In this article, I would like to discuss a very fundamental quality for someone’s successful conduct in life—that of virtues. Perhaps more than other more average fields, you really need virtues in sales management. The bottom line: if you don’t clearly understand how a sales manager needs to be poised for the future, you reduce the chances of creating value and growth. It is for this purpose I have laid out these virtues.
These virtues are not innate qualities of human beings—they are qualities which, if put into practice, bring about a better life for the person and those around them. They are qualities of responsible behavior. I only point this out because virtues will require actively and consciously bringing them to be—they will not just “show up” in a person’s character.
New Realms of Possibility
As we’ve seen over endless time, our perception of reality changes with new technologies. Thousands of years ago, trade routes opened up new fields of action for people and led to the emergence of specific technologies, such as seafaring. Global trade also enlarged the field of action for humankind, while making the world smaller. The exchange of goods and knowledge was the crucial driving force for the spread of these technologies. With aviation and finally space travel, our realms of possibility were expanded yet again by completely new dimensions. Today, it is IT that is opening up new realms of possibility for us in very practical ways.
Technology a Part of Everything
Today we are entering a new dimension—technology is now bearing down on us, quite literally. Anyone who has looked into the future of medicine knows that technical implants and IT will have an instrumental role to play in that field. Biotechnology is yet another chapter in the future story of medicine, and is causing us to question our very understanding of what is human. But medicine is just one staging area for the technological revolution that will overshadow even the Industrial Revolution.
The financial sector is another area where technology is bearing down on us, and where IT has a key part to play.
All of this leads to a very crucial question: Are we handling technology correctly? What standards guide our thinking and action?
Freedom Requires Responsibility
As we’ve seen in countless examples through the years—automobiles and aircraft being 2 obvious examples—technology can bring incredible degrees of freedom. But with all freedom, it must also be accompanied by responsibility.
Recently this medium has been used by criminals and terrorists to broadcast heinous crimes. This is the sort of behavior that aptly demonstrates freedom without responsibility.
In sales management terms, technology gives freedom to look in on sales reps and monitor what they’re doing, in considerable detail. The responsibility factor enters in with what the sales manager does with that data: it can be used for heavy control—or it can be used for actually enabling salespeople, as we will cover in more detail as we go.
The vast freedom brought about by today’s technology is what necessitates the virtues that I am laying out here. We need to have a responsible operating basis in order to proceed sanely and rationally with the broad array of technology available to us.
So that I am giving credit where credit is due, the pattern for these virtues goes back thousands of years, back to the Romans and from there back to the Greeks. They actually go back to Aristotle and Plato. For that reason you will see the Latin word for each virtue next to its English counterpart when first used.
Virtue 1: Wisdom (Latin: Sapientia)
What is wisdom? Contrary to what some might think, wisdom is not the same as intelligence. There are many extreme examples throughout history of despots who were highly intelligent but lacked any form of wisdom and were cruel and destructive as a result.
It could be said that wisdom is intelligence used with judgment.
In sales management, wisdom must be constantly exercised both in choosing people and in leading them.
An example of how wisdom comes into play in sales management is in the way CRM is used. For example, a sales manager could say to a sales rep, “I see you only made 10 calls today, made 1 lead and created no new opportunities.” But depending on the person, the use of such information might require a whole other approach—coaching and mentoring might have far better results than simply chastising the person.
Another part of that wisdom deals with when to be firm, and when to be more relaxed. If you’re constantly being firm and pushing on your team, you can exhaust them. On the other hand if you’re constantly relaxed and are too friendly, your team doesn’t respect you.
It should be pointed out that you’re not aiming for having your team fear you, but having them respect you.
Wisdom combined with technology (technology for forecasting and for achieving quotas) should result in activities. The end result is, you want them active.
Virtue 2: Fortitude (Latin: fortitudo)
Our next virtue is fortitude or courage.
The need for courage comes into play all throughout a sales manager’s job. As a sales manager, you need to confront your team. At the same time, you need guts to confront your boss, the COO, the manager, the board, and the directors.
You need the fortitude to do such confronting—and the wisdom (from the 1st virtue) to communicate.
You must be able to confront both the strong and the weak members of your team. Oftentimes the strong members, your “stars,” can be the harder ones to confront, because you might fear your best producers quitting. It’s always easier to go to the weak ones and tell them what they have to do—but fortitude requires being able to confront and handle both types.
It takes fortitude for many other things, too. Maybe you have to call a customer because a customer is ruining the salespeople, and he’s a big client and your salespeople need the help. It could be one of many, many things.
