My early management experiences were in sales management roles. I believe the sales function is the most challenging department to manage, and I have a special empathy for the sales managers at my client firms.
Sales managers are in the hot seat for achieving the company revenue goal – comprised of selling a certain number of units while maintaining pricing levels and profit margins. These results are easy to measure and the entire company is counting on you to deliver them. More than any other function, your performance is under the spotlight.
To achieve these results, you need to “recruit, train, coach, and support” a sales team full of A-players.
All 4 of these elements are required. In this article, I touch on the 3rd element: “coach“, which is the area most neglected by managers at my client firms.
It’s too easy to get stuck behind your desk playing the support role when you are the sales manager, but the highest leverage, highest ROI use of your time is to “coach” sales reps to be more successful in their interactions with customers.
“Outside” the company is the only area where revenue results occur, and “outside” is where sales managers need to focus most of their attention. It’s too easy to get dragged “inside” and spend your time on internal matters – building content, analyzing data, attending meetings, etc.
To correct for this, I encourage clients to track activity metrics for sales managers to ensure they spend enough time coaching sales rep interactions with customers “outside” the company. For example:
- Number of days spent in the field accompanying sales reps on customer meetings per month
- Number of sales rep phone call recordings listened to and critiqued per week
- Number of sales rep emails to customers read and critiqued per week
Ideally, this requires a CRM system where all phone calls are recorded and emails are attached to customer records.
This is not micro-managing. This is doing your job. Generals learned long ago that they need to “go see” whether their orders have been carried out, and not rely on written reports or verbal assurances. In my experience, most sales managers are not “going and seeing” anywhere close to frequently enough!
What you will see and hear will probably horrify you: sales process not followed, poor questioning technique, wayward brand messaging, customer buying opportunities missed, outdated marketing collateral used, and inappropriate discounts offered – just to name a few.
As a young sales manager, I set myself activity metrics for # days in the field, and # of call notes audited per rep, per month. I would come up with a long list of criticisms for every customer interaction I observed/audited. In the spirit of “radical candor”, I then proceeded to unload all my criticisms on my poor sales reps. This just frustrated both parties.
A wise mentor taught me to pick “1 thing” at a time – and coach the sales rep to improve that 1 thing, rather than bombard them with a shopping list of items. Provide remedial training on that 1 thing and coach them to achieve the required standard before addressing any other shortfalls.
So moving forward, I documented the 1 thing each sales rep needed to improve each month and made it my focus to coach them on it. This greatly improved my management effectiveness.
What activity metrics for sales managers do you track in your company to optimize the coaching requirements for each sales rep?
Until next time…
Stephen Lynch is the author of the award-winning book; “Business Execution for RESULTS: A practical guide for leaders of small to mid-sized firms” winner in the “Management” category of the 2014 Small Business Book Awards in the USA.
He’s also written articles on strategy and management for The Economist magazine.
Need a Strategic Plan Facilitator for your next planning session? A Business Coach to help you scale your business? Management Training to upskill your team? Contact Stephen to discuss your needs.