Insight for More Excellent Sales Management in 2013

This week Inc.com announced that bad managers cost the economy $360 billion in lost productivity annually. Hopefully, your sales managers aren’t making any personal contributions to this statistic. Either way, we thought it couldn’t hurt to assemble some collective insight for better sales management as we move into 2013.

ONE: Understand the skill set of a good sales manager, and fill the role accordingly.

Many sales managers were promoted from the position of sales rep. This isn’t a great idea. In fact, Peak Sales Recruiting says there are at least six basic reasons to NOT promote a top-performing rep to a position as manager. Jonathan Farrington, a globally recognized sales thought leader, agrees — as he points out, the successful attributes of a sales manager usually don’t align with the successful attributes of a top performing rep. Make sure you’re hiring sales managers based on management skills, and not solely on a track record of sales success.

TWO: Make sure your sales managers are practicing good coaching habits. 

A pre-call briefing, a ride-along to observe the sales call, and a post-call coaching session are all best practices for coaching recommended by Norman Behar at Sales Readiness Group. Are your sales managers actively involved in these activities? Or are they too busy running from one fire to the next as the end of each month and each quarter looms large? If your managers don’t know how to coach (or are simply not making time for it), you’re almost certainly cultivating discontent among your reps. So perhaps it’s no surprise that research from Oracle (quoted by Chuck Penfield at the most recent Sales & Marketing 2.0 Conference in San Francisco) has indicated that 89% of sales reps want more coaching from their managers.

In a Sales 2.0 world, managers who aren’t invested in coaching are going to lose out on the rewards you can reap by combining science with soft coaching skills. According to PI Worldwide President and CEO Nancy Martini, who also spoke at the Sales & Marketing 2.0 Conference, the ability to combine analytics with coaching holds unprecedented opportunities for sales managers to build more effective and productive sales teams that generate higher revenue. Clearly, coaching is a vital aspect of sales management and should not be ignored.

THREE: Make sure sales managers aren’t letting underperforming reps linger.

Christopher Cabrera, CEO of Xactly Corporation, recently blogged about his company’s joint research project with MIT which is examining data related to about 200 million transactions handled by Xactly each month. One early takeaway from initial analysis is that sales managers are probably hanging on to bad sales reps for longer than necessary. To quote from Cabrera’s post:

Our hypothesis is that many managers, if on the borderline of attaining their quotas, tend to keep low-performing salespeople on the books for too long. Those managers would rather keep underperformers on the books to generate even a few sales rather than the guaranteed zero sales they’d get if they fired the bottom tier.

This can obviously be a difficult call for a sales manager to make — and an even more difficult conversation to have once the reality sets in. But after you’ve done all you can to give lagging reps a leg up, it’s better to face the problem head on than to sweep the problem under the rug.

FOUR: Embrace the virtual meeting.

Based on her in-depth survey of 150 managers, Yael Zofi, founder and CEO of AIM Strategies told Selling Power magazine that “virtual teams are here to stay.” In fact, at least 70 percent of those she surveyed reported seeing a rise in virtual teams. Obviously, the virtual element of management has some very basic implications for process and operations. For example, take your weekly sales meetings. Are your sales managers holding frequent and regular meetings with field sales reps, no matter where they’re located? Your sales managers should be using video conferencing tools (like PGi’s iMeet, for example) to facilitate more effective and collaborate meetings, no matter where meeting participants are located.

Incidentally, if sales managers are already making use of video conferencing for meetings with reps, then it stands to reason that reps can use the same technology to meet with customers and prospects as well. That sets up your sales manager to increase team productivity and possibly win rates.

In the end, a bad sales manager adds up to a dysfunctional sales team populated by unhappy reps. And unhappy reps will only stick around for so long — the same Inc.com infographic shows that 65% of employees said they’d take a new boss over a pay raise.

Consider, too, that the workforce is fast becoming populated by Gen Y workers, who tend to prefer feedback from coaching and collaborative work environments. An investment in upping your standards for sales managers will put you on the path to success now and for years to come.

What are your best practices for sales management? Share your thoughts in the comments section. 

About Lisa

Lisa is Editorial Director at Selling Power.
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