Many of my clients are looking for ways to boost performance with individual sellers. But what if that’s the wrong approach to take ?
Think about this for a second: inside virtually any sales organisation, who has the ability to substantially and permanently influence sales performance – not just for themselves, but for the entire organisation ?
The answer ? The sales manager.
My colleague Mike (Schultz) puts it this way:
“The fundamental leverage point in many sales organizations to improve sales performance is the sales manager. Their role is to coach them on winning sales, help them manage their time and day to best effect, motivate sellers, and more.”
Unfortunately, the effectiveness of sales management in most organisations leaves a lot to be desired. According to our latest research on “The Top-Performing Sales Organisation”, in most organisations:
- 29% of sellers agree that their sales management gets maximum performance from sellers
- 32% agrees that their sales manager creates and sustains maximum energy from sellers
- 31% believes that their sales manager has the necessary skills to manage and coach sellers
Roughly, only around one in three sellers feel their direct (sales) possesses the skills and attributes to effectively manage them, create and sustain energy and achieve maximum performance.
One. In. Three.
To me, there are five things every sales manager should be doing on a daily basis to help motivate their teams, and achieve maximum performance.
By far the most important activity for sales managers should be to directly and indirectly coach their sellers.
This means building in coaching moments before and after client meetings. Organising structured coaching meetings on a regular basis. Assessing sellers individually and collectively to see where gaps exist, and how to address them.
Any sales manager I’ve ever come across who succeeds in building and maintaining high levels of performance, motivation and engagement does so in part by directly coaching individual seller’s skill set, mindset and behaviour.
Closely related to coaching, but not the same: every day, every sales manager should take at least some time to teach. Whether live or virtually, to large groups or small, alone or with others, it’s sales management’s responsibility to create an environment in which sellers are inspired to grow on a daily basis.
This doesn’t need to be time-consuming or complex. Many of our clients simply choose to reinforce core concepts, models and frameworks from our training programs on a regular basis.
Teaching is not just about skills building either: in the day-to-day reality, there are many opportunities for sales managers and leaders to teach sellers valuable lessons about motivation, persistence, values and other, similar aspects that are crucial to sales performance, but difficult to convey in a theoretical context.
Maybe we should stop talking about sales management, and instead call it sales leadership. One of the most important drivers of sales performance across the organisation is how effective sales management is at leading the entire organisation.
In the “Top-Performing Sales Organisation” research, we found that in Elite Performers (the 7% of organisations who have a 73% win rate), 80% of sellers feel that leadership prioritizes sales force effectiveness. That’s versus 57% in “The Rest” category.
To me, sales leadership is about three things. First, crafting a powerful, inspiring and aspirational vision of what a truly excellent sales organisation looks like. Second, communicating that vision with energy, drive and consistency. And third, having the chutzpah to stand up for what you believe in, claim resources and make it a priority – even if short term results may temporarily suffer.
As John C. Maxwell said:
"A leader is the one who knows the way, goes the way and shows the way."
When I was speaking with a prospect recently, he said something interesting. After we briefly discussed the importance of sales management, he said “Ago. Most sales managers are simply weighing the pig”.
At first, I didn’t know what he was talking about. But then he explained there’s an English expression that goes “Weighing the pig doesn’t make it fatter”.
Yet, unfortunately, this is where most sales management falls short. Under pressure for achieving quarterly results, most managers spend inordinate amounts of time measuring performance by looking at dashboards and CRM/BI data – and far too little time acting upon that data.
That’s not necessarily sales management’s “fault” either – they’re often expected to report continuously, provide data to other corporate functions (Finance) and have their finger on the pulse of the organisation.
But as the saying goes, “weighing the pig doesn’t make it fatter”. To be effective, sales managers need to tear themselves away from the weekly and quarterly dashboards, and spend time working on their longer term vision and strategy.
One of my favourite questions to ask is “Where do you see this organisation one, and five years from now ?”. All too often, the answer I get is silence.
Sales is a hard profession – it’s the only one I know where if you’re successful, you’ll face a constant barrage of rejection, disappointment and failure. (If you don’t believe me, you must have a 100% win rate).
No one who’s successful goes the distance alone.
Show me a successful seller, and I’ll show you a successful sales manager behind them. That doesn’t mean constant handholding or close management – many top sellers prefer to be left alone to “do their thing”.
But it does mean creating the context in which top performance becomes not only possible, but likely.
Every sales manager should – at least to some degree – inspire. In daily practice, they should provide an example of how to act, think and perform that inspires others to follow suit.
In a recent conversation with my colleague Mike, someone asked us about “the silver bullet”. “What’s the ONE thing we can do to improve sales performance ?”
Our answer was simple: there’s not one thing. There’s many.
Improving sales performance is about tweaking a finely tuned machine, not turning a single key.
But if I were a betting man, I’d bet my chips on sales management any day of the week. I know of very few organisations who would not benefit tremendously from putting in place a stronger sales management function.
But what do you think ?