We were recently involved in training a group of sales managers. In his opening address to the group the program leader made a really telling statement when he reminded the group that even though they were highly successful sales managers, like most other sales managers, they had very little sales management training.
A quick survey of the group showed everyone present had attended numerous sales training sessions and some had been given financial management and marketing training but none had been to a formal sales management course to learn the eight key functions of sales management.
This omission isn’t unique to that company. We have seen it time and time again. Companies invest in training their salespeople, giving them ample product, skills and behaviour training. In most instances the training results in improved sales performance and some of the salespeople who had the training eventually get promoted to sales managers.
But somewhere in corporate thinking there is a gap. Salespeople manage customer needs, interactions and expectations and they get training for that. Sales managers manage people (usually the most difficult group, ie salespeople) and systems, processes and protocols. But they don’t, according to corporate thinking, need to be trained (or retrained) for that role. Then companies wonder why, at some point in their journey, sales seem to flag. The team loses focus and, generally speaking, business development costs more than it should.
Very different skill sets
Salespeople have a complex role to perform. They usually perform a number of major functions – business development, managing margins, crafting, delivering and integrating solutions, and promoting their organisation with their customers. All of these activities focus on ways to improve sales penetration and capture an increased share of spend of their customers. Sales managers on the other hand, when they are not being pushed to become “super salespeople”, but rather trained then allowed to do their job, are involved in a totally different range of activities including:
Creating and manage sales systems, processes and protocols
Supporting salespeople in the field without selling themselves
Instilling discipline that sustains momentum and focus
Developing, implement and managing sales strategies
Stimulating and managing change
Developing, training and coaching salespeople in their teams
Selecting salespeople for their team
Manage sales performance, budgets and targets
All of these are learned competencies rather than inherent abilities and none are the skills, techniques or methods taught in sales training. Getting the most as an effective sales manager depends on three things that general managers – most of whom have little more than a theoretical understanding of sales and selling – need to consider:
First off is the no-brainer – sales management is about leading people, not selling! While a sales manager who has a successful track record in selling has the credibility to lead, selling is not the core competence – leadership is. That means that sales managers need to be taught more about leadership, developing a vision and gaining the commitment of the people in their team, than about how to win over a difficult customer. It also means that sales managers need to understand the challenges in the field so that they can provide the direction their teams need.
Secondly, sales management is about instilling a disciplined approach to selling. A sales team without discipline is like a footy team without a coach – no one is sure what their role is or how to pass the ball to someone closer to the goal post. Discipline ensures that everyone in the team knows their role and what they have to do to be good. And keeping that momentum up is what sales managers should be investing their time in.
Finally, sales managers are coaches. Their primary role is to get the sales team to play at maximum levels for the longest possible time. That means they should be working with the sales team to understand what drives each individual and then using that knowledge to help their team members be the best they can be.
When sales managers are trained to perform these functions, as opposed to being super salesmen and women, the team flourishes, the company wins and customers get the best service possible. And that’s worth investing in.