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Sales Management, It’s About Inspecting The Process, Not Transactions

by David Brock on October 26th, 2009

This article has been selected for DeFinis Communications’ “Sales Coaching: Top Tips for Increased Productivity” Blog Carnival. You can enjoy even more posts from other exceptional bloggers at their website.

I’ve been away for a week working with a great sales management team.  We were doing a deep dive into the issues they faced in maximizing the performance of the organization.  An issue came up that I see with virtually every sales manager:  “The workloads in managing the volume of activity with our people is overwhelming us, how can we possibly survive with the ever increasing workload.”

Too often, as sales managers, we get caught up in managing deals and transactions–it’s natural, after all we’ve been sales people, the excitement of “the deal” consumes us, plus we want to “add our value” to the deal strategy. 

As enticing as that is, that’s not our job—plus, run the numbers, no one has enough time to keep deeply involved in the deal strategies for every deal their people are involved in.  Let’s look at some numbers:  The average sales manager has at least 10 sales people reporting to them.  Let’s assume each sales person has 10 critical deals we want to review on a weekly basis.  That’s 100 deals a week that we are going to do a deep dive into—if we even spend 15 minutes on each deal–hardly enough for a deep dive, that occupies 25 hours a week.  Substitute your own numbers, if you are like most sales managers I know, you just don’t have the time to manage and review each transaction, there is no way to survive doing this.

Time, aside, is managing transactions the best way to manage performance and grow our people?  Absolutely not!  Managing at the transaction or deal level is just micro management.

Sales managers must focus on managing the process!  Are the sales people executing the sales process and is the process in control?   The sheer volume of activities that sales people are involved in will overwhelm any sales manager, if we try to manage those activities.  Our job is to inspect the process and make sure the process is in control.  If, by inspecting a few things, for example, several critical deals, we see sales people executing their process well, then we can expect they are doing the same in every other deal. 

Inspecting the process and coaching people on sharp execution of the process provides both short and long term leverage for the sales manager.  If we focus on the deal and “telling” the sales people the “right strategy” for winning the deal, the sales person will not learn as much as they could.  If we focus, instead, on inspecting and coaching our people on how well they are executing the selling process, we will be helping them improve their ability to execute the process–improving their effectiveness not just with the deal we are reviewing, but with every other deal.

Sales management (all management) is about process!  It’s about making sure we have the most effective and efficient processes in place.  It’s about having metrics in place that help us identify how well the process is being executed.  It’s about inspecting the process–making sure the process is in control.  It’s where we have the greatest impact in developing our people, and the only way to put sanity in our lives.

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  1. Managing process is dependent on a process being in place. This is highly dependent on on where the company, product cycle and the tenure of the sales organization. Sales Managers need to be leaders; they need to manage process and activity; they need to teach & coach. It is extremely helpful if they are active in enough sales transactions to be credible to the sales organization and the customers. Sales management overload is one of the biggest problems we face, especially with first time managers.

    • Dan, thanks for joining the discussion, you raise a lot of interesting points. I wanted to address a few:

