Training for sales managers needs to go beyond traditional leadership and coaching; it should emphasize the manageable.
We've come to acknowledge that different types of salespeople have different types of roles. For example, some salespeople manage a handful of major accounts, while others oversee vast territories with hundreds of customers and prospects. Typically these different types of sellers would be armed with different types of skills and tools.
What we haven't yet come to appreciate is that there also are different types of sales managers. Depending on the type of salespeople they manage, their required skill set also will differ. For instance, the manager of the major account rep will need to have strategic discussions with that seller about strategic alignment with his customer. Account management also has a heavy project management component, so the manager will need to be able to help the rep develop and execute a long-term plan.
However, the manager of the territory rep might need a completely different set of skills. For example, if a sales manager is managing a sales representative with 200 accounts in a fairly large geographic area, prioritization of sales effort is critical to sales success. That territory rep would need help segmenting the customer base, determining appropriate call cycles, and then mapping out a plan to cover the territory. Even though many organizations have segmentation strategies, we often see a lack of follow-up between sales managers and sales reps to determine if the sellers executed according to plan. In short, if the management tasks differ from sales manager to sales manager, so should their training.
In our research, we uncovered four salesperson activities that must be managed differently: account management, territory management, opportunity management, and call management (see table).
Account management is applicable when a seller has a few large accounts. Large accounts typically represent multiple opportunities for a seller and are worthy of a greater amount of planning. If an account manager has only three or four accounts, it is not necessary to segment them or develop differential call cycles. It is important, however, to strategically align the seller's solutions with the account's strategic objectives. It also is necessary to have a broad base of contacts in different business units within the same account. Account management training typically involves in-depth planning to include
• Different business units
• Strategic initiatives by business unit
• Key players and their political ties
• Action plans to navigate each business unit to generate new opportunities.
Territory management is applicable when the number of assigned accounts in a territory is too large for the seller to treat all accounts in the same manner. Segmentation and prioritization methods are critical elements of any training on territory management. Territory management training typically involves
• Prioritizing accounts
• Designing call patterns
• Executing calls according to the desired patterns.
Opportunity management is applicable when sellers are pursuing deals that require multiple interactions over time to close a sale. If a seller is involved in a transactional sale that is typically closed in one interaction, opportunity management is not relevant. Opportunity management involves educating sellers and sales managers on the process a buyer navigates when purchasing the seller's solution.
If it is effective, it also will compare and contrast the specific company sales process with the buying process. To effectively navigate an opportunity, the seller must understand the milestones and activities at each stage of the sales process and possess the necessary skills to move the customer through the various stages to a close.
Call management is necessary when a seller is involved in sales in which each sales call is important to the outcome of the deal and each interaction is different enough to warrant planning. If all calls are roughly the same, then planning for each interaction is impractical and unhelpful.
Depending on which types of processes a sales manager supervises, she will need a different set of skills and tools to manage her team appropriately. One-size-fits-all training doesn't work for varied salespeople, nor will it work for varied sales managers.
Therefore, the first task in designing relevant, practical sales manager training is to understand the unique management tasks of the individuals. Then build sales training that has direct applicability to what he does from Monday to Friday, which is to manage his sellers.
It has been our experience that when managers are exposed to training that equips them to better execute their day-to-day activities, they are extremely willing participants. Many even thank us. Research and experience tells us that generic sales management training needs to be a thing of the past.
You must have rhythm
Sales managers exist in a chaotic world, primarily because they serve two demanding groups—the salespeople below and the executives above. Consequently, they live reactive lives. They respond with haste to every fire their sellers encounter, and they feed constant information up the chain of command. Sales managers always tell us that no two days are ever the same—but perhaps they should be.
One of the key insights from our research and work with clients is that sales managers need more structure. It's difficult to coach a salesperson when the seller's hair is on fire. Unless some structure is given to a sales manager's week, ad hoc interactions will populate the day.
We have spent a significant amount of time observing manager-seller interactions, and we've found that little coaching takes place in ad-hoc discussions. Such discussions are hurried interruptions where the goal is to solve immediate problems, not to look farther down the road. Effective management and coaching is best done in a formal environment with an agenda and two parties who are prepared for the conversation.
Therefore, sales manager training needs to help them structure what they do during the course of a day, week, month, and year. They need a management process or rhythm to quell the chaos and let them interact with their sellers in an effective, value-added way.
Most managers we know need help thinking through the management rhythm that is right for their teams. How often do they need to meet? What is the purpose of each meeting? Are they best conducted one-on-one or in a group? What are the inputs and outputs of the interaction?
Sales managers need an operating manual that defines their specific jobs. They have been taught how to lead and coach; now they need to learn how to manage. An example of applicable structure and associated management rhythm for a sales manager managing a group of territory sales reps might include quarterly and monthly meetings.
Quarterly territory reviews with each sales rep. This quarterly meeting might be two hours in length; incorporate a segmented and prioritized list of accounts that the seller has prepared; and provide the venue for a facilitated discussion about the selected segmentation, top accounts in each segment, and then a desired call pattern over the course of the next three months.
Monthly one-on-one meetings with each sales rep. These monthly one-on-one discussions might be one hour in length, and include a discussion about overall pipeline health for the given seller, as well as a more extensive discussion about two or three early-stage opportunities. As appropriate, each of these opportunity coaching discussions may include a specific planning discussion for any upcoming sales call associated with this opportunity.
Clearly the comprehensive management rhythm would include additional interactions. However, what is critical is the inclusion of the most significant interactions—by sales role—needed to produce the desired results. We often find that sales managers are busy and are involved in many various types of activities with their sellers, but they are often not representative of the activities most likely to yield the best results.
Because the majority of manager-seller interactions are ad hoc, they are not conducive to the type of in-depth coaching that drives results and builds seller skill. The incorporation of intentional, planned manager-seller interactions also helps managers to focus their efforts on the most manageable aspects of their job—the activities being executed by their salespeople.
Focus on the manageable
The single greatest learning from our research was this: There are factors you can manage, and there are factors that you can't. While this might seem boringly obvious, it's not.
If you asked 10 sales managers to name their primary responsibility, more than half of them would respond with some form of the following: "To make sure my reps make their quota." And what do all 10 sales managers stare at each Friday afternoon? Reports of their salespeople's recent performance. Can a sales manager actually manage a quota? Of course not. Can sales managers manage historical performance? No, but they
sure do try.
In reality, the only factor managers can manage, and directly affect, are the activities of their sellers—which customers they call, what they say during those calls, which deals they pursue, and how they pursue them. In the end, all of these activities will determine whether they make their number and hit their revenue target, but the target itself can't be managed. You only can manage activities, not their outcomes.
Most managers we work with find this concept liberating. There's so much complexity and noise in a sales manager's world that she wants to simplify. Sales managers need to focus. Winnowing their attention to only what they can manage has two desirable effects. First, sales managers are more confident in the things they do because they know they will have an impact. Second, salespeople get better direction because the managers are focused on the tactics that will lead to the desired results—better sales management.
Training for sales managers needs to go beyond traditional leadership and coaching; it should emphasize the manageable. These manageable activities will look different for different management roles because, as we learned, one sales manager does not equal another sales manager. The activities will need to reside within a solid management rhythm to ensure consistency and impact. But the simplest concepts are often the most powerful. There are factors you can manage, and there are those you cannot.
Advance Selling Skills Academy Limited
Telephone: 0845 125 9098 (UK)