Any organization that hopes to boost sales effectiveness will start by shoring up sales management effectiveness. No matter how strong the sales team is, they will become hamstrung by an ineffective sales manager.
Unfortunately, senior management often fails to recognize when the issue lies with sales managers. And those sales managers, the ones who are ineffective, can’t see it in themselves either. So they continue doing what they think is right and impair sales results more each day. As a new sales manager, you’ll want to spot ineffective practices so you can make better choices.
Sure Signs that the Real Problem Is a Gap in Sales Management Effectiveness
Here are ten observable indicators that signal something’s wrong in sales management.
- The sales manager is spending too much time in the field closing deals and making sales.
- The sales manager is seldom in the field observing and coaching sellers.
- The sales manager is experiencing high turnover of mid-level and top-performing sellers.
- The sales manager blames lackluster sales results on external factors or on the sales team.
- The sales manager makes excuses for sellers’ inability to achieve sales targets.
- The sales manager is constantly “putting out fires” and in reactive mode.
- The sales manager is unable to accurately forecast sales performance.
- The sales manager doesn’t stay current on sales trends and emerging sales competencies.
- The sales manager has no new ideas for generating additional revenue or for prospecting.
- The sales manager passively accepts conditions impacting sales vs. taking control of them.
These warning signs can be grouped into three buckets.
How the sales manager interacts with sellers (#1-2):
Effective sales managers don’t do the work of selling themselves. They don’t take over sales when sellers are floundering. They don’t accompany sellers on the “big opportunity calls” so they can play the role of mercenary closer. And they don’t leap into action to play super seller when a sales position is open or when sales are lagging.
Effective sales managers don’t stay completely out of the field either. They don’t become desk jockeys who monitor CRM dashboards. They don’t spend all their time in internal meetings. They don’t let themselves get mired in forecasting, budgeting, analysis and other work done behind closed doors.
Effective sales managers interact with sellers to continually build sellers’ competence and confidence. They refrain from taking over on sales calls so they can, instead, observe and identify what a seller needs to work on. They spend time in 1-to-1 meetings, role playing with sellers and reviewing the work sellers have done before it goes live with buyers. They prepare sellers to sell.
How the sales manager views sellers (#3-5):
Effective sales managers don’t hire based on gut instinct. They don’t shortcut the hiring process by selecting on personality or experience alone. They don’t neglect new hires who need support for onboarding and ramping up. And they don’t allow obstacles, micro-managing, or other sales prevention measures to disenfranchise sales talent they should retain.
Additionally, effective sales managers don’t throw sellers under the bus. They don’t make excuses that cast blame on sellers instead of being accountable for what sellers can and will do. At the same time, they don’t blame the economy, customers, the weather, or any other external factor for disappointing sales results. They also do not blame the company when sellers miss targets. They don’t side with sellers in saying goals are unattainable or prices are not competitive.
Instead, effective sales managers take responsibility and figure out how to reach quota. They do this by viewing their sellers are competent and capable talent who may need direction (but don’t need blame or excuses to weigh them down). They hire sellers who have the right competencies, and they personally invest time and effort to address any deficiencies in seller competencies. They set high standards, and they create the culture and capabilities needed to meet those standards.
How the sales manager views his/her own role and capability (#6-10):
Effective sales managers don’t duck into the phone booth and don their superhero capes every time a problem comes along. They don’t panic and insert themselves into every tricky situation. They don’t allow their days to unravel and their plans to change minute-by-minute as they operate in triage or reactionary mode.
Effective sales managers don’t operate in the dark. They don’t stick their heads in the sand like ostriches to avoid or deny change that is happening around them. They don’t rely on hope along as a strategy to make the numbers, and they don’t avoid the math-y part of their job to forecast performance and analyze data.
Effective sales managers don’t give up. They don’t accept defeat. They don’t run out of ideas. They don’t let themselves or their teams be victims of circumstance.
What effective sales managers do is take charge. They know what it takes to win, and they model this attitude and confidence to their team. They have plans and back-up plans and contingency plans in case the back-up plans need some back up. Effective sales managers always find a way to make things happen.
To be effective, sales managers focus on three things: managing the numbers, driving sales, and understanding the market. And to be really effective, they also do one more thing. You’ll have to keep reading to find out what that is.
Managing the Numbers
You will, at times, come to believe that this is all that matters in your work. When you’re making your number, your boss is happy and the sellers are, too. So long as you’re hitting your sales targets, everything is smooth sailing.
Because your pay is based on making goal and your performance metrics are all about that quota, too, you could easily become singularly focused on managing the numbers. You could spend all your working hours on devising sales strategies and making sales. You could monitor those numbers closely and respond to every blip. You could measure a myriad of leading and lagging indicators to determine which buttons to push as you’re managing the sales team by managing the numbers. (BTW, one of the previous posts in this CONNECT2Sell Blog series describes sales force evaluation and how to be sure you’re measuring what matters.)
Of course, this is the essence of your job, at least outwardly. No sales manager gets to keep the job and title if they continually mismanage and miss the numbers. Effective sales managers are always on top of the numbers. They know what’s happening with the largest accounts, what’s happening in the pipeline for new business development, and how likely revenue is to post and when. They know what the average sales cycle is and what the close ratio is for each one of their sellers. They also know, on average, how many calls it takes to open with a new prospect.