Virtue 3: Hope (Latin: Spes)
Most people think of hope as something done in the mind, with no action. But that is not what I mean by this particular virtue. In this instance, hope includes action. The kind of hope I mean includes and is connected to action.
For example, you as a sales manager will be issuing quotas, and working with each member of the team to get them achieved. Hope is that ingredient of optimism that communicates to the reps that you indeed believe they will make those quotas.
Your hope for the future, combined with the actions that you take to actually shape that future, is what, in the end, will bring that future about.
Virtue 4: Moderation (Latin: temperantia)
As we all know, moderation is a term the business world does not generally like to see. And it’s true—we certainly don’t want to “moderate” our financial results.
So how does moderation apply to sales management? It very aptly applies to the oceans of data that come into a sales organization. It applies especially to businesses that have no plan, and that let too much information be collected. That data, in turn, can no longer be retrieved or processed.
Moderation is therefore required when obligating employees to collect data. It is needed when using instruments and processes to increase the value of information that is collected, found and used. Moderation extends from the parameters set for data collection, through to the specific technology utilized for the collection, storage and analysis of that data.
Virtue 5: Fairness (Latin: Iustitia)
Fairness is a broad subject that relates back to the age-old subject of justice. Justice, as we have seen in today’s world, can go quite astray. So fairness and justice are very important subjects.
A sales manager must establish fairness, but not the kind of across-the-board fairness that some political candidates are calling for today. That kind of fairness—the same equality for everyone everywhere—just doesn’t exist.
In sales, there are different kinds of fairness in all different areas. There is fairness to your team, the individual, in compensation, in commissions, to the customer, and the other parts of the company.
Fairness, like wisdom and like just about any other virtue, requires responsibility. You must take that responsibility to be able to see what fairness is, and how it would be applied in any given situation.
In my opinion, a sales manager, if they are good, tries to balance between the different types of people in a team. You never have only superstars—you have good ones, you have middle ones, you mediocre ones, you have bad ones.
There is an old maxim about hiring: “Hire the best and fire the rest.” While that sounds great, it doesn’t reflect reality because you can’t hire only the best. You’ll always have people that are better, and you’ll always have people that are not that good—they might perhaps regularly fulfill their quotas but never outperform them—but you need these people, too.
You utilize fairness in dealing with each of these different types.
Virtue 6: Charity (Latin: Caritas)
What is charity? Is it when you don’t fire the person that is constantly underperforming? No. The reality is, charity has nothing to do with someone who is lazy. Charity stops before laziness.
But if you see someone who is really trying, it could be you might give him or her another chance. Charity certainly does mean giving people chances, giving people options—but only when they deserve it. When they don’t it makes no sense to keep them.
An example of where charity should be applied might be when someone is in a job they are not doing well at, but are really and truly trying yet struggling. At least for their effort they deserve the opportunity to be placed in another position in which they might excel.
Charity also extends to the qualities of partnership and respect needed to deal with your team and your colleagues. It also includes the spirit of collaboration with other departments and partners.
Virtue 7: Trust (Latin: Fides)
Then we get to trust, which is the most important virtue of all.
In a conversation recently with my sales team, I said that the most important thing that you have to do with the buyer is to understand the perception of the buyer. Once you understand that, the next thing you have to build is trust. When you build trust with the prospect, the prospect is telling you their fears, their problems, what goes into the selection process, and why they are evaluating solutions.
For the prospect, it could be about security. Maybe they’re worried about choosing a solution that doesn’t work and they might get fired. You don’t know. So when you as a seller have built trust, the buyer will start telling you what the real issues are. In that moment, you sell within the framework of trust.
In sales management, the most important thing is to build trust with your reps. If they don’t trust you and you don’t trust them, how can you be a team?
As a final word on trust, I will quote renowned management expert and economist Fredmund Malik:
“What is meant by the integrity of character? What is a personality with integrity? Books could be written on this subject, and indeed many have been. Much of what is written is terribly obscure, impenetrable and metaphysical, and very complicated. All the philosophical discussion of this topic boils down to something very simple: People must mean what they say, and act accordingly.
“Consistency is just as important as predictability. Most people understand trust as a general, somewhat unclear emotion or feeling. Though trust may be accompanied by emotions, this does not necessarily have to be the case, and emotions are, above all, not particularly dependable. Trust is built on the foundation of predictability and dependability.”
I hope these virtues can assist you in better-performing your role as a sales manager.