’t measure up according to the hints discussed, look deeper into your sales organization for that sales manager or go outside the organization. There is no such thing as entitlement. Remember, different skill sets are required to be an effective sales manager.