Is Sales Management Stupid? - Top 10 Tips for Sales Managers

“Our sales team don’t pre-qualify well enough”
“Forecasting is poor to non-existent”
“Our sales people are using price as their major sales weapon”

Many sales managers complain about these issues but few know how to approach a plausible solution.

Consider two members of your sales team that need the most help in this area and think about the financial impact on your business they were to become as effective your two top salespeople.  Consider how long the two underperforming sales people have held their jobs and do the math. The cost over the years will be significant. 

Why has this situation continued for so long? 

Sales management isn’t easy.

Sales professionals are often highly articulate, enthusiastic individuals that can tell great stories about their fantastic client relationships and how unlucky they have been with certain deals but more importantly they are often people that are liked within the organisation. 

The ownership of underperforming sales professionals sits squarely with the sales managers, but if we look a little deeper, sales managers are often promoted from being an outstanding sales professional themselves but over time degrade into a less effective sales management role.  Sales and Sales Management functions are fundamentally different. If you’re a star sales man and have been promoted to Sales Manager, how can you make sure your sales skills and experience translate into good management?

Here are top 10 tips for sales managers:

1. Get your head straight

If your first thought is “I need to sell / work harder”, then this will not work in the long run. Resist the urge to personally towards the team targets and instead look to develop (or replace) your sales team members so they can achieve the target.

Tip: Remember managers don’t “do”, they manage others to “do”.

2. Are you telling them or asking them?

Good sales management is about asking team members how they are going to meet their targets and what remedial action they are taking when behind. Coaching from this position becomes easier and allows the sales person to retain responsibility for their targets. Many sales managers are too directive on what should be done and this has the effect of removing responsibility from the team members.

Tip: Their plan should be a subset and more detailed part of your plan – is their plan realistic with enough supporting detail to give you confidence? What about your plan?

3. Do you really know how your team sell?

Find ways of observing your sales team in action to assess their selling skills. This will help with their individual development needs and give substance to your reviews.

4. Get to the root of the problem

Often salespeople promote a small subset of their range rather than promoting the complete portfolio so find out why, it will be linked to at least one of the following:-

- Knowledge - they don’t know the other products/services and are therefore nervous about looking silly if questioned about them, so they avoid the discussions entirely.

- Skill – they are more transactional sales people pushing products, feature/benefits rather than consultative approach of finding needs and positioning the products / solutions at a higher level. 

- Attitude – They don’t want to promote the range for some reason or don’t believe in the product in the first place.

Tip: Once salespeople know how to promote or sell something they are usually pretty happy so initially, find ways of incentivising the lead generation/ order rates of these “new” products and services to kick start the journey. 

5. Develop activity measures as an early warning system

If your typical sales cycle is in months then looking at historical orders and sales performance for remedial action means you are already too late to react. Monitoring and comparing measures such as pipeline value, hit rates, visits rates, enquiry rates etc will indicate (but not guarantee) the likely performance of each sales professional.

6. Reviewing performance

Look at your diary in the last 3 months. What percentage of time did you spend on reviewing individual or team performance, sales coaching, 1-2-1 reviews etc. (do not include sales meeting time in this calculation).

Tip: If you struggled to make the time for reviews then it is worth completing a simple time log for a week to find out where you actually spend your time however it is likely to be completing tasks that your team or other departments should be completing.

7. Reporting

Whether in a formal document or just a verbal exchange, sales managers need to know how things are going but often reporting structures have morphed over time and can range from the completely inadequate to cumbersome and largely unread.

Tip: Consider the objective of monthly reports. In general, reports exist to let you know how things are going OK against the plan or, if off course, what remedial actions will be taken to get back on plan. There is also an element of sharing market data.

8. Avoiding those tough conversations with people

Many managers struggle to tackle under-performance or attitude issues within their sales team for fear of upsetting people. This leads to managers solving the symptom rather than the problem. They find ways around the issue instead of tackling it head on to make sure it is resolved once and for all.

Tip: Set the objective of these tough conversations to “understanding the issue” rather than fixing it and most issues will melt away from merely raising the question.

9. Develop and defend your team

Your success is related to the ability of your team members and they will support you and go the extra mile if you support and defend them to others, even if you are having difficult conversations with them.

10. What is the vision?

Sales managers are programmed to focus on the next period, often no longer than a 12 months view. Advising the team of your vision for the department and organisation will give more purpose to the sales team rather than the normal drum beat of “I need more orders”.

Tip: If you don’t have one, start with the company vision and visualise what a highly performing sales team would look like under that vision.

Sales management is not an easy role but can be highly rewarding when armed with a good plan, measures of success and a consistent coaching approach with each sales person.


Author: Mark Jacobs

Mdina International