As a sales manager, your primary responsibilities are (1) coaching and developing, (2) motivating; and (3) holding your salespeople accountable to the highest possible levels of achievement. Done right, there is probably no more maddening and demanding job in the universe. In addition, you often have to spend a significant portion of your time recruiting new salespeople.
As your sales managers go, so go your salespeople. Salespeople will generally not do more than sales managers ask them to, and sales managers cannot coach them beyond their own personal capabilities to sell.
Coaching and Development
The process of coaching salespeople consists of an on-going dialogue that includes, but isn’t limited to, pre-call strategizing and post-call debriefing. Under ideal conditions, this should take place weekly. This means helping your salespeople discover what they can do to improve without being overly critical.
When managers are ineffective at coaching their salespeople it is often because they aren’t spending enough time at it. Today’s sales managers should spend fifty percent of their time coaching their salespeople.
On some occasions, well-intentioned managers perform the activities of being a coach, but they do it poorly when they have not created the proper environment for productive and effective sales coaching. Salespeople must have a good business relationship with their managers. They must trust their manager’s intentions, believe in their advice, and respect their expertise. Salespeople must be open to change and sales managers must be rep-focused rather than self-focused. This means that the sales-manager must never place his or her own needs ahead of the sales force. This includes taking credit for the team’s successes and placing blame for the team’s failures.
In addition, in order to be an effective coach, you must have a unified system for selling in place. A selling system is an overall strategy and set of techniques designed to ensure that you handle every buyer-seller interaction in as close to the optimum manner as possible.
A unified sales process gives you and your colleagues a common language with which to share ideas, analyze past sales calls, and strategize upcoming appointments. Everyone on the team must be operating from the same playbook. Without a sales process, you won’t be able to have the kind of quality conversations pertaining to specific deals that you need to have on regular basis to improve the performance of your sales team.
Motivating salespeople is an on-going process. On those days when a salesperson isn’t able to “self-start” you need to step in and provide an external dose of motivation. Unfortunately, those days are far more common than anyone realizes, and you can only be effective when you know the unique motivations of each of your salespeople.
You should start by helping your salespeople get in touch with the dreams they have probably long forsaken. To be truly motivating their personal goals must be derived from their dreams. If you take the time to get to know your salespeople, you will know how to motivate them and they will be more responsive to your coaching. If you really want to generate sales growth within your organization, this is an easy and powerful place to begin.
From there you must help your salespeople realize that their goals are achievable and help them construct a plan to reach them. This plan should consist of activities and behaviors that, if performed consistently, will manifest in the results they (and you) are seeking. It is your job to hold your salespeople accountable to this plan.
Holding Salespeople Accountable
Holding salespeople accountable is perhaps the most feared part of sales management. It requires clear, mutual expectations for each salesperson’s required activity on a daily or weekly basis. Instead of holding your salespeople accountable for a certain sales volume on a monthly or quarterly basis, you should hold them accountable to the behaviors they need to perform on a daily basis to achieve these results. When salespeople fail to perform the required behaviors, you should meet with them, express disappointment and remind them that their performance was not acceptable. Next, you should make it clear that they must meet those expectations in the next measurement period and discuss the consequences related to their failure to perform as required in the future.
Although the consequences must be expressed clearly, you must also bring out their personal motivation for changing their behavior. The section on how to motivate salespeople will give you an effective process for doing this.
I believe that you should use a “three strikes and you’re out” philosophy. The most important part of this process is following through. This is also the part that most managers fear. It requires confrontation and although it may make you uncomfortable, it is necessary. It sends a powerful message that you will not accept mediocrity.
The Importance of Recruiting
One of the biggest fears of holding people accountable, is the fear that if the sales manager is too tough on a salesperson, the salesperson might leave. As a result, the sales manager will be stuck with an open territory. At best, this dilemma results in lost opportunity. At worst, the sales manager must step in a fill the salesperson’s role. Therefore, it is extremely important that you are always building a bench of potential sales talent that you can send into the game when one of your team members quits. If you have several good candidates waiting in the wings you won’t be afraid to hold a marginal performer accountable and, if necessary, let them go.
What Else Gets In the Way?
Two other things typically get in the way of being an effective manager – your ego and your need for approval. As a manager, you can no longer enjoy the glory of closing the big deal. Your job is to help your salespeople experience that glory, so you’ll have to put your ego on hold and learn to live vicariously. Secondly, you have to realize that you are now the boss, and you can no longer be a friend to the people who work for you. You are now more like a parent who has to do what is best for children, even if they hate you for it in the short term. In the sections that follow, I will provide a clear outline of how to perform each of these functions.