For the past 30 years, I have had many conversations with sales managers and VPs of sales. In every one of these conversations, three key elements stand out: people, process, and technology. Every one of these elements are like juggling balls that follow a trajectory from being immobile to getting tossed up in the air only to fall down again. When sales managers are able to juggle these three balls, sales productivity soars, customer satisfaction rises, and profitability increases. To see the art and finesse involved in juggling three balls, take a quick look at this four-minute video:
The analogy isn’t perfect, but it captures how sales managers tend to feel when they think about making their numbers. While jugglers stand on a stable platform, sales managers don’t have that luxury. Sometimes they get flooded with demands from their people. Sometimes economic conditions impose unexpected cutbacks, and sometimes technology and innovation create tectonic shifts that require massive and rapid shifts in strategy.
One common complaint of sales managers is that they are way too busy to address all problems that emerge on their radar screen. Every day, one problem or another has to be ignored in order to focus on what’s most important that day. In the process, these managers carry the burden of unfinished business, and that weighs them down. The average tenure of a sales manager is 24 months. All these managers started with a great vision and strategy. But for one reason or another, they were unable to get their team to execute their strategy.
To succeed in sales management takes a lot more than the ability to sell, to motivate people, and to crunch numbers. Great sales managers are leaders of people, designers of process, and early adopters of technology. It is hard to develop these qualities, and CEOs have a hard time finding sales leaders with these qualities.
During the past seven years, I’ve conducted more than 15 sales leadership conferences that were attended by more than 3,000 sales leaders. The key questions that always come up are, “How do I create a more effective sales team? How do I create a more productive sales process? And how do I select and integrate the best technology tools to accelerate sales?” When sales leaders from a wide variety of industries get together, an amazing exchange of ideas happens spontaneously. In these conversations, sales leaders realize that for every productivity problem within their company, there are hundreds of solutions that have been applied by other sales leaders. The sales leaders who attend these conferences often take dozens of pages of notes, and they continue their journey of ongoing learning and discovery.
On the other hand, there are tens of thousands of sales managers who don’t want to leave their office, and in the process they leave their learning to chance. Sooner or later, they run into major problems that their impaired capacity for creating or finding solutions can’t handle. These are the managers that get sideswiped by progress.
Many sales leaders have only small snippets of time available, which makes it very difficult for them to assess the true extent of their company’s productivity drains. And they don’t have enough time on their hands to shop for solutions.
For those sales leaders who can’t take time out of their busy schedules, here is my top 10 sales management checklist that may help you prioritize your change initiatives:
- Hire the best talent you can get. You know that the best team wins. You can’t expect sales to go up by working with unmotivated turkeys. Test your candidates prior to conducting your interview. Update your sales-job descriptions at least once a year to keep up with the changes in the market and your organization.
- Create a comprehensive sales process that 80 percent of all salespeople will follow religiously. Allow for a 20 percent deviation, as long as you monitor the outcome. Remember, if the process works on paper, it will work even better when it is automated. If you automate a process that doesn’t work on paper first, you will automate chaos.
- Give salespeople the best mobile technology tools to execute your sales process more efficiently. The right set of Sales 2.0 tools can accelerate your sales pipeline, shorten the sales cycle, improve win rates, and establish a culture of measurement.
- Focus relentlessly on training and coaching your sales reps. If you don’t have the resources in-house, then outsource training. Every sales manager should receive formal training as a coach. Also, create a mentoring program for coaches.
- Track your sales progress in real time. Create a culture of measurement. Automate forecasting. Give your salespeople access to your metrics. Show your salespeople their sales versus goals and their ranking among their peers. Forecasting accuracy below 95 percent is an indicator of inefficiency, leading to higher cost.
- Compensate your salespeople based on true performance. Automate the process to eliminate shadow accounting and costly spreadsheet mistakes. Reward salespeople for contributing to innovation, process improvement, customer satisfaction, and team collaboration.
- Prepare your sales team for the next social-media revolution. Help salespeople “listen” to their customers’ comments on Twitter. Train salespeople to use LinkedIn to get to know their customers better. Help salespeople create their own portals to communicate with their customers. Explore instant collaboration tools, such as Chatter or Jive.
- Align sales with marketing. Stop operating in a sales silo that’s separate from the marketing silo. Invite marketing managers to ride along on sales calls. Invite salespeople to explain to marketing managers what leads work best for them. Explore the use of marketing software to accelerate the lead flow.
- Create a sales-enablement initiative. Give salespeople access to all sales and marketing information, such as PPT, proposals, market summaries, customer references, pricing quotes, etc. Stop the waste created by salespeople who are reinventing the wheel.
- Redesign your sales approach with the customer at the center. Too many sales organizations are focused on themselves, with the goal to improve sales and profits. The future belongs to companies that are focused on the customer experience (Apple is a great example). Start mapping your customer’s journey, and measure how your organization performs at each touch point. The result: You’ll turn customers into salespeople who will help you grow sales and profits.
Bonus idea: Accelerate your learning by looking outside your company. The solutions that are readily available outside your organization far exceed the number of problems inside your company. You can’t win without harvesting the great ideas created by the sales leaders of the best companies in America. Expand your sales-leadership acumen by connecting with other sales leaders at least once a year.