The day that a star salesperson is promoted to sales manager is both the “best and worst day of their life,” says Jason Jordan, co-author of Cracking the Sales Management Code.
Even in a billion dollar company, the CEO knows the top salesperson by name. That salesperson makes a lot of money and receives a lot of recognition and acclaim for their success. Once promoted, however, everything changes. Armed only with his or her internal knowledge of what it takes to win and perhaps a class or two in leadership, this salesperson suddenly becomes responsible for an entire department’s performance. Too often, the individual struggles in the new role and eventually falls prey to the sad problem of having been “promoted beyond his/her competence.”
It doesn’t have to be this way. That’s the contention of Jordan’s book, which he co-wrote with Michelle Vazzana. Sales organizations, they say, have been going about the sales management equation the wrong way and, in the process, damaging their departments and ruining some of their best people. We tracked Jordan down and asked him to talk to us about his book and about what sales teams should be doing differently. Here’s that conversation.
JJ: We observed that even though CRM is prevalent in organizations, and even though every sales organization turns out tons of data and reports, very few of them know what to do with the data. When we dug in and looked at that problem, we saw that at its root is the fact that frontline sales managers aren’t getting the training and support they need to really do their jobs well.
Here’s what happens. You take your best salesperson and you promote them to sales manager. It’s the best and worst day in the salesperson’s life. The CEO knows your name, even in a billion dollar company, you’re the one who’s gotten the money and the training and the coaching, and then you get promoted, and now what? All of a sudden, you’re just a person in the middle of the organization who doesn’t get the resources they need, has urgent requests coming in, salespeople who want coaching, marketing who wants access to your salespeople… you’re at the nexus of everything, but you’re not supported in any meaningful way.
JJ: Well, some of it is now. We published the book five years ago, and I like to think it generated a lot of the current interest in the role of the frontline sales manager. Unfortunately, the majority of the attention that’s being given to the sales manager isn’t the right sort. Sales managers have gotten training, but the training isn’t relevant to their day-to-day jobs. They get generic leadership training, and training on how to have difficult conversations.
But if you’re a sales manager and you wake up on Monday morning, you’re not going to be “leading” that day—you’re going to be managing a sales pipeline, assessing rep performance, and deciding which of a thousand priorities deserves your attention. It’s that day-to-day that’s missing from the training.
JJ: Well, to find that out, we did research, and that’s what the book is about. We discovered that most meetings between the salespeople and managers were about the pipeline, so we did a lot of research around what a healthy pipeline looks like, which carried itself into forecasting and other things. We uncovered the key activities that sales managers engage in, and identified the best practices for sales managers in modern organizations. Once you know what those key activities are and the best practices for accomplishing them, then you can build training programs that actually help sales managers perform well in their roles.
JJ: Not really. There are no new issues in sales management, just lots of unresolved issues.
JJ: One of the biggest battles we fight is that sales managers live in a reactive world. Email, text, phone calls, fires to fight, problems with customers, reports to generate, forecasts to be updated. So they’re living in a reactive stance, which isn’t productive. They don’t choose that stance, it just finds them. If sales managers are going to coach and develop their sales teams and get better at management, they have to take back control of their lives, and get into a proactive stance.
JJ: We ask managers, “If you had five more hours a week, what would you do with it?” The answer is always some form of coaching. If they had more time, they’d do more coaching. So part of the narrative with sales management is that they have to be more proactive. And they need education and support in order to be more proactive in prioritizing their time so they can do more of what they know is important.
JJ: That’s a big part of it. Then there are three big competencies that, in our research, we discovered have a bigger impact than anything else. We identified seventeen potential competencies, and asked sales managers to prioritize which have the largest impact on their ability to drive actual sales performance, and there were three that rose clearly to the top. Number one was business acumen, number two was assessing representative performance, and number three was pipeline management and sales forecasting.
JJ: Sales managers aren’t being ignored themselves, they just aren’t trained in the useful stuff, the things that matter to their performance. On that same list of competencies, way down the list was leadership, and way down the list was internal administration—yet these are the things sales managers are getting trained in.
JJ: It’s education. Understanding where the resources should be focused. I tell organizations, you don’t have to spend $2,000 per salesperson to get performance improvement. Spend $2,000 per sales manager instead, focus it on the things that matter, and you’ll get the same exact impact for a fraction of the investment.
JJ: Focus on the things that matter. Make sure your salespeople are calling on the right customers, pursuing the right opportunities, and that you’re spending your time productively with the salespeople who can use it. Don’t get distracted—time is running out, and there’s no more of it coming.
Jason Jordan is a partner of Vantage Point Performance, the world’s leading training firm focused exclusively on sales managers. He is a recognized thought leader in the domain of B2B sales and conducts ongoing research into the sales management best practices of world-class organizations. Jason’s extensive research led to the breakthrough insights in his best-selling book, Cracking the Sales Management Code, and his writing has been published by Harvard Business Review, Forbes, Entrepreneur, Sales & Marketing Management, and many other leading publications. He resides in Charlottesville, VA, where he lectures at the University of Virginia’s Darden Graduate School of Business.
George is the founder & CEO of Membrain, the Sales Enablement CRM that makes it easy to execute your sales strategy. A life-long entrepreneur with 20 years of experience in the software space and a passion for sales and marketing. With the life motto "Don't settle for mainstream", he is always looking for new ways to achieve improved business results using innovative software, skills, and processes. George is also the author of the book Stop Killing Deals and the host of the Stop Killing Deals webinar and podcast series.
Find out more about George Brontén on LinkedIn