Today’s post is by David Mattson, CEO and president of Sandler Training, an international training and consulting organization headquartered in the United States. Since 1986, he has been a trainer and business consultant for management, sales, interpersonal communication, corporate team building, and strategic planning throughout the United States and Europe. Find him on Twitter at @Dave_Mattson.
Some managers attempt to “manage” all aspects of their salespeople’s activities. On these teams, whenever a salesperson gets the sensation that someone is looking over his shoulder, he or she is usually right – it’s the sales manager about to ask for a pipeline report, an opportunity update, a sales forecast, or something else that’s heavy on data points.
At the other end of the spectrum are the managers who have a “hands-off” attitude, and say things like: “I’m only interested in the end result.” They may occasionally ask for an update on a specific prospect, but, for the most part, they pay scant attention to day-to-day goings-on. Their typical directive to the sales team: “Just hit your numbers.”
Neither sales management strategy is particularly effective. All too often, in fact, both these extremes impede productivity.
Too much detail, too little detail. It’s a little like the beds in the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. One is too hard, the other is too soft. There is a middle ground, however, that’s just right – a Goldilocks option that keeps your sales team focused on the required day-to-day activities (and ensures the long-term results will materialize) without your scrutinizing their every move.
Four Steps to a Successful Sales Management Strategy
There are four steps to building a foundation for a successful middle-ground strategy for sales managers.
Step #1: Identify clear team goals. The first step in helping your sales team achieve higher levels of productivity is to provide them with clear department goals that connect to a distinct timeline. You can’t hold people accountable to specific outcomes unless they clearly understand what it is they are working toward – specifically, what is expected of them, and by when it’s expected. Tying those goals to important corporate initiatives will help them see the big picture and better understand the part they play in bringing that picture to life.
Step #2: Make it personal. The next step is helping your salespeople translate department goals into individual goals. Those goals should be specific, with clearly defined objectives. A goal to grow a territory by a certain amount between now and December 31, for example, should define how much of that growth should come from existing accounts (and more specifically, which ones) and how much should come from new accounts. The goals should be measurable and time-bound, so the degree and rate of progress can be tracked. And, of course, they must connect to something that is personally meaningful to each salesperson. (This is a coaching discussion.)
Step #3: Set priorities. Once goals are formulated, they need to be analyzed, organized, and prioritized. High-value goals – those that directly relate to corporate initiatives and contribute to the accomplishment of other goals – should be placed at the top of the list.
Step #4: Collaborate on an action plan. After the goals have been prioritized, you and your team member should co-create action plans for the accomplishment of the goals. Those plans must be as detailed as the goals themselves. They should include specific steps, taken in a specific sequence, within a specific time-frame, and with specific, measurable outcomes in mind. Rather than focus only on closed sales, focus instead on the trackable activities that precede a closed sale (such as new discussions with unique decision makers).
All four steps are essential, but Step #4 is where the sales management magic starts to happen. The more detailed the plan, the easier it will be for your salespeople to stay on track and measure their progress. If the process derails, a well-defined plan makes the path to getting back on track more visible.
Detailed action plans will provide specific points in time at which you can hold your salespeople accountable for specific actions and outcomes. As a result, you won’t have to continually look over their shoulders to see what they’re doing – or wait until the end of a quota period to determine what they’ve done. At key points along their goal-accomplishment journeys, you’ll know exactly how far they’ve come, and exactly how much farther they need to go. If a salesperson falls behind schedule, you can provide the needed assistance to help him or her pick up the pace.
Let Salespeople Do What They Do Best
Sales managers who commit to the four Goldilocks Steps can avoid extremes. They don’t need to insist on a single “correct” way of doing things. They can be flexible enough to improve team productivity by allowing team members to do what they do best. If, for instance, a salesperson is particularly skillful at prospecting, but is not so proficient entering information into the company’s CRM program, you can arrange for an assistant to help with data entry, rather than saddling the salesperson with that task. Allowing the salesperson to spend that time uncovering new opportunities would likely be a better investment than insisting he spend time doing something he loathes and doesn’t do well.
In a similar fashion, you can team up salespeople who possess complementary skills: the prolific prospector with the adept analyst; the skilled proposal writer with the persuasive presenter. This kind of synergy improves proficiency, productivity and, ultimately, profitability. It’s “just right.”
Grab your copy of the book, The Sandler Rules for Sales Leaders, and learn more about successful sales management.