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High Performance Sales Driven By High Performance Sales Managers

by David Brock on June 2nd, 2010

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.

From → Leadership

  1. David Olson permalink

    Another great post and so true – not only for sales managers but also for all new managers in any discipline. I believe that part of the challenge is learning to share in the successes of our direct reports and recognize that although they hit the homerun we as the manager helped create the ability and the circumstances to make the homerun possible. Although not necessarily the spotlight that we are use to, still a great place to “feel” success and accomplishment.

    • Great comment Dave! As managers, we need to revel in the success of our people, shifting the spotlight to them!

  2. Yes, the sales manager must transfer his or her skills from being a warrior/competitor who makes sales to a leader/coach skills that manage the relationships and help other salespeople to make sales.

    Why do Salespeople Fail?

    1. They think they can get away with “winging it.” This expression comes from the theater; where it alludes to an actor studying his part in the wings (the areas to either side of the stage) because he has been suddenly called on to replace another. First recorded in 1885, it eventually was extended to other kinds of improvisation based on unpreparedness.

    Being prepared for the customer interaction is important. Knowing what action you want the prospect to take based upon this sales interaction allows the sales person to focus. Having a strategy of what to ask, what to show and tell helps to move the prospect to taking the desired action. Anticipating obstacles to the sale will allow you to plan how to go around or over potential “roadblocks” in accomplishing your sales objective.

    2. They don’t understand the impact of their personality on specific buying styles. This shows up in not really listening to the prospective customer and, instead, filling the sales interaction with sales talk. They don’t answer questions well because they don’t listen for the assumptions/beliefs that’s behind the prospect’s words. Their presentations are not in line with what the prospect wants to know. Being out-of-touch with the prospective customer’s personality style insures that the inability to communicate will sour the sale.

    • John, great observations! The issue of “winging it” is so pervasive in selling, but one of the major impacts to sales effectiveness. If sales people just spent a few minutes thinking about what they want to accomplish (and writing it down so they remember), the number of calls required to close will decrease dramatically.

      I also like your point of the personality impacting how we hear and react to customer’s. We tend to hear what we want to hear, not what is being said, consequently we miss the point entirely! Thanks for contributing to the discussion. Regards, Dave

  3. Right on Dave! I believe sales managers are the linchpin to success, or at least a critical factor. And it seems so many are ill-equipped to do the job. Love the closing two points you make.

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