When I was recently coaching a group of sales managers in preparation for a sales force transformation, they quickly advised me they did not have the time to do any more than they were already doing. The demands on their time were far exceeding the usual working day and week.
They were an industrial products sales force with a wide geographical area to cover. The products were complex and a mainstay for many manufacturing organizations. It was a good business for many years but had stagnated for the past two or three years. The sales managers were mature and had held the positions for an average of ten years each. They industry experience and product knowledge was deep.
With the immediate barrier placed down and their minds closing quickly to any sense of doing things differently, it was time to explore what was really going on in their day. After some discussions regarding the tasks they were involved in, it became clear to me that they were not in control of their time and their priorities were definitely not aligned to the business requirements. In fact, they were applying an idealism of management that is most typically of untrained professional sales management.
We continued the discussion and moved to the subject of coaching their teams. Today that is an integral part of achieving sales force transformation and a skill they have to be applying. Interestingly, although they were excessively busy, they reported the spent only about 5-10% of their time coaching and I doubted that was real and it was potentially much lower. When then discussed field trips and the outcome was their attendance was more related to customer problems or “need to be seen” at major meetings basis rather than any designated coaching sessions.
This sales management team was not unusual and you can walk into many companies and get the same report card. So let’s look at what they were actually doing as part of their role and its value to the role of sales manager.
1. Catching the Monkey. This is a common trap that all sales managers (and people) fall into. If you want to be busy then become a monkey catcher. Monkey catchers solve other people’s problems for them and with your added value of being a manager; you can typically solve them faster than someone else. People become so impressed with your ability to solve problems they give you even more. The problem is that is not your job. Your role is getting things done through others.
2. Less is More. You want to be accepted by your team as a good leader and manager and not be categorised as one of those old time authoritarian leaders. Every person has a desire to be accepted or needed by others on some level. You didn’t like being managed so you are not going to do it your team so you limit the sales meetings to monthly and allow people to demonstrate their talents in the market by working autonomously. The problem with that is, ‘what do you actually do for a job if the team are self-managed?’ We are not advocating authoritarian management, but we are advocating leadership and guidance.
3. Decision-Maker Extraordinaire. You want to be seen to be as a good decision-maker. You take action on things and you are always making decisions, quickly, decisively and making the hard calls. Problem is, if you had thought the problem or situation through before making the first decision, you may not have to have made the extra ten reactive decisions trying to pull the situation around to where it should be. Decision-making is not about speed, it is about the quality of the decision and its relationship to the overall strategy.
4. My Team is Experienced. You hired or have taken over a team of experienced talent. They know what they are doing and have deep industry experience. They don’t need coaching as they are on the top of their game. Well the world is changing rapidly and the top seller yesterday may not be the top seller tomorrow. Your role is to keep them at the top of their game and ensure they have the latest and best skills possible to be competitive. Yes, experienced sellers don’t need to hear that same grinding sales training that most offer, over and over again. They need specific skills that keep them attuned to their customer audience and the seniority of those customers. They need to understand the customer’s priorities in purchasing rather than subjecting customers to rapidly dating sales methods.
5. Product Knowledge is King. If this was the case then there would not be an ineffective sales force in the world. Product knowledge is a must for credibility, development of solutions, understanding customer needs and making sound recommendations. Product knowledge is part of skill set and not the entire skill set. A person that does not understand the sales process, is not working to a proven playbook, spends many hours in front of the wrong customers and practicing poor sales behaviors is of little value to the company. Your role is to ensure you maximize the value of the product knowledge and have the person’s sales behavior perfectly aligned to the sales strategy.
This type of sales management is acting in opposition to what the role actually is and they are not operating with any real business thinking in mind. They are working within the team and not leading and guiding them to deliver the strategy of the business.
For this sales management team the transformation will potentially be greater for them than their sales force team members. How much transformation would you personally need to go through to improve your team?