      1. If the organization has no sales process in place, one of the sales manager’s highest priorities is to put one in place, train the sales people and make sure it is used. Without a strong sales process, it is impossible to manage for performance. It is impossible to make sure the organization and individuals are working as effectively and efficiently as possible.
      2. Having a process in place has nothing to do with where the company is in its life cycle, product cycle or tenure. One of the challenges of early stage companies is to figure out what this is as quickly as possible, so that it can scale rapidly. For more mature companies, the process is required for efficient effective growth. It is important to recognize the process changes through the company, product cycles. As you imply, too many organizations put a process in place then fail to keep it updated, reflecting shifts in their markets, competition, strategies and priorities. Part of the “stewardship” role of management is to make sure the processes reflect current realities and position the organization to compete effectively in the future.
      3. Your point about managing process and activity (teaching and coaching) is well taken. Managers need to do all of this. However, to often they focus only on activity, and micromanaging it. This is a prescription for failure, from many dimensions. One is they take the responsibility/accountability out of the hands of the sales people (who may be pleased to delegate it up). Two is the numbers just go against the sales manager—it is impossible, by definition, for them to be involved in all those activities (I wrote a blog on the sales manager superman syndrome). The only way, as a result, the manager can be sure things are “in control” is by making sure the processes are in place and to inspect the process.
      4. Sales management overload–for first time managers is a real problem. Most often, a large part of the problem is they don’t understand what their job is or how to do it (shame on senior management). Typically, they have been sales people who have been promoted. Their natural inclination is to keep doing what they had been doing, but more, faster….. Clearly a prescription for overload and personal/organizational failure. The manager must learn their job is to get things done through their people. Making sure the right processes are in place, the right systems and tools, the right training, coaching, etc. is critical. Making sure people are leveraging these is the only way to drive performance.

      Dan, thanks so much for your comment. You raised some great points that are critical to the sales manager’s success. Please keep visiting and contributing.

  2. Gabriel Ricci permalink

    I applaud these realizations. Almost every company I have worked for had pushed for deal management as a priority. Even when outcomes are pathetic the corporate philosophy is unwavering. It is my opinion that many managers do not understand process evaluation and symptoms of failure. How can they, all of us are promoted out of sales for being successful at tactical sales processes.

    Look at ads for sales management types, and what they place high value on. The words “hands on ” appear almost everywhere. Hands on is a key symptom for driving failure. Overview, systems analysis, infrastructure development, sales overhead reduction, report efficiency development, goal, objective, strategy development for each sale person, definition of the sales process, dynamic tacking of the location of customers in the process etc all drive huge performance leaps within sales organizations. One most often overlooked is sales office design to optimize communication amongst interdependent players on the sales team.

    There is certainly more in the management equation. However, I have never worked for a company that rewards a sales manager for execution at this level. They want manager in the field making calls and solving the problems that the field people they hire should be solving. Many sales managers just keep being sales guy after they get the title. When things get tough, they fail, because they have not executed on organizational development necessities. In the mean time they are the fair haired boy of upper management, usually to the CEO level because they are so present in the field. Until the fundamentals of excellent sales management are better known and accepted sales management will be fraught with misconception and the illusion of time management and load issues. As a sales manager, ones main responsibility is to build the complete infrastructure or repair the infrastructure of the organization to be managed. That is the Goal and when met the outcome of tactical sales efforts will quantum leap.

    How can this be driven in everyday sales activities. Simply make the categories above the basis of compensation for sales management. Compensation properly directed will drive outcomes.

    • Gabriel, thanks for joining the discussion and the thoughtful comment. The job of the manager is simply too large and complex to be micromanaging each deal. They need to focus their time on coaching and developing their people to perform at the highest levels with the appropriate amount of supervision.

      Thanks for joining the discussion, I hope to see you here frequently! Regards, Dave

  3. david barrielle permalink

    David, like this article and want to share my ideas. I am definitely in line with your comment on spending every minutes listen and catching people doing things right rather than to be on the pure operational side.
    If manager are there to set a direction and not their own direction, we have to be aware that every people in your team is getting a different expectation and background. Your team is not homogenous in terms of experience and request. i do personally believe – as sales manager- need to be adaptative, ready to pin point and be directive with new joiner and might be on delegating role with experience people. The most important area is make sure our people have the right behavior. So set clear priorities, review it periodically and be there when they knocked to your door.
    Hope my comments make sense.

    • David, thanks for the comment. I couldn’t agree more–each person is different, so we have to adopt our coaching method to each person in order to increase our ability to connect with them. This doesn’t mean we have different sales processes–after all, the sales process is based on our best practice/experience in closing business. We can’t drive the highest levels of performance by having each person adopt a different process–but as you point out, our coaching approach does have to be different.

      Thanks for joining the discussion. Regards, Dave

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