By Noel E. Germain

Effective sales management is a process, just like selling is a process. Unfortunately, very few sales managers know how to implement the entire process.

When the majority of sales managers are promoted into their positions, they know little or nothing about sales management. Most haven’t an iota of training for their new job, either. Sounds preposterous, but it’s true.

Developing a successful sales team is one of the greatest challenges facing companies today. With increased turnover and soaring training costs, team development is a very expensive proposition. However, the fact is that companies without effective sales leadership almost always meet up with the limits of their growth.

The sales manager
The sales manager role is critical and the continued development of your sales manager is paramount. Like many salespeople before me, I was thrust into the position of sales manager way too soon. Allow me to shed some light into this dark area of management!

The million dollar question is: When do I hire a sales manager? Or, better yet, When can I afford to hire a sales manager? As is the case in many industries, certain situations require that the sales management hat be worn by the business owner. There can be many reasons why you might be reluctant to delegate the responsibility for sales.

Smaller companies seldom have a base of ‘automatic’ sales that just seem to flow, month in and month out. You wouldn’t want to have to cover the cost of 2,000 rentals with the income from only 1,500 so it is imperative that you pay close attention to the critical top line of your income statement.

Salespeople are investments and each must be looked at as a profit center. The sales manager must make certain that each salesperson is a committed, predictable sales generator.

The sales manager must be a field person, riding with their salespeople regularly, spending time with them and actually seeing what is going on. While it makes good sense that your sales manager must come from the field, keep in mind that top salespeople are a breed of their own and should be left to do what they do best. Realize that talent in one area doesn’t necessarily indicate talent in the other.

It is important for a sales manager to have some sales ability and to understand the function, but they do not have to be your top producer. They must understand the process and will probably come from your middle producers. Effective sales management is not a reward for past accomplishments; it is a responsibility for future action and results.

When dealing with salespeople you must have a plan, implement it and validate the system. When working with sales managers the same must apply. When you and your sales manager are on the same page, they are made part of the planning process and they now take ownership of it. Your plan becomes easily understood and accepted by the sales manager and is effectively measured and controlled by you.

You and your sales manager are now in a position to adapt to changing environments and to respond quickly to any errors and mistakes. When you and your sales manager understand the key areas of expertise for effective sales management you will better implement the company’s corporate marketing strategy.

Tried and true
Let’s define the areas of expertise necessary for effective sales management:

  • Recruiting and selection
  • Sales training
  • Selling tactics
  • Marketing strategies

Nothing new, you’re thinking – and you’re probably right. The required sales team management attitudes and abilities are not typically found in (non-sales) management areas. Chances are some of the ideas and selling tactics you were using were good but execution and follow-through were weak. Remember, like the sales process, the sales management process must be followed for it to work.

Recruiting and selection
To recruit effectively you must always be looking for people, not just when you have a vacancy. This part of the process requires patience, perseverance, and an understanding of what makes a good salesperson in your industry. Recruiting and selecting salespeople is what your sales manager must do in all ways, always.

They say that 95 percent of all people coming out of universities today do not aspire to become salespeople. For most people whose job it is to move water conditioners, place families in new homes, or provide financial services, the last thing they want to admit is that they sell, no matter where they come from.

Some companies opt to change their job titles to customer service, account executive, or marketing specialist in an effort to attract people to their business. Call it what you will, but when you go to someone’s home or business to present your product or service, you are a salesperson: you know it and they know it.

One huge mistake is that many companies have job descriptions for everyone except salespeople and one way you can reduce the risk of a bad hire is by developing a realistic job description. It will eliminate misunderstandings in the long run.

Despite the priority management places on hiring and retaining successful sales people, turnover is an unavoidable fact of life. The time to reduce that turnover is during the initial recruiting and selection process.

Reduction strategies include:

  • Checking references
  • Not hiring under pressure
  • Matching the person with the position
  • Not overselling the job
  • Setting Standards and Expectations
  • Establishing clearly defined duties
  • The utilization of multiple interviews
  • Getting opinions from your entire staff
  • Not always looking for the best
  • Not getting excited about hiring your competition

Sales training
Growth companies realize that the prime differentiator they have in today’s market place is the person in the field making the sales. Sales (and increased sales) almost always go to the best-trained salespeople. Why is it that so many sales managers don’t know how to train? Remember, sales management is a process, but very few sales managers understand the complete process.

Selling is still a lonely assignment and salespeople require a lot of personal contact. Sales management is a field position and the salespeople do not pay much attention to what you say; they pay very close attention to what you do. The single most important decision in field sales management is not how or what to manage, but who to manage.

The water conditioning industry’s real business happens at a kitchen table. It’s where you make all your presentations and that is where the excitement is. A significant amount of your training and recruiting should happen in the field.

  • I hear – I forget
  • I see – I remember
  • I do – I understand

New people require an inordinate amount of attention at first; therefore, design a starters’ program that rewards performance with dollars and recognition. Salespeople work for love and money and seldom get enough of either. Design your compensation plan with salespeople in mind. Set your standards and expectations high.

Many companies make the major mistake of not continuing to train their top salespeople. Top sales people usually have strong egos and drive; feed that by letting them participate in your training. These are the people you can least afford to lose. Take care of your top people, with perks, cash and recognition so they know you care and continue to work with your middle producers, for they usually make the best managers.

