Sales Manager. The title itself is difficult to understand, let alone the job function. How does a person manage a sale when they’re directly interacting with the customer? The answer typically falls along the lines of processes and procedures, metrics, meetings, and a dash of cheerleader thrown in for good measure. A better title is Salesperson Manager. That’s more accurate. Even that is problematic when it comes to the execution part of the job. Most salespeople I know and work with are more like highly competitive lone wolves than the man in the grey flannel suit. That’s part of what makes them great.
I have two friends who are sales managers with very successful companies. Like a lot of sales managers they came from sales themselves–one at the distribution level and one at the consumer level. Now they have direct reports, forecasts to meet and exceed, and office politics to deal with. They’ve both been in the role for about the same time and are maturing in to steady leaders. They’re both looking for ways to improve their team’s performance as well as their own skill sets.
I posed the following eight questions to one of these gentlemen and the answers led to some rich insight and opportunities. I’d ask them to any sales manager:
1. What is your value proposition? Why should I choose you over any other competitor? Is the answer free of cliche? If I asked each of your salespeople this question would I get more or less the same answer?
2. What is your sales process and how does your organization structure map it to ensure consistency?
3. Do you think your team’s overall performance is where it should be? What are you basing the answer on? If not, then what are you doing about it?
4. What measures are you using to track effectiveness? Do you have a real-time dashboard or are you making decisions in past-tense?
5. Assuming there are two ways to drive sales: increase the close ratio or increase the funnel, what are you doing to achieve these increases? How well are you managing open opportunities? How much new business (referrals) is your team generating?
6. Is your sales compensation driving the right behavior?
7. How are you taking advantage of the new, connected world we’re living in?
8. Do you have the right people on your team?
In the course of our conversation #6 was particularly illuminating. The compensation schedule did not incentivize high-margin sales and was clearly driving sales behavior toward low-margin product recommendations. The sales manager agreed that it was time to research and implement a compensation plan that rewarded the most profitable product sales and de-incentivized sales that did not sufficiently contribute to top line growth. A great start!
Managing a sales team is hard work. It’s complicated because people are complicated. But a simple set of guiding questions can provide the initial foundation for focus, behavioral change, and improved profitability. Much respect to my friends as they continue to lead two of the finest sales teams in the nation.