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Managing Your Salespeople

It is common practice for organizations to promote their best salespeople to sales management positions. The logic here is that a great salesperson must know what it takes to build and manage a great sales force. While it is true that a great salesperson knows a lot about sales, it does not necessarily follow that a great salesperson knows anything about management. This is because the qualities and skills that are necessary for sales are different from the qualities and skills that are necessary for management. This is not to say that a salesperson can’t have the necessary skills or that they can’t be taught, but to blindly proceed as if they were automatically present is a dangerous assumption.

Good sales management is a necessity for every business, regardless of the size of its sales force. Remember, management is simply organization and communication with a purpose, and any sales force, even a force of one, can benefit from that.

With this in mind, we’ll begin by examining some of the qualities and skills necessary for a good sales manager. Next, you’ll identify those qualities and skills as they relate specifically to your needs. You’ll be able to use this information when hiring a sales manager or when identifying the training needs of your existing sales managers.

  1. Able to see the “big” picture — As with all managers, a sales manager must be a strategic thinker. In other words, he must understand the long-term impact of his current activities. This is especially important in sales, as the growth of a company is directly impacted by the ability of its sales managers to envision the connection between its strategic objectives and the activities of his salespeople.

  2. People skills — Of course people skills are essential for a salesperson as well, but in this case, the skills must extend into a different type of relationship. A sales manager is a team leader, and as such, cannot rely exclusively on his own skills to achieve his goals. He must be a motivator, who is continuously selling his team on the value and excitement of the goals of the organization.

  3. Organizational skills — These are also essential skills for a salesperson, but a manager must maintain order for an entire group. This added dimension may make it an even more important skill for a manager than it is for a salesperson.

  4. Willing to set an example — As with all managers, sales managers must be willing to walk their talk. If they don’t, their salespeople will not take them seriously. If one of the primary functions of a sales manager is to keep sales activities on track with corporate strategy, then the manager had better act in accordance with that strategy at all times. All employees monitor their managers’ behaviour, so every time a manager says one thing and does another, his integrity drops a notch in the minds of his employees.

  5. Coaching skills — Outstanding salespeople who become managers often have a tendency to take over for their staff when they run into problems. They have confidence in their own skills, so they find it easier to step in and take over a deal than to let their salespeople flounder. The problem with this approach is that it teaches people to rely too heavily on their managers. Instead, sales managers should support the efforts of their salespeople in real-time… coaching them through deals in a way that encourages independence rather than dependence. So look for managers who will take the time to support and train their staff, rather than take over for them. You can find more information on coaching your employees in Management: People.

  6. Fit with your Corporate Culture and Values — As with everyone you hire, your sales managers must fit with your organization on a personal level. If they do not, the chances of them working out on a professional level are minimal.

Following is a sample list of duties for a typical sales manager. As you review the list, consider the specific needs of your business.

Scheduling — Unless your salespeople operate independently, their workday will need to be scheduled to some degree. In a retail store, for example, you might need to schedule your sales shifts.

Handing out assignments — This could include the handing out of sales territories, the division of prospect classifications such as corporate versus small business accounts, the assigning of specific sales accounts and so forth.

Ensuring punctuality — The requirements here will vary depending on the autonomy with which your salespeople can work, but the importance of punctuality in sales is self-evident.

Ensuring the accuracy of reports — The least favourite part of a salespersons job is often the completion of the necessary paperwork. Sales are such a critical component of a business, however, that paperwork cannot be neglected for long without serious consequences. Sales links directly with both Operations and Finance. Breakdowns in those links cause billing mistakes, production mistakes, damage forecasting and all of the resulting repercussions of those mistakes.

Hiring and firing of sales staff — It is important that the people hired for your sales positions are right for your company, but it is equally important to offer an incentive program that promotes the right sales behaviour. If there is little incentive to create customer relationships and more incentive to make a quick sale, then that is exactly what you will get. No amount of training will change that. In the end, the relationship between a salesperson’s and sales manager’s goals determine the extent to which the goals of the organization are met.

Evaluating effectiveness of sales staff — As with all managers, your sales managers will be responsible for evaluating and providing feedback to their immediate staff. The challenge here, however, is in properly determining the criteria. As I said previously, you’ll tend to get the behaviour you reward, so evaluating on a different set of criteria from the ones you reward is pointless. If you notice a trend within your sales force that is working against your Strategic Objective, you may want to re-evaluate your sales reward strategy.

Supervising and Directing activities of sales staff — This will be more applicable to some sales environments than others, depending on the autonomy of the salespeople. Even the most independent salespeople, however, could benefit from some form of structure.

Supporting the efforts of sales staff — A good manager acts as a strong support system for their staff. When your salespeople need help in closing a deal, access to company resources, or permission to restructure an offer, it is the responsibility of the sales manager to be there for them. A good sales manager will unlock the doors that keep their employees from doing their jobs to the best of their ability.

Training and development of sales staff — We’ll go into this in more detail shortly, but suffice to say that when it gets right down to it, this is probably the most valuable function of a good sales manager. This includes everything from basic skills training to motivational activities.

Working with budgets — A sales manager may need to convert existing budgets into specific sales goals. He may also need to forecast expenses and sales data for the purpose of creating new budgets.

Write or update your Sales Manager’s work listing that follows. Review the work listing for your salespeople as well.

Take time to review the three factors we originally discussed in Management that allow your employees to do their jobs more effectively. These are:

  1. Authority — Each employee must have the authority to make the decisions that are necessary for performing the job.

  2. Responsibility — Each employee is responsible for completing the tasks associated with their job.

  3. Accountability — Each employee is accountable for the successful accomplishment of the goals associated with their job.