There aren’t too many jobs more difficult than the first line sales manager. The pressure to produce results is real, and the time to produce those results is short. The demands of the business are insatiable and never-ending. But to succeed in sales, you have to know whom you serve first; it isn’t the business.
First Things First
Too many sales managers serve the business before they serve their sales force. By putting their sales force behind the needs of the business, they all but ensure that the what the business really needs—increased revenues, increased profits, greater client acquisition, increased market penetration, and increased wallet share, too name a few—are more difficult to obtain.
The business makes many demands of the sales manager, and not just in the way of financial results. The business requires that the sales manager produce reports and forecasts. It requires that the sales manager attend meetings, sometimes meetings in which she gains nothing but instead loses her most precious of commodities: her time. The business requires that all of the time-consuming administrative tasks are constantly and continuously attended to.
In the name of serving the company, the sales manager neglects the only real asset she has with which to produce results: the sales force. Because it feels like work is being done, some salespeople embrace the warm comfort of middle management and leave the sales force to find their way on their own—with the occasional demand of the sales force that they produce greater activity and faster results.
Abdication of Leadership and Management
I know salespeople who rarely speak with their sales manager. When they do speak with their sales manager, it is only so he can ask them for greater production, so he can give them the latest in the way of the company’s demands of them, and so he can get from them what he needs to serve the business. By doing so, sales managers like this abdicate both the leadership and the management of the sales force.
The real work of the sales manager is training, coaching, and developing the sales force. It is removing the obstacles to the sales force’s success, whether those be the internal barriers the salesperson must learn to overcome, the external barriers to moving opportunities through their pipeline, or the barriers within their own company that prevent or hamper their success. It is riding along on sales calls, and it is sometimes leading the sales calls where the sales manager’s presence can make a difference.
The real work of the sales manager is ensuring that the sales force is equipped with the tools, the training, and the technology to succeed. They need to understand the business’s strategy. They need to understand how the business intends to compete and win. They need to know what differentiates the business in the marketplace, and they need to understand why the dream clients in their sweet spot are in their sweet spot. They need to know how—exactly—they are supposed to create value for their dream clients. I ask salespeople questions around the ideas in this paragraph and I am greeted with blank stares.
Sales management and sales leadership means making sure that the sales force is supported in a way that ensures that they achieve the results that are expected of them.
If you as the sales manager don’t provide these things, no one will. They will have no real leadership and no real sales management. No one should expect results without both effective leadership and effective management.
It’s a paradox. By serving the sales force, you make serving the business less difficult. But by serving the business first, you make producing the results you need more difficult—and less likely.
As a sales manager, you are going to be pulled in two directions. You have to decide in which direction you will allow yourself to be pulled, who you serve first, who gets the priority of your time, your energy, and your efforts. The sales force’s needs must come first.
How much of the sales manager’s time should be spent serving the needs of the business and the company? How much of their time should be spent with their sales force?
Where should the sales manager’s time, effort, and energy be invested in order to produce the best results?
Does serving the business first cost you as a sales manager the greater results that might be produced were you to invest your time in the sales force?
How do you balance the needs of the business with the needs of the sales force?
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