The core theme of a sales manager’s role is to drive the team to sell. Though they may be the best sales person on the team, if they spend 100% of their time helping close business then sales results will plateau when their selling capacity is reached, and you will find that other team members have not developed. This “halter” is a problem that many companies face as they try to migrate to the next level of growth. As usual the best approach to solving a problem is to anticipate it, and solve it before it emerges. So this article will focus on finding a sales manager who can grow beyond your needs today.
Driving the team to sell is a three legged stool. Being effective at all three is important and requires a different set of competencies. You may not get all the competencies you’re hoping for, but you must have confidence that given support, the candidate you select has the will to learn the skills. The components are :
1. Selling to large Accounts – When larger prospects are identified it is crucial that the sales manager become actively involved in selling process. Whether or not they take the lead role depends upon the skill and will of the sales representative. Regardless, the sales manager must feel accountable for ensuring that this enterprise opportunity succesfully navigates through their buying process. The manager must, at all costs, ensure that there is a complete understanding and consideration of customer requirements before making decisions and taking action.
- Identifying the Needs of Prospects – The sales representative must gather timely, direct information about customer requirements. If the sales person identifies the opportunity early enough in their buying process they can influence and shape those requirements. If they enter the sales cycle later in the prospect’s buying process they will be forced to conform to whatever requirements are already defined.
- Entrepreneurial Drive – Tenacity is the most important ingredient in any complex sale. If the sales rep’s will begins to fade over time, the manager must insert themselves into the process. To be of high value to the sales representatives your manger should demonstrate that they compete against a self defined standard of excellence. They tirelessly purse a goal until it is successfully attained.
- Meeting & Exceeding Customer Expectations – Retaining clients is equally important as acquiring clients. The first step in client retention is to make realistic short & long term commitments, maintain contact and then to exceed expectations by ensuring delivery of promised service. Your sales manager must understand that brand equity is built one transaction at a time.
2. Managing the Team – No matter the tenure of your sales representatives, their skill and will to do sales tasks will change over time. Your manager must create an atmosphere in which sales people are completely comfortable asking for help. At the same time they must be able to rapidly determine developmental gaps that are becoming unrecognized sales obstacles.
- Coaching & Developing Others – It is unfortunately true that 45% of managers hire sales reps that are not likely to succeed. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that 56% of managers do not conduct routine win/loss reviews and 36% of managers do not effectively identify which sales reps need coaching.* If you are not equipped to help the manager succeed then get them the help they need.
- Creating & Maintaining Effective Work Teams – The manager must create an atmoshphere where individuals can work together as a team in pursuit of a common mission. The behaviors you’re looking for are; encouraging multiple points of views, harnessing the necessary resources to help team members succeed, establishing a positive climate (see article on “Why Leaders Get Followers”) and nuturing a commitment to the mission.
- Directing the Team – Your manager must ensure that the team completes tasks and delivers targets. There are times when coaching & good relationships are not enough. The manager must be more direct and take action if necessary, without inflicting damage to the team environment. Behaviors to look for are; aligning people behind a strategy even when decisions are unpopular, using authority productively to achieve results and setting expectations clearly while communicating the boundaries that exist. In short, the manager must be adept at managing performance.
3. Managing the Territory – whether the assigned territory is national or market specific, you will depend upon the sales manager to optimize results. In order to effectively manage the situation the manager must be motivated to reduce uncertainty and stay focused on those intiatives that will yield the greatest return.
- Concern for Order – Reducing uncertainty requires an insistence on timely, accurate information. You would see this drive expressed in such ways as; monitoring & checking information (CRM), insisting on clarity of commitments (conducting win/loss reviews), setting up and maintaining systems of information.
- Analytical Thinking – This may be an optional skill for your consideration. If the sales manager will be your “Top Sales Officer” (CSO) then I would strongly recommend you look for this competency. If the sales manager will report to an RVP, who reports to your CSO then this is a nice-to-have skill. I freely admit that it is difficult to find analytical thinking skills in a pool of sales management candidates. You are more likely to see good lateral thinking skills. But in this rapidly changing economy, where buyer preferences are changing at incredible velocities then this analytical thinking skill is very important!
The sales manager role requires broad and deep knowledge of selling, account relationship management and leadership. One would expect that the candidate would have accumulated the knowledge they need for selling & account relationship management. The company has a responsibility to provide the new manager with orientation & training around leadership. Unfortunately most companies do not provide a shred of training on sales leadership.
* Statistics from CSO Insights “Sales Performance Optimization” 2009 Survey Results and Analytics