An organization’s sales manager is an extremely critical role. It may be one of the most difficult jobs in an organization but it is often the one role where there is no training investment. When there is a need for a sales manager, an attempt is made to promote the best sales representative. Often the top performing sales person does not want the role as they view it as too much responsibility and aggravation for too little pay.
What should a company expect from the person put into a sales manager’s role?
If I were to have a conversation with a sales manager, here is some of the advice that I would give them.
Get to Know Your Team: determine their abilities and qualities. Ask individuals how they perform their best and how they like to be supported. Take advantage of their strengths and abilities by having them work in roles that complement them.
Have Clear Role Descriptions: particularly if you have an organization that has different types of selling roles (inside vs. out side sales, hunters vs. farmers) make sure there is a clear role description that outline expectations and responsibilities for their roles. This will also be helpful when it comes time to be hiring or recruiting.
Do Not Try to Replicate Yourself: you have likely been promoted into a sales management role because of the success you had as a sales person. You must understand that you are unique and what worked for you will not work for others. Do not try to make your team members be a replica of yourself. Let them discover and leverage their own strengths.
Measure Performance – Past and Current: you need to understand how your team members are performing – vs. target, vs. past performances (previous quarter, previous year, a rolling 12 month). You have to understand deviations, is it due to the individual or changing market conditions, or perhaps an emerging competitor or short comings in your company’s approach.
Corporate Goals and Alignment: your team will have a target that supports your company’s financial objectives and you need to understand how you will achieve that target. In particular, you need to be sure that you can account for that target within the goals set for each of your team members. You also have to have a plan for overcoming gaps and deficiencies. It is not enough to demand everyone to do more or work harder if the year is not progressing as you hoped.
Sales Process: does your organization have a clearly defined sales process? Does your team understand it and follow it? Does the broader organization understand it and know how their work and functions support it?
Sales Methodology: does your team follow a sales methodology? Is it ever discussed during sales meetings? Is there an ongoing means for training – both enhanced skills and a review and refresh on the key tenets?
Deployment: how often does your organization look at deployment (alignment of territories)? Is it best done geographically? By an optimal territory size? Is there any opportunity to deploy by areas of expertise (market segments)? Is there any opportunity to enhance the coverage with inside sales personnel or adapting some form of a hunter/farmer model?
Performance Management System: is there a performance management system in place? Are there periodic reviews so that team members know where they stand at any given time (as opposed to being surprised with a year end review that does not reflect their understanding)?
Customer Management: are there tools for managing customer performance? Is there a monitoring of size and frequency of orders? Are there any leading indicators showing that a customer is declining or may be at risk of churning?
Pipeline Management: are the sales team actively engaged in seeking new business opportunities? Do you know what they are working on? Do you know the potential deal size? The likelihood of closing? Do you know how the work on the top opportunities is progressing?
Customer Relationship Management System: is there a CRM system to gather and retain customer data and interactions that will not be lost with the departure of a sales rep? Is the CRM system being used to support work on pipeline management, performance management and forecasting? Is the CRM system fueling insights around customer penetration and retention?
Coaching: this is a distinct interaction and function separate from the discussion around business problems, pipeline management and performance management. Coaching focuses on building the skill set of the sales person and helping them manage and develop their career aspirations. It is also a powerful tool in employee retention.
Ride-withs: this is valuable time out in the field with members of the sales team and in front of customers. Not only is it a great forum for coaching, it builds relationships with key customers and offers the sales manager critical insights into their company’s value propositions and their sales teams’ performance.
Customer Acquisition: it is hard to imagine a situation where growth is not desirable, where will the customers come from to drive that growth? Are the sales team members doing new business development work?
Marketing Intersection with Sales: what is the relationship between sales and marketing? It is up to the sales manager to ensure that this is a healthy link. What role is marketing playing in opening up new customer opportunities?
Succession Planning: a sales manager must always have an open eye towards where their next sales person is going to come from. Is it an inside sales resource? Is it a customer service representative? Is it someone they have met in their travels such as a great sales associate in a retail setting or somewhere like a car rental counter. The right attitude, particularly a willingness or eagerness to serve are great starting points.
As previously mentioned, the sales manager role is an extremely difficult role. It is critical to success for any organization. It is certainly worth an investment in time, energy and appreciation!
Tom Fournier, founder of the Shade's Mills Group, history enthusiast and happy walker!