I have put this report together to help sales managers and their employers maximize the results that a sales manager and his/her sales team produce. This information is based on my personal observations of over 5,000 business-to-business sales forces during the past twenty-seven years. While no company manifests all six of these, most companies manifest most of these challenges on a frequent basis. Reducing or eliminating the impact of these issues will have a direct and positive impact on your company’s top line.
1. Lack of Process
Today’s sales manager is handicapped by the fact that few, if any, universities offer a degree in sales management. However, thousands offer degrees in marketing management. Consequently, many sales managers are selected from the ranks of top-producing salespeople with little, if any, transitory training. Most companies don’t have a process and, therefore, the manager is forced to figure it out as they go. In many cases, this perpetuates poor processes due to the fact that the conventional wisdom of “we’ve always done it that way around here” tends to apply. The cure for this problem is to take your time to document the processes associated with finding, acquiring and retaining customers. Don’t make the mistake of focusing only on sales processes, as there are sales support, customer service, operations and many other processes that need to be examined through this exercise.
2. Lack of Proactive Funnel Management
The number one problem facing many sales managers in this area is the inability of the sales manager to have clear visibility as to what goes on within the funnel. The manager knows how many leads are distributed to the sales team, and he/she has a clear and very accurate understanding of how many deals are produced. Unfortunately, due to the aforementioned lack of process, there are no guidelines against which to measure funnel activity. Consequently, the manager is inclined to accept gut feelings, hunches and other anecdotal evidence regarding the progress of opportunities through the funnel. In order to remedy this problem, the sales manager must establish firm benchmarks and milestones that determine the progress of opportunities through the funnel. Once these benchmarks are in place, the sales manager must hold the team accountable for achieving qualification benchmarks such as understanding the decision-makers, the need your product or service can fill, the timing of the decision, and budget issues. These four primary milestones are just the beginning of what I consider to be a good qualification process.
3. Lack of Preemptive Actions
This problem comes from the failure of the sales manager’s boss to clearly communicate the scope of his/her power. Frequently, sales managers feel that they must wait for their boss to approve everything. Consequently, the sales manager does not act on issues that he/she observes. The classic example of this is the hesitancy on the part of the sales manager to terminate a poor performer because the sales manager “hopes” that the poor performer will start performing at a higher level at some point in the future. The remedy for this issue is for the sales manager to focus his/her effort on the worst performer of the team. The worst performer may be in this position due to lack of knowledge, lack of skill, lack of aptitude, poor attitude and/or bad luck. Regardless of what puts this person into the position of being “worst”, the sales manager should have an action plan in place to help the employee improve his/her performance. As a rule, all sales managers should have an action plan in place for all poor performers, all of the time.
4. Lack of Training
As mentioned earlier, sales managers rarely get the training they need before becoming a sales manager. Likewise, very few sales managers conduct ongoing training sessions with their sales team. Selling requires cognitive skills as well as practical skills, which cannot be developed without practice. Tiger Woods practices his golf game immediately following a tournament, whether he won or lost. When was the last time the sales managers at your company conducted sales practice? I have frequently observed sales managers who intend to start a series of sales practice exercises, however they are dissuaded from this plan by their salespeople who express dislike or discomfort with the idea of practicing. Top-performing sales forces conduct sales practice on a regular basis. They have a focus on training and developing the skills and process of their team on an ongoing basis. I recommend that all sales managers conduct sales practice on a weekly basis. This will allow them to inspect the quality of presentation, process, territory management, account management, etc. of each of their salespeople in a safe and nurturing environment. Practicing one’s sales skills in front of a customer is analogous to practicing football during the Super Bowl. Obviously, it is too late to practice when you are in the game.
5. Wrong Selection/Promotion Criteria
Frequently, good salespeople are ruined when they are promoted to sales management. Senior management presumes that this promotion is a) something that the salesperson wants and b) something that will help the salesperson become more satisfied and more productive within the employer’s environment. These two hopes are rarely realized. Selecting a sales manager based on his/her sales ability is a critical mistake that is frequently repeated. I have yet to see any correlation between one’s ability to sell and one’s ability to recruit, hire, train, manage, coach and de-hire a sales team. Before your next sales manager is selected or promoted, I suggest that he/she be exposed to some people management or coaching opportunities. Failure to do this will turn your top producer into a mediocre manager and, even worse, he/she could contaminate the entire sales force. This is one of the causes of low production for sales teams.
6. Too Many Administrative Tasks
I have observed that many talented salespeople become sales managers and then, due to the environment within which they are working, are forced to become administrative managers. In other words, they interact between their company’s operations, shipping and finance departments as well as customer operations. Clearly, the attributes that made one eligible to be considered as a sales manager are not the attributes that makes one a proficient operations manager. Literally, this creates a situation of “a fish out of water”. I recommend that you examine the tasks that your sales managers are charged with undertaking. If these tasks are operational or administrative in nature, they should be reassigned to a lower cost resource. I value the sales manager in this regard based on his/her ability to impact the top and bottom line of your company. It is shortsighted financial management to allow sales managers to perform administrative tasks. Remember, one of my rules is that salespeople and managers should be involved with selling while everybody else does everything else.