The War for Talent: Is your Sales Manager Impeding your Progress?

If you are in sales, congratulations! Your profession is one of the most important contributors to any free market society and that should make you very proud. Selling makes the world go round. More specifically, selling makes the marketplace work. Where would the producers of goods and services be without sales people? They’d be sitting on their goods and services. You will agree with me that the best product doesn't always sell the most. Sales management plays a critical role in the growth of any organisation.

In my 32-years in sales, I have worked under quite a number of sales managers and I am sorry to say that very few were truly effective. In speaking to hundreds of sales people throughout my career, I have come to learn that a majority of sales people view their sales manager in a less than positive light. If a sales manager is not viewed by his or her sales team as contributor to their success then he or she is not doing their job and in fact, may be doing more harm than good. I would like to offer some insights and observations based on my years of experience as a salesman and a sales manager.

Anyone can do it 
Many people view sales management similar to coaching a School League Baseball Team. They figure if they played baseball well, then surely they can coach kids effectively. Many sales people feel the same way. If they can sell well then they can lead a sales team. Wrong in both instances! Success in sales does not automatically result in effective management skills and being able to play baseball doesn’t mean one knows how to teach it. Management is an acquired skill and one in which the learning process must be a never ending one. There are thousands of learning resources available on the Internet, in books and on DVD to enable one to learn effective sales management skills. Take advantage of them. In other words, learn your trade, don’t just assume it.

Controlling is not 'managing'
Many sales managers make the mistake of trying to enforce uniform behavior. This might be in the form of scripted sales presentations, minimum required client meetings per week, regimented training or group call out days. While this may satisfy the manager’s desire for control, it is actually a detriment to both morale and effectiveness.

No two sales people are alike and no two sales people sell alike. Any attempt to control the personal sales process stifles individuality and creativity. Joe is highly effective over the phone. Why demand that he have as many client meetings as Mary, particularly if his sales numbers are better than hers? Kate disdains powerpoint presentations and is more effective without them. Why insist that she use them? Bill learns more using online courses than he does in a classroom environment whereas Cindy is just the opposite.  

Effective sales managers encourage individuality and creativity. The most successful sales meetings that I have attended were those that encouraged sales people to share success stories and selling techniques. One example of a success story was how a salesman landed an appointment with a client with whom our organization had never managed to do business, let alone get a meeting. He mailed the purchasing manager a ticket to a local, minor league baseball game in a hand written envelope. Included was a note asking him to join him at the game as a way of introducing our organization. This creative, out of the box strategy resulted in a new customer who eventually became one of our largest clients.
I mentioned that I have only worked for “one”, truly effective Sales Manager. What made him so effective was his ability to come up with simple sales analogies that helped explain our products and services. I work in the Information Technology field and explaining your product/services can get pretty complicated. One such analogy my Sales Manager taught me years ago was a four lane highway to describe how data moves within a computer network. Another was comparing regular server maintenance to regular visits to the Doctor. “If you can form a picture in the client’s mind”, my Sales Manager said, “You will have a much easier time not only explaining our products and services but selling to them.” His ever-growing list of analogies was one of the best selling tools I have ever had.

Stay in the game
I love movies about salesmen and one of my favorites is ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’. Alec Baldwin plays an intimidating Sales Manager from a downtown office who screams at salesmen who legitimately complain about lousy leads, “I can go out there tonight with the materials you have and make myself $15,000!” I have watched this movie countless times and each time I hear this line I yell, “Then do it, or show me how to do it!” Being a sales manager doesn’t mean you know how to sell better than your sales people. It means you are in a position to provide them with tools for success that they might not otherwise have had. It is the Baldwin type manager that made me conclude that a Sales Manager should maintain a few accounts. It keeps him in the game, so to speak and makes it easier to relate to what his sales staff goes through on a daily basis. If Baldwin’s character was still out there knocking on doors, he would know a lousy lead when he sees one.

But, there has to be a system, right?Right, it is called ‘CRM’ or Customer Relationship Management, a software product that enables sales organizations to help prioritization, reporting and customer satisfaction. Sales teams can view all sales activity including forecasts, quotes, and sales scheduling. Detailed customer information is at the user’s fingertips. If a CRM software is not at the hub of your sales organization then you are depriving yourself and your sales force of the single most effective salesforce automation and management tool.

A final thought
When I was seven years old, my Father took me to work. The year was 1963. He worked for a large paint manufacturer in Manhattan. I can still see the line of salesmen’s’ desks against a very high wall. Above each desk was a large poster with the salesman’s sales numbers scribbled in various bright colors. My Father was one of these salesmen and he said to me, “They put us up against a wall, post our numbers and then police us to ensure we meet their targets,” he didn’t like it at all.

My Father went on to become the Sales Manager. The desks were moved away from the wall and partitions were placed between them, a CRM software was implemented. The sales numbers were no longer displayed, he kept them secret for each person and followed-up only when somebody consistently performed below expectations. He always told me that the best thing a Sales Manager can do is give his sales staff respect. No one has ever given me better advice.