Today's post is by Norman Behar, Managing Partner, Sales Readiness Group, Inc., a leading professional sales training company that develops customized sales and sales management programs for business-to-business sales organizations.
If there is one consistent complaint we hear from frontline sale managers, it is that they are always short on time. This isn't surprising given the numerous responsibilities sales managers have, including recruiting and hiring new sales professionals, day-to-day management tasks, sales coaching, and administrative duties. Additionally, they face the challenge of managing sales professionals who are typically independent, strong willed, and often have little day-to-day contact with their managers. And in many organizations, sales managers are required to both sell and manage.
Compounding this problem is the reality that most sales managers learn how to manage through on-the-job experience. More often than not, sales managers are former sales professionals who get promoted into management with little or no formal sales management training. They are sometimes better at selling than managing, and that is the root cause of a problem that we refer to as the sales management time trap.
Selling vs. Managing
Salespeople are by definition individual contributors to their team's overall success; they only need to focus on their own behaviors: "If I work harder or smarter, I will sell more." Unfortunately, the skills and mindset that made someone successful as a salesperson, don't guarantee success when he or she gets promoted into management. The sales manager's primary job function is to get his or her entire sales team to work harder or smarter and this requires a specific set of sales management skills.
The sales management time trap is what happens to sales managers who use the wrong set of skills to manage their sales teams. In many cases, these managers were previously successful sales people, and they now have a hard time understanding why struggling members of their team "don't get it." Out of frustration, these managers attempt to solve performance issues by either micro-managing or actually taking over specific selling tasks from their sales people (i.e., "it will be easier if I just do it myself"). The problem with such an approach is that it is highly inefficient as the work flows the wrong way – from the salesperson's desk to the manager's, instead of the other way around. As a result, the sales manager soon feels trapped by an overwhelming number of responsibilities. Moreover, the sales people are not learning how to solve their own problems and so the sales manager is continually jumping from crisis to crisis putting out fires.
Avoiding the Time Trap
Sales managers can stay out of the sales management time trap by using the full complement of sales management skills to manage, including setting expectations, coaching, training, delegating, counseling, incentivizing etc. While some of these actions, such as sales coaching and training, require a significant time commitment in the short-run, the long-term payoff is well worth the investment.
The following checklist illustrates how you can efficiently solve performance issues on your team and avoid the sales management time trap:
- Does the salesperson know expectations? It is surprising how many performance problems are a result of the salesperson not knowing what specific behaviors and results are expected of them.
- Are the expectations being met? If the salesperson is meeting expectations, you should provide positive reinforcement and then delegate as much responsibility as possible. This is how you most efficiently leverage your time and effort and produce exceptional sales results.
- Does the salesperson know how to meet expectations? Sales managers should use training or coaching to resolve skills or knowledge gaps. As a best practice, we recommend that a frontline sales manager spend 25%-40% of their time coaching and developing their team.
- Does the salesperson make proper effort? Sometimes the performance problem not caused by a skill or knowledge gap but rather by the salesperson's poor attitude or low motivation. Here the appropriate management action is to counsel the salesperson and address the attitude or motivational problem.
- Does salesperson receive appropriate rewards and consequences? Sales managers can be enablers of poor performance through poorly structured compensation plans that incentivize the wrong behaviors or by not taking strict (but fair) approach to performance improvement plans.
- Do obstacles block performance? It may be the case that the salesperson does not have the resources to be successful, or that some obstacle is making achieving sales goals unrealistic. In these cases you need to provide more resources, remove the obstacles or reassess your expectations and goals.