Sales' Weakest Link: Sales Management | SalesAndMarketing.com
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Sales' Weakest Link: Sales Management

Having surveyed approximately 3,000 salespeople and trained over 4,000 sales managers across five countries, I've reached a rather alarming conclusion: A large percentage of managers just don't grasp the fundamental distinction between their current managerial roles and their former sales positions (from which most were promoted).

Before any sales managers reading this article take offense at the above, I'd ask them to consider the following…

My own entry to sales management went something like this: One morning, I received a phone call from my company's VP. "I'm appointing you as a sales manager for the ABC team, starting next Monday," he said. "I'll shake your hand when I see you, but in the meantime, congratulations on your promotion.

"Oh, by the way—your sales team is significantly behind plan!"

A couple of weeks later, I received a heavy manager's handbook. This proved incredibly useful for propping my office door open, but it wasn't until about a year later that I finally went to a management workshop, which covered some soft leadership skills.

In retrospect, I think that company (like many companies today) believed new sales managers—having worked for different sales managers—would pick up the job immediately.

Before proposing a program to our customers, PERFORMAX often conducts a needs analysis of their sales force. So, as a byproduct of surveying over 3,000 sales people on about 60 questions, some interesting areas for improvement emerged:

• Eighteen percent of survey respondents did not have any documented sales goals, and of the 82 percent who did…

• Twenty-three percent felt their goals were unfair.

• Eighty-five percent had no documented plan for reaching their goals.

• Seventy-five percent had no account strategy or plan for their top five customers, and yet…

• Fifty percent were forecasting their annual sales goals were unobtainable.

Clearly, the responsibility for the majority of the above sales weaknesses points firmly to ineffective sales management.

Not surprisingly, most sales respondents gave their managers high ratings in the areas of selling and personal skills, but poor marks for their management skills. In fact, more than a third rated their managers at less than 50 percent in their management capabilities in the key areas of personnel, activity, and funnel management reviews.

From asking participants of our For Sales Managers Only workshop how many had ever received any training as a sales manager, versus sales training, the answer appears to be less than 20 percent. The typical profile of promotion was similar to my own described above: a quick meeting or phone call to confirm the appointment, followed by a couple of "attaboys" and a good luck wish.

So what can be done to improve sales management effectiveness? From all of the above, it's clear a significant opportunity for overall sales effectiveness exists by improving the capabilities of sales managers.

To make this possible, based on our experience a number of factors need to be recognized and dealt with…especially the "big three" below:

1. The role of the sales manager. Unfortunately, most companies I have dealt with do not clearly lay out the exact role and day-to-day activities for their sales managers. Apart from the obvious—i.e., a larger goal necessitating the efforts of other to attain—most new managers are completely in the dark about this.

2. Suitability for the position. Traditional criteria for promotion may not apply. In other words, just because someone is a very good salesperson, you shouldn't necessarily be promoting him to sales management.

In fact, many excellent salespeople possess characteristics that make them ill-suited to manage and help others:

• Many are totally control-oriented. Their experience of managing large or many sales campaigns has led them to realize the need for controlling every aspect of a sale, lest it be lost. Needless to say, this makes it very difficult for them to sell through other people instead taking charge of each sale themselves, which becomes self-defeating.

• Similarly, top-performing salespeople are used to receiving handsome paychecks and lots of recognition within their companies. As a sales manager, be prepared for a drop in compensation (at least initially) and almost zero recognition, except for a larger goal next year.

• In today's fast-changing world, in addition to people and leadership skills, sales managers need the science of sales management—e.g., analytical skills and the ability to develop sales/marketing plans.

3. Training for the position. As previously stated, few sales managers receive formal training before or even soon after their promotion, denying them the lack of clarity and development of the different skills vital to their new role. As a result, they settle into a role that seems comfortable to them.

In providing feedback to us, such managers have noted no one ever explained to them how to:

a. Develop a sales/marketing plan to show their team how to reach their main goals.

b. Conduct a funnel and forecast review, along with critical questioning to give value-add feedbacks back to their salespeople.

c. Conduct a review of an individual salesperson, along with diagnosing critical personal weaknesses and setting up a coaching program to deal with them.

The sales managers we have met had an average of six to seven salespeople reporting to them, so by increasing the effectiveness of your sales managers by 10 percent, you can obtain a multiplier effect across six or seven others.

The three keys to obtaining this multiplier are:

1. Having a technique or tool to clearly describe the position, role, and day-to-day activities expected.

2. Careful selection of the most appropriate people to fill this role.

3. Providing these new managers with the skills and tools needed for both the art and science of sales management.

I dislike concluding this article on a negative, but the dire reality is, promoting the wrong salesperson can result in a double negative: lost revenue from a top-performing salesperson, who will then demotivate the other performers in that sales team.

Need I say more?

Peter Michie is the founder of PERFORMAX. Contact him at 561-202-8163.