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Managing Salespeople – How Hard Can It Be?

By Joane Ramsey

Managing Salespeople – How Hard Can It Be?

The request always comes in to train salespeople to be more effective, become more consultative in their approach, have a sales process, but rarely do we hear a request to help sales managers become more effective, better at coaching their people, turn into better leaders that salespeople admire and want to follow.

Why is it that most companies tend to think that once someone reaches a managerial position, they should be good at managing their people? And, what does managing someone really look like? When companies look for sales training should they also look at improving the managerial skills of their sales leadership? For me, ignoring sales management skills is like baking a cake and leaving the baking powder out of it. How will the cake rise to its fullest potential of fluffiness without the baking powder? It usually doesn’t, it flattens out.

When it comes to sales management, it is proven that good sales leadership achieves higher sales performance. However, when we look at how a sales manager normally gains their position, for the most part, it’s because they were high achieving salespeople who were then promoted to management, and typically without much managerial training. The question remains, how good of a sales manager will they be now that they have to work with some of their peers, colleagues and incoming new salespeople? In sales, companies tend to think that this is the “normal” path to sales management. But are we setting these sales managers up for potential failure?

When we consider that based on a research conducted by Harvard Business Review contributor, Steven Martin, 69% of salespeople who exceeded their annual quota rated their sales managers as being excellent or above average compared to underperformers who did not have good sales managers and missed their quotas by more than 25%. That is a really large gap.

Clearly being a successful sales leader is not as straightforward as doing some of the same things you were doing as a top seller, or even getting a team to replicate your actions as a profit-making salesperson. While a background in selling may be necessary for credibility, it is certainly not sufficient to build a sales function and establish a sales culture.

In our research and experience, the most effective sales leaders champion the role of the sales organization as the value-creating engine of the company aligned with the company’s overall strategic direction. These sales leaders understand that in order for sales to succeed they have to understand how to align their teams with their company’s bigger picture. As a result, the sales team becomes focused on pursuing only their ideal client profile, so their efforts of pursuing business ultimately lands them the RIGHT kind of business. This extends beyond the company profile to the specific buyer profile as well. If your business is selling to major retail stores, focusing on Nordstrom may be terrific, but if your seller isn’t engaged at the right level, where the people they meet with can make decisions and allocate budgets, then it won’t make much difference.

To further aggravate the situation, the buying environment of today is very different than even just 2 years ago. According to research conducted by Deloitte, 67% of the buying journey already occurs digitally with 75% of buyers using more resources to research and evaluate purchases. This means that sales managers have to help their salespeople understand how to approach their new clients.

This is just one example of how a sales manager needs to understand not just sales but have a strategic mindset as well. Becoming a sales leader involves more than just developing managerial skills. When we work with clients, we look at two sets of skills:

  1. Managerial skills: How well do sales leaders perform as managers, i.e, communicating, coaching their people, delegating, delivering feedback, setting expectations, motivating their people and finally supporting them so they understand what is in it for them to continue to be high producers?
  2. Business acumen: How well does the sales leader understand how to align their goals with their company’s overall strategic direction? Are they able to analyze data to help improve the sales process? Do they know their close ratios? Do they understand what their critical success factors are and how they impact their business? Have they identified their ideal client profile so they are focused on the RIGHT kind of business? Do they understand the financial implications of discounting and how that impacts the overall strategies for the company, not just their group?

Although different, these two main areas of development are critical for a sales leader to ensure the success of their group. When a sales leader has this combination of skills, the success of their group is exponentially better than those that do not.

We all have experienced the amount of investment that companies make in sales training, but then leave it to chance for sales managers to figure out how to manage the newly acquired set of sales skills. Sending someone to a couple of days of training isn’t going get the results that a company expects from its investment. At its core, selling consultatively and selling solutions is a sophisticated communication discipline employing a set of flexible practices. It is very challenging to learn the subtlety and nuances of this higher level of selling, even for talented salespeople. Considering the “average” person needs to hear something five to seven times before it becomes “simple and do it 10 to 14 times before it becomes easy, coaching becomes a very important component to realizing the benefits of the training. It’s the same for new managers learning how to lead and coach. The need to help sales managers coach and reinforce good sales practices and skills is key to ensuring successful results.

Here is an article that highlights the power one sales executive had on their team and the results he got from it: The Power of One: How One Leader Can Make a Difference.

When we think about the job of a sales manager, and all it entails, it is important to help them acquire the skills they need to succeed in this role. Sales is one of the most critical parts of an organization. Without growth and profits, an organization can’t survive.

Managing salespeople is not hard work, it is consistent work. It is easy once sales managers are given the foundational managerial skills combined with business acumen to understand how they can impact their organization. According to one research on Sales Leadership which received over 500 responses, across 8 countries and 15+ industries, about 65% of sales managers who outperformed against their revenue targets provided coaching and development to their salespeople. This aligns with the research mentioned above that was conducted by Harvard Business Contributor, Steven Martin.

Published: September 29, 2021

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Joane Ramsey

Senior Performance Improvement Consultant

A native of Brazil, Joane first came to the U.S. as a foreign exchange student with AFS. She returned to Brazil where she successfully ran and sold two different businesses. Returning to the US in 1992, Joane put her business ownership experience to work with a small manufacturing company running the day-to-day operations and facilitating sales with South American companies. She joined SEG in 1999, where her experience has helped her clients get the results they desired. Joane has a B.S. degree in business management from North Central College, where she majored in international business and Spanish.

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