I have written many times about Sales Managers who I believe are the most undervalued, under-trained, under-supported (I could go on) resource in most organizations. And yet, they can and should be that organization’s greatest revenue multiplier.
But the reality is often so different, most sales managers are thrust into their positions after being a successful salesperson. But as we know only too well from sports, the best players don’t always make the best managers. Most companies neglect to properly profile competency, nurture talent, and train the best prospects among their sales ranks for a role that’s very different than what they’re used to doing. Instead, many newly appointed sales managers are given some cursory “training” and perhaps some “mentoring” from an established sales manager or leader (both of whom, in reality, are too busy to ever really do it effectively). So, in essence, this pivotal and critical role within an organization is left to sink or swim, and the attrition rates, as a result, are quite staggering. In fact, research has consistently shown that the average tenure of B2B sales leaders is 18 months. Yes, a year and a half on average!
So that is why the role of Sales Manager can sometimes be the worst job: because they are left floundering. They are suddenly considered an annoyance by the salespeople they are supposed to manage (who two minutes ago were peers which they don’t let the poor manager forget either), and upper management is constantly badgering them for reports, forecasts and yes, immediate positive revenue impact.
Sadly we know where this all leads, and that is to many a sales manager believing that their best hope of survival is to deliver that “immediate impact” by throwing themselves full force into the latter stages of the pipeline and trying to become “super-closers”. Naturally this has the dual negative impact of alienating salespeople while also neglecting the early stages of the pipeline. Ultimately this combination will lead to a dip in morale and more than likely a dip in sales. So it is not hard to see why sales management can be seen as the worst job and why 18 months is the average tenure.
So with the odds stacked against it, how can sales management become the best job?
Well to start with we need to step up and help our sales managers by providing the training and tools that will allow them to succeed. We also need to give them a little breathing space at the beginning of their tenure to allow them to focus on what will ultimately have a greater impact in the long run. So here is my list of what to do in order to transform sales management into the best job and into the revenue multiplier it should be:
#1: Management Training
Any type of management requires some training. It does not come naturally to most and rarely develops organically in an optimum fashion. Learning to be a manager through trial and error can cause a lot of headaches including turnover of good salespeople and potentially HR or legal issues. So weigh the cost of some upfront management training against the cost of trial and error..no brainer, right?
#2: Coaching Training
Everyone agrees that coaching salespeople is one of the most important tasks of a sales manager–but how many organizations teach them how to coach? Coaching is not telling, nor is it showing/demonstrating (“Just watch how I handle this sales call, you take a back seat and observe!!). In many ways it is the opposite. It requires the sales manager taking a back seat, and then exploring the outcomes of sales calls or role-plays with the salesperson. The sales manager allows (and guides) them to draw their own conclusions, highlighting where they do well and uncovering their own shortcomings. This is a highly skilled undertaking that a sales manager needs to be trained how to execute effectively – so again, give them coaching training! Think of it this way, the investment in training your sales manager to be an effective sales coach will pay-off with every incremental improvement of your sales team, so over time your investment will be miniscule compared to the return.
Ok, so it is all very well to train your sales manager in how to manage and how to coach effectively, but you also need to give them the tools to do so. Regardless of the size of a sales team, the sales manager cannot be expected to really understand how each salesperson is performing across each of their opportunities unless they have some visibility into those sales cycles. In today’s world of multi-modal communication (face-to-face, phone, email, text, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. etc.) it is completely impractical to manually try to get this visibility by laboriously trawling through a cascade of emails or holding countless reviews with the salesperson themselves.
The Reality of Sales Managers
The reality is that quite often something unusual happens during a sales cycle that is really an anomaly or a by-product of unforeseen or uncontrollable circumstances (you know the type–a reorg, budget gets pulled by senior management out of the blue, and so on and so forth). Anomalies teach us very little other than to remind us that a deal is never done until the check has cleared! But if the sales manager is relying on reviews with the salesperson or email threads, then it is more likely the focus will end up being on the anomalies.
It is trends that provide us with real insights and therefore, for a sales manager to be successful in managing, coaching, guiding their salespeople, they need to have the tools to undercover trends. This is why having the right CRM is so critical. The CRM should be able to deliver insights based on trends, such as:
- how do salespeople perform at each stage of a sales process, do some (or even all) struggle at a particular stage and what can be done to mitigate this?
- do some salespeople sell more of a particular product than others and if so why?
- what is a sales team’s (or individual salesperson’s) win/loss ratio?
- which country, region, team or individual is performing best (and indeed worst) across key sales KPIs?
- how does this quarter’s performance compare with last quarter’s?
Being able to extract such insights from the CRM means that the sales manager can be targeted in where they focus their time and energy and surgical in their interventions. What a very different scenario than the typical one which has the frantic sales manager running around trying to put out fires!
So let’s all step up and turn the role of sales manager into the satisfying, impact role it should be – let’s make it the best job, one that people aspire to have rather than dread that they default into. Invest in training and after that invest in some more training! Then provide them with the best tools possible to uncover the performance insights they need to make a difference to their sales teams.
As you can probably tell I am very passionate about elevating and supporting sales management and as such I am very proud of the contribution Pipeliner is making to this cause. In early November we will release Pipeliner Performance Insights which is designed to deliver the visibility and trend information to sales managers that I have been talking about.
View this short video trailer for what we are about to release!