Is Their Problem Really Your Problem? (A Note to the Sales Manager)

alt text of a mirrorThere aren’t many things that come easier to a sales manager than being frustrated with their sales team’s results. Sales managers flip back and forth between wanting to “fix” their underperforming salespeople and wanting to fire them. Neither approach is the right first step to improving your team’s performance.

Before You Accuse Me

Being a great sales manager means that you have to possess both the leadership and the management skills necessary to achieving results through others—while still dealing with the needs and the too, too many demands that your company requires of you.

Even though your salespeople may not be producing like you need them to, making an improvement doesn’t begin or end with an evaluation of their individual performance to discover what it is wrong with them. It begins with the introspection that allows you to evaluate your own performance managing and leading your team to discover what you can improve about you.

Have You Kept Your End of the Bargain?

To be an effective sales manager, you have to ensure that your salespeople have the training, the tools, and the technologies that they need to succeed. It is one thing to say that your people are your most important asset, it’s another thing completely to behave as if this statement were true.

As a sales manager, your people are not only your greatest assets; they are your only real assets.

Before you determine that a salesperson is your problem (or your salespeople, for that matter), ask yourself if they have received the training and development that they need to perform well. Even if they have sold before, and even if you hired them because they said they had experience, you have hired them and now you have to ensure that they know what you believe they need to know to perform well.

If you want them to be trained the way you need them to be trained to succeed, you have to ensure that they have been trained.

It is also your responsibility to put in their hands the tools that they need to go and compete successfully. This toolkit includes everything from an effective sales process to proposals to proof providers to thank you cards. And everything in between.

Whatever they need to compete and win, you need to make sure they have it.

Have You Set Clear Expectations?

Once your salespeople have been trained and have been provided with the tools and technologies that they need to succeed, you have to ensure that they know exactly what you expect from them. It’s easy to be frustrated by salespeople who aren’t doing what you want or need them to do. It’s equally easy to be frustrated by a frustrated sales manager who is mad at you for not meeting expectations that he has never formally shared with you.

Your salespeople need the goals and quotas, as well as the activity quotas, to know what they are being judged on.

To do what is expected, they have to know what is expected.

Have You Been a Good Coach?

Successful sales managers use every opportunity they can find—or manufacture—to coach their salespeople. Coaching is more than telling your salespeople what to do, although that is sometimes necessary.

Coaching is the tool by which you can most easily and most effectively improve your sales force’s behaviors and their effectiveness.

Coaching is helping to teach your salespeople how to think about their own effectiveness.

Coaching is teaching them how to think about sales and their own sales challenges.

Coaching is helping them to discover the resources that they have within themselves to improve their own sales results.

It’s being a resource that can help them find a way to succeed when they have challenges, roadblocks, and obstacles. It’s being judgmental only when that is what your salesperson needs, and it is being someone who encourages them to stretch, even when they may fail.

A great coach is someone who encourages his salespeople and helps them to learn from their experiences—with an eye towards improving.

Have You Moved the Resources They Need Moved?

You need your salespeople to sell inside. You need them to sell you and your management staff on what they need to succeed and win for their dream clients.

This means that you have to be the resource that helps them to obtain the resources that they need. That starts with you being available to be sold, giving your salespeople the time they need to help you understand why they need what they need for your dream client, and how you can help them get it.

Once you know what resources you need to move for your salespeople, you have to help deliver them. Whatever internal obstacles to their success exists, it is your job to help them by pulling the levers that move the resources they need for them, and to move any obstacles that they might not have the title, the experience, or the ability to move on their own.

If you need to help them obtain an exception, help them.

Have You Given Them All That You Can, and Then a Little More?

Before you decide that your salespeople are your problem, you have to ensure that you given them all that you can give them, and then just a little more. Your success depends on your ability to help them succeed. If you would have them help you, you start by helping them.

Is this too much of the old “servant-leadership” stuff for you? No such thing.