These sales managers know about the numbers but they don’t do business by the numbers. They manage sales by using data to inform interactions with their sellers and to avoid surprises.
Effective sales managers use numbers to drive sales. They understand the story behind the numbers. They don’t accept numbers as unchangeable or absolute. Instead, they drive sales activities that impact the numbers. They do these three things to drive sales.
- They drive sales by increasing sales productivity. They know what the primary drivers of sales productivity are, and they know the interplay between those drivers. When sales are lagging, they pull the right levers to increase productivity and drive sales. Effective sales managers become students of sales productivity drivers so they can diagnose what’s waning and implement change to amp things back up when needed.
- They drive sales by motivating sellers. They know that not all sellers are purely money motivated. They also know that not all sellers value being on top of the leaderboard or winning a contest. The most successful sales managers come to know what drives each individual seller. They appeal to those individual interests in order to get behavior changes and additional effort.
- They drive sales by upskilling sellers through effective sales coaching. The key to more sales in the future is more skills developed in the present. Sales training, when reinforced by sales coaching, equips sellers to produce more sales in less time. This is why strong managers put so much time and effort into building strong teams.
Understanding the Market
Sales managers need to stay in close communication with marketing and with customers. Getting ahead of market trends and being able to predict shifts in the market will help you lead change instead of getting surprised by it (and then being forced to react to it by adjustments you’re not prepared to make). Fully understanding the market includes knowing as much as possible about:
Your competitors and their products
Who are your competitors? What are their strategies for growth? What are they investing in? How healthy are they? Who are their backers and advocates? What advantages do they have? How are they structured? What are their vulnerabilities? What’s their positioning statement? How are they viewed in the marketplace? Why would a seller choose to work for them instead of for you?
When it comes to your competitors’ products, how are they like yours? Different from yours? How do they promote their products? How are their products priced and how much wiggle room is there in that pricing? What do buyers like about their products? What do they dislike? Side-by-side, how do your products stack up? What’s their value proposition?
Your own market position and strategy for growth
There are four ways to strategically grow your revenue. Of course, they overlap. But knowing which one you’re focusing on will help you develop better tactics.
- Market Share is your sales as a percent of total sales volume in your market. You could choose to grow by stealing share from your competitors to increase your percentage of total sales. Competing for share requires strategies that positively differentiate you and cause buyers to choose you over your competitors.
- Market Growth means that total sales volume in your market has increased. You could choose to grow by capitalizing on growth opportunities and selling more to existing customers. When the market is growing, you should be, too.
- Market Penetration represents the potential for new sales of your product. To penetrate the market, your strategy would be to identify and seize opportunities with new buyers. You have to generate demand. This may mean educating new buyers through content marketing and/or cold calling.
- Market Demand is the total demand for your products from both existing and potential buyers. Strategies to respond to increased demand include expanding your sales force and creating efficiencies or automation in your sales process.
If you haven’t identified a primary growth strategy, your tactical solutions may be scattershot and less effective. You may be spreading the sales team’s efforts too thin. For example, having dual strategies to generate demand with new buyers AND going after buyers who do business with your competitors can be taxing. The opening, qualifying questions, discovery, value proposition, demo, and objections will all be different in one scenario vs. the other. Tightening up means intense focus and mastery of fewer variables.
Your customer’s experience
Empowered buyers expect a lot. They know they have the upper hand and can purchase from other vendors if things aren’t fully satisfying with you. Knowing what your buyers like (and dislike!) about doing business with you is imperative.
It’s vitally important to get into your customers’ shoes. You’ll want to understand their perspective about every aspect of working with your sellers, navigating your website, interacting with fulfillment or service departments, and so on. Learn what happens at every single touchpoint with your company.
Remember that customers don’t make decisions based solely on their exchange with the seller. Your company’s brand and reputation are considered, along with every experience they have with people and technology in your company. If you can understand your customers’ experiences, you can enhance them.
But Here’s What Matters Most If You Want to Be Effective as a Sales Manager
There’s one more critical ingredient in effective sales management. It’s not as obvious if what you’re looking at is your pay plan, job description, or performance standards. All of those focus primarily on managing sales. But remember, your job is to manage work AND lead people. You manage sales people, not just sales.
What matters most of all is you stepping into your full potential as a leader. That’s not the same as being a manager. Your job entails both, and you have to lead and manage simultaneously. Leadership is the art of inspiring people to follow you to a place they want to go (even when getting there won’t be easy!). Leadership is its own domain and involves a discrete set of behaviors that are wholly different from management.
The reason leading people is the most important part of your job is this: Leadership drives employee engagement. And employee engagement drives sales. It’s the easiest, most effective, most sustainable, and most rewarding way to do your job. We’ll cover more about this in future posts. But don’t wait!
You can be a leader now. Your sales team expects no less. Here are two immediate steps you can take to get started. Check out The Ultimate Guide to Soft Skills for Managers if you need to round out your functional expertise. For a complete course in becoming effective as both a manager AND leader, be sure to sign up for the DIY online course, Workplace Conversations.