Weed the garden by letting your unproductive people go. You are probably doing them a huge favor. You are certainly doing your top producers and yourself one. For many sales managers, replacing sales people is just as difficult as making them accountable.

Selling tactics
In the 21st century, our window of opportunity is limited because of the difficulty in finding people at home. We must find ways to manage our time more effectively. Of primary tactical importance is the proper structuring of sales territories. This alone can dramatically increase sales volume.

Salespeople may be resistant to training they need – whether in the area of time management, role playing, attending sales meetings, etc. Some experts have estimated that salespeople spend 80 percent of their time in non-selling activities. Often, that time is spent driving from place to place!

Getting your sales staff to follow-up on their calls is another primary tactic. It is imperative that they know that to sell someone in today’s busy market, the job includes follow-up, follow-up and more follow-up.

When a territory is worked correctly the results are significant:

  • More time to follow-up
  • A shorter sales cycle
  • Better market penetration
  • Improved organization per day/week/month
  • Better and more efficient sales support
  • More selling opportunities
  • Access to the decision maker
  • More qualified prospects
  • Increased referrals
  • A predictable income

Many salespeople only know one way to sell. In difficult selling situations they have few options. Improved selling tactics will help you respond to change and strengthen your ability to penetrate the total market in terms of frequency and service.

Marketing strategy
Today, it is imperative that marketing and sales are on the same page. While there are companies with lousy salespeople that become successful and companies without a marketing plan that become successful they are aberrations. Most successful companies achieve that success by a combination of effective sales and marketing efforts. If sales or marketing managers allow their people to think they are not on the same team, the results could be disastrous.

Without a marketing plan with clearly defined goals, people will perform tasks instead of results-oriented activities. With a clear understanding of the sales management process, your sales manager will better implement the corporate marketing strategy. They will focus on selling tactics; on activities that make a difference and measure and manage those that lead to results.

A plan is never a finished product. Plans must remain flexible; they are based on what has happened so far, what is happening now and what we think will happen in the future. Plans must be realistic and your sales manager must be part of that planning.

A wine salesman, a veteran salesperson with more than 11 years in the wine business, told me a story about his company bringing in an outfit to help the salespeople improve their performance. He said it was the best group of people he had ever been involved with. It was the first time in years he felt they were talking to him and understood what he went through everyday. Everyone was excited – until the VP did everything the opposite from what they were taught.

You, your salespeople and the sales manager must be on the same page at all times. No group can succeed effectively without the active involvement of the person they report to. Everyone must be made aware of the expected results; the duration of the marketing campaign; its cost and how it will be funded. What is needed to implement it, who will be responsible and how the results will be tracked must be understood by all.

It is more difficult to get in front of good prospects today and when we do, we find them to be more savvy and demanding. You have one of the best sales presentations any industry has to offer. Seek ways to market your product more effectively so your people get to demonstrate the advantages more often.

Marketing helps to fuel the firm’s growth and provides direction for salespeople to reach goals and objectives. A marketing plan is essential to put your business plan into motion and keep you on the right track.

You work hard to build your business and as it grows you must develop your-self a sales manager. You wouldn’t use a dentist without a degree – don’t hire a sales manager without understanding the process and how to implement it effectively.

Directing a sales manager is a lot easier than managing seven individual salespeople. You’ll break through the bonds of frustration to a stage of growth that is truly amazing. To achieve significant growth, we must simplify and streamline everything we do.

Put the pressure on the system and stress the rewards for doing a good job, not the penalties for bad work. Tell them how to do better, rather than what they did wrong. There is room for differences of opinion but not dissension. There are many people who have not had the advantage of good supervision, good environment or good training. Set your standards high.

Most problems can be traced to poor communication which is probably true with any employee, but certainly critical with salespeople. Communication grows in a climate of trust and confidence. Sales managers must listen to their salespeople and you must be on the same page with him/her. Your people will be influenced not by what you say but by what you do.Look for better ways to do things, rather than reasons why they cannot be done.

The past 20 years have been decades of tremendous changes. No business can stand still: it either goes ahead or lags behind. Great sales managers set the bar high with their own work ethic and they lead in change management. A sales manager is a master of change who doesn’t follow yesterday’s rules when today’s are different.

Effective sales management is a process and sales is a managed function, not a manager’s duty. With a better understanding of the sales management process, you will be able to build sales and develop yourself a sales manager. A sales manager understands the field and makes time to walk that field with their people. No activity management system, SFA, or CRM can take the place of the field.

About the author
Noel Germain has more than 30 years of real-world sales and sales management experience. As both a national sales manager and an independent business owner, he has trained hundreds of salespeople and sales managers. He is recognized for his expertise in the area of sales management. Contact him at 720-289-0401 email germain_associates@msn.com web. Noelgermain.com

ESMS Workshops
Founded by Germain, ESMS has identified four crucial areas of expertise for effective sales leadership. Recruiting, sales training, selling tactics and marketing strategies are the four key ingredients for a successful sales management process. ESMS workshops also tie in activity management, coaching, how to hold motivating sales meetings, how to make salespeople accountable and how to build your sales manager into a sales leader. For a current workshop schedule or to arrange a customized session at your location.

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