Undertrained sales managers often make common mistakes


Editor’s note: This is part one of a three-part series.

In most organizations, sales managers are the essential bridge between the company’s sales goals and the realization of those goals. The gritty day-to-day interactions between the salespeople and their customers are frequently filtered through the perspective of the sales manager on their way up the ladder.

The aspirations and strategies of the company’s management must be imprinted by the realism of the sales manager as they come down from above. Sales managers are the conductors who carefully orchestrate the tentative entanglement of the salespeople with their management.

It’s an incredibly important and difficult job. Unfortunately, it is often the most undertrained job in the entire organization. Instead of providing information on the best practices and processes of the job, most companies hope their sales managers will have learned enough during their days as a field salesperson to provide some roadmap as to how to do this job well.

Alas, only a small percentage of untrained sales managers ever really figure it out, arriving by trial and error and after hours of study at the best practices of an effective sales manager. The overwhelming majority find themselves caught up in the urgencies of the moment, the tempting details of all the transactions, and the continuing onslaught of crises and are never able to set in place a systematic blueprint for their success.

The net result? Few salespeople are effectively managed. All parties — executive management, sales manager and salespeople — bounce from one frustration to another. Company objectives are met frequently by happenstance, salespeople are not developed to their fullest potential and sales managers lurch from one crisis to another.

Certain common mistakes often arise out of this unhealthy situation. As a long-time consultant and educator of salespeople and sales managers, I frequently see these three most common maladies suffered by sales managers.

            1. Lack of an intentional sales structure

This is such a foreign concept to many companies that the term itself is unfamiliar. The structure of a sales force consists of all the articulated and unspoken rules, policies and procedures that shape the behavior of the salesperson. It consists of such things as:

            * The way sales territories are defined

            * The way salespeople go about their jobs

            * The way markets and customers are targeted

            * The way salespeople are compensated

            * The methods the manager uses to communicate with the salespeople

            * The expectations for the sales force

            * The training and development system of the company

            * The expectation for information collecting by the salespeople

            * The frequency and agenda for sales meetings

            * The sales tools used by the salespeople

A highly focused, strategically designed sales structure can be one of the company’s greatest assets, as it ultimately shapes the behavior of the sales force.

Most sales structures, however, haven’t come under the critical review of the company’s management. Typically, the structure slowly takes shape over time. Decisions often are made with heavy input from the salespeople, almost always in response to a single event. These decisions slowly become codified into the company’s written and unwritten structure.

As a result, many sales structures are vestiges of years gone by, the legacy of salespeople who may not even be with the company today.

Why do you have the sales compensation plan that you have, for example? Is it because you crafted a strategic plan that directly compensates the sales force for achieving the company’s objective? Or is it because it’s the plan you inherited?

Why do some salespeople come into the office every week? Is it because you have determined that this is the most valuable use of their time? Or is it because that’s just the way some of them like to do it?

Why is it that some of your salespeople are highly organized with well-designed file systems and effective ways to track their interactions with their customers, while others continue to get by with scraps of paper and yellow pads? Is it because you have invested in a system that helps them become well organized and information-savvy? Or is it because that’s just how it’s worked out?

Can you see the point? Many of these structural issues — spoken and unspoken rules about how the salesperson does the job — have evolved by the salespeople in response to their own specific situations.

And most sales managers are oblivious to the impact of these decisions on the productivity and effectiveness of the salesperson.

I recently had lunch with a friend — an entrepreneur who had successfully started and run a number of businesses. As we were discussing the pros and cons of organizing a sales force for his latest venture, he remarked that he has learned how easy it is to gradually cede control of the company to the sales force. One decision at a time, made in response to the passionate pleas of an individual salesperson, would form, over time, the structure that governed the sales side of the business.

I was impressed with his insight. That very observation described the No. 1 mistake that sales managers make: they accept the historically evolved status quo for the structure and don’t invest time in focusing it to provide the environment for sales success.

Grand Rapids-based Dave Kahle is one of the world’s leading sales authorities. He’s written 12 books, presented in 47 states and 11 countries, and has helped enrich tens of thousands of salespeople and transform hundreds of sales organizations. His book, “How to Sell Anything to Anyone Anytime,” has been recognized by three international entities as “one of the five best English language business books.” Check out his latest book, “The Good Book on Business.” This article originally appeared at davekahle.com.


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