In dealing with people—something a sales manager certainly must do—the first thing you must admit is just how difficult it is to change people. Ask yourself: Have you ever tried to really change someone? Then ask yourself: Did you succeed? If you answered “Yes,” great! But the vast majority would answer “no” to this second question. This is doubly true for trying to change someone simply and only on a professional level—in their job.
It is extremely common for sales managers to dive in and attempt to strengthen sales rep weaknesses. For example, a rep is strong at bringing in leads but weak in closing. The sales manager does everything possible to strengthen the rep as a closer. Another example: the rep is a great closer, but lousy at nurturing and “heating up” leads. The sales manager works frantically to strengthen the rep at lead nurturing.
The sales manager’s motivation for this is to make the sales rep better—which is great. But let’s perhaps make life easier for both the sales manager and the sales rep. If someone is really good at something, wouldn’t it make more sense to strengthen that at which they’re good? Going back to our example above, your sales organization certainly needs leads, and you have someone who excels at bringing in leads. Would it not make more sense—not to mention require a lot less effort—to make them even better at bringing in leads? And every sales team needs great closers. Why take someone who is great at closing and pester them about lead nurturing? Make them an even better closer!
So the first decision a sales manager should make as regards people is not to try and change them, but to help them to continuously improve at being who they are, and doing what they do best.
Along with this, and as an overall guide, there should be some rules that the sales manager should follow and never violate:
- Never get in competition with your sales rep—don’t try and show them up by going after the same prospects or some such.
- Never overrule them—if they make a decision to use a certain strategy with a particular prospect, or a particular method, don’t dive in and make them do something else.
- Never sell for them—come in and do the deal because you are anxious because they’re not closing it. That’s a very fast way to lose their allegiance to you—and you need that allegiance if you’re going to have a sales team at all.
So what you actually want to do is figure out what your reps are doing right, and continuously assist them at getting better at it. How do you do that?
Sales is about effective results. So you need to measure those results. For example:
- How many (outbound) leads does a rep bring in? Of what quality?
- How many inbound leads does a rep convert?
- What is the average length of time for a rep’s lead conversion?
- What percentage of leads does a rep “heat up” and make ready for prime-time sales?
- What percentage of leads does a rep convert to opportunities?
- What is the average length of time it takes a rep to bring an opportunity to a successful close?
- What is a rep’s closing ratio—percentage of opportunities closed?
- How good is a rep at upselling? At cross-selling?
(Note that there are many more results that should be measured, and we cannot cover them all here. These are just a few examples.)
A CRM should provide you tools with which you can rapidly see how reps are doing in each of these areas and more. Pipeliner certainly does—and in fact we even provide an Archive (we’re the only CRM that does) in which you can instantly see why sales were won or lost, where they stalled in the sales process, and any other data you need to analyze lost sales.
You’re under an enormous amount of pressure to perform. In order to do so, you have to not only know the best performers on your team, but at what they excel.
Freeing Them Up
Once you know who is great at what part of sales, you need to free them up of things that are weighing them down. For example, if I were coming in as a sales manager, once I had figured out who the best performers were, I would remove extraneous administration from their jobs. That may seem unfair, but both you and they have numbers to make. Give them the space to make those numbers.
A Worthwhile System
The next major effort you should make is to create a system that truly motivates your salespeople to sell. A salesperson that is really happy with a commission structure is going to bend over backwards to make sales—and the primary benefactor is that salesperson’s employer.
Conversely if you and your company are only offering a structure that makes salespeople mildly happy or not happy at all, how hard are they really going to work for you? And how hard are you going to have to work to motivate them to make their numbers?
In an exaggerated example, people spend millions of dollars a year in an effort to avoid tax penalties—it’s a system that nobody likes participating in. Imagine yourself trying to happily get people to pay taxes, and you’ll get an idea of what it’s like to try and motivate people to take part in a system they’re not fond of.
A great commission structure is especially important when it comes to your top producers. When a rep is already doing an outstanding job, and you come along and ask him or her to do even more, their first thought is going to be, “Why should I?” And it’s true—if they are already at the top of their game percentage-wise, why should they go the extra mile?
But It’s Up to Them, Too
Given a decent commission structure, a worthwhile product and an even mildly healthy market, it is then truly up to the reps to sell. And just as you are watching and monitoring to see who is a top performer in what area of sales, so you must watch for those that just aren’t pulling their weight.
Of course, give them chances. Coach them. Mentor them. But once you have done that and you see no improvement, you have to be willing to let them go. Otherwise you cannot grow.
A company is not a social institution. Sure you can make friends while you’re there—but making friends is not even close to the main purpose of your company. Your company is there to make money, to succeed and to create jobs for those that will do them, not to support people who cannot do a good job.
As a sales manager you have quotas to meet. If you have people there who are not producing you must rid yourself of them. As hard as that is, you must do it.
A Non-Team Sport—With a Team Spirit
Even with a decent commission structure, and happy and great producers on your team, part of your job will still be to cheer them on, just as a coach does with a team.
Which is kind of an odd thing. Sales is really not a team sport. It’s not like soccer, hockey or football—it isn’t a group of people all cooperating to move to a single goal. People have tried to operate sales teams this way, but it never works. You’re never going to get a group of salespeople to agree to be paid a “team commission” or some such if the team reaches a goal.
But even so, a sales manager has to create a team spirit. And because a sales team is composed of such vastly different individuals, all self-motivated, it’s definitely a tricky business.
Building a Team
A sales manager, evaluating, coaching, and mentoring personnel, must build a team. That team is constantly shifting as people come and go, so in addition to the other skills already named, hiring and firing must be in that skillset, too. You hire the best you can find, get them into positions they’re great at, into a commission structure they’re happy with, get them all fired up and selling. If they don’t make it, you cut them loose. The ones that do, you do everything you can to help.
A major challenge in the U.S. is that a sales rep remains with a company an average of two years. Given that short time frame, a sales manager must make a sales rep productive long before that 2-year mark, when the rep might possibly move on.
Despite the pressures, a team cannot be created overnight. Even when a team is composed of superstar players, it still takes time to build that team up so they are a championship team. A fantastic example outside of sales is the Chicago Bulls basketball team in the 1990s, Michael Jordan was drafted to the team out of college in 1984, but the team didn’t become “unstoppable” until 1991. In comparison, a sales manager is expected to build a championship team in less than 2 years.
It’s already a problem that sales is not viewed as a real profession, in which it takes some time to train. You would never expect to bring a doctor into a specialty area in a hospital and expect them to perform expertly right off the bat. There’s an idea out there that sales doesn’t require much training, and that anyone can get up and running in it in very little time. We don’t spend as much time monitoring and mentoring them as we should.
Beneath that, there is a view that sales, as a profession, doesn’t require much intelligence. Some movies, such as the legendary Glengarry Glen Ross, portray salespeople as unskilled pestering people who, when they lose, “just should have called more.” The media has portrayed salespeople as money-driven, low-class people. The reality is that salespeople are crucial for a society, because it is they who comprise and create a real middle class. They create stability within the society.
Perception is Everything
It’s more than just a great idea for you to be a sales manager that salespeople like, respect, and want to work for.
In today’s sales environment, perception is everything. Your sales reps have reputations that rapidly spread online–good or bad. Guess what? As a sales manager, so do you! If you are perceived as a manager that helps, that reps can rely on, then you’ll be able to rely on your reps, too. And they’ll be able to recommend you, as one of their customers would recommend them.