You love and care about them and their success? They love and care about you and your success.

You neglect them and treat them like they are the obstacle to your success?
They neglect your dream client opportunities and treat you like you are the obstacle to their success.

You want them to play hard and try like the devil to win deals? You play hard with them and try like the devil to help them win their deals.

It is unlikely that you will receive any training to accomplish any of what is written here. In fact, it’s unlikely that you will receive any training in sales management whatsoever. You not even receive any of this from those above you, who probably owe you exactly what is written here.

But if you are to succeed through others, taking care of making sure that you are who you need to be is the only place to start, lest you start down the long path to firing sales reps that underperform only to replace them with another group of salespeople who you cannot help to perform.

Tough stuff?

Welcome to sales management!

Questions

  1. Do you wish your salespeople would take responsibility for their own development? How much more could you help them if you were to develop your own skills as a sales leader and sales manager?

  2. Have you given your salespeople the training, the tools, and the technologies that they need in order to succeed?

  3. Have you set crystal clear expectations that leave no room for doubt as to how you measure their performance?

  4. Have you been a good coach? Have you been the coach that you wished you’d have had when you were selling? Is every contact a coaching opportunity, or are you simply trying to manage your sales force?

  5. Have you moved the internal resources that needed moved to ensure you sales team’s success? Have you helped them to sell inside? Of have you allowed the Sales Prevention Team and the Vice President of We Can’t to frustrate their efforts?

  6. Have you given them all you could give them and them just a little more? Have you treated them the way you would have them treat your dream clients? Have you treated them not in the way you may have been treated when you were selling, but instead, the way you would have wanted to be treated?

  7. If you would have them walk on fire for you, have you walked on fire for them?


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Comments

comments

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  • http://lookingtobusiness.com/ Daniel M. Wood

    Hey Anthony,

    You make some great points.
    Post people don’t have the ability to judge themselves objectively.
    Even in situations where two sales managers at the same company with the same opportunities produce different results, the one producing worse won’t be able to see a problem with themselves, they blame other factors and refuse to improve.

    Constant improvement and self evaluation is key if you are to become skilled at any job.

    //Daniel

    • http://www.santhonyiannarino.com S. Anthony Iannarino

      As always, thanks for your comments and contribution, Daniel.

  • http://mindmulch.wordpress.com Don F Perkins

    Anthony

    Great advice for managers regarding their relationship with the people they manage. I’m also glad you pointed out that managers should not to expect this kind of treatment in return from their superiors. Shouldn’t managers also anticipate that their superiors may well not appreciate the value of such an approach?

    Because of this, another part of a managers job might be to find ways to translate the benefits of this type of leadership into quantifiable data that can be appreciated by their boss. It’s hard to argue with increased revenue, shortened cycle times and raving reviews by customers.

    Managers would do well then to follow your recommendations, but if they apply these changes to their leadership style they might do well to gather metrics and document the progress that results as evidence that their decision has merit, for the sake of their “bottom line” focused superiors.

    Don F Perkins

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  • Anonymous and Frustrated

    Great post. I’m considering sharing it with my manager.

    I’m a one-off salesperson for a very small b2b division of a fairly well known b2c company.

    Our b2b division has no marketing department. I sell ‘outside’ and I have no laptop to be productive when I’m not in a meeting but traveling. I have no marketing collateral except for what I can create myself. I manage 75 accounts, have no leads from marketing. I do my own prospecting and cold calling, and have no administrative help. And I have a quota to reach.

    Sometimes I feel like I’m placing all the blame on my company, but since this isn’t the first time I’ve sold, and previously I’ve been given the resources I needed and have been successful, I’m going to go with placing some blame on my company.

    A laptop computer would cost less than my last train fare for a business meeting (I’m encouraged to travel all the time), yet I don’t have one. I twiddle my thumbs while on the train.
    Very frustrating.

    I’m spinning my wheels, here.