By Evan Rubenstein
Of the myriad issues faced by business owners, the job of sales manager is the one that most think they have under control, where in fact this can be very far from the truth. Depending on your business and the type of selling required, this could be an issue of major significance. Whilst not always easy to achieve, a professionally run sales operation is a thing of beauty.
In may cases, the sales manager often ends up being promoted from the ranks of the sales team. But as many have learned, the skill set and often the personality profile required to be a good salesman is very different to that required for sales management. In many cases, previously successful sales people fail to make the transition into management. In many cases training, education and coaching may be necessary to accomplish this; in others it may never work out.
The job of a sales manager is understood and practised differently by different people, and differently by different organisations. The parameters and philosophies of sales management vary a lot depending very much on the knowledge and experience of those practising it. If you were comparing sales manager training programs, you would find a great deal of variation between the various offerings available. So what is right for your organisation? If the sales manager reports to you, then what do you need to know to provide the leadership required to ensure that you are getting the best from your sales manager?
Wikipedia defines sales management as “a business discipline which is focused on the practical application of sales techniques and the management of a firm’s sales operations.
It can be divided up into the following main areas:
- Sales Strategy and Planning
- Sales Team Recruitment
- Sales Training
- Sales Performance Improvement
These are in themselves big topics.
As with most things in business, getting the strategy right is crucial. Many do not. Most sales managers when asked to articulate their company’s sales strategy will fumble. The real pro’s will not. In general, sales strategy tends to be addressed “after the fact”; meaning that only once it has become clear that sales efforts are not yielding the desired results does strategy receive proper attention, and even then may not past muster.
- Territory management
- Remuneration structure and incentive plan
- Activity and Performance Standards
- Measurement and Reporting
- Meetings and Communications
- Prospecting systems
- Sales Conversion process
- Average sale value maximisation
- Repeat business maximisation
- Management intervention triggers and steps
Members of a sales team can change; sometimes quite rapidly. The business needs consistent and predictable sales results. This means that a structured and consistent management approach is required and that all team members work in a similar way, otherwise the team and its outcomes become very difficult to manage. This is very much part of the sales manager’s job.
Clearly there are important decisions to be made in developing a good sales strategy and in many cases this ends up being a matter of evolution. In others, for various reasons, it remains static and business plateau’s and eventually decline in the face of stronger competition.
Sales Team Recruitment
There is no denying that certain personality types are better at sales than others. Understanding exactly what your business requires is key to building an effective sales team. An effective team takes time to build and become effective and to some extent will depend on the nature of the sales strategy being used. This aspect of sales management requires a systematic approach for consistent and reliable results.
It remains quite difficult to predict success in a sales person when recruiting. Sales roles often end up being the default career of some candidates, but for others it may be a very deliberate career choice. For the good ones, a career in sales can be extremely lucrative and a stepping stone to a business career. The really good ones, may outgrow you and leave; the poor ones will hang around too long. The reality is that selecting a good candidate that will perform and be loya,l in an interview, is not at all easy. Having candidates psychometrically tested is a very good idea. This will give you insights into how they are hard-wired and how well suited they are to a sales role. Even then, your recruitment system should incorporate a “blow off valve” component so that you can rid of dud’s as quickly as possible.
Proper and ongoing sales training as an absolute must for any sales professional. Success in sales requires product knowledge, knowledge of sales techniques, a range of sales tools and aids, and a good understanding of the customer’s buying psychology. It also requires that sales people understand and can manage their own emotions and mindset. Without the tools and techniques that training can provide, consistent results, let alone growth may be hard to come by. Continual re-education is required simply to keep up with market developments.
Sales training can take place internally or through external organisations, of which there are many. There are also many sales philosophies. You will need to make sure that the external training you choose is a good fit for your business and how you like to sell.
Sales Performance Improvement
No business wants sales to remain static. Growth is always a requirement. Without an ongoing focus on continual and never ending improvement, most sales teams will plateau at the point where their systems, knowledge and ability, reach equilibrium with market competitive forces. A good sales manager will understand this and will vigorously develop systems to keep growing.
A big role for a sales manager is to keep raising the bar on the one hand but on the other, developing the team’s capabilities through training and coaching. In fact coaching is one of the major components of a sales manager’s ongoing duties and is a powerful tool for ongoing improvement. Coaching will help the sales person to narrow the gap between how the business expects them to perform and their own ability to do so. Today’s successful sales manager should have good coaching skills as this will produce a great return for the business.
These are the basics. Many business owners do not pay enough attention to sales. Getting the sales machine working properly is arguably the most important focus for a business owner. A good sales organisation will provide good revenues. Good revenues are the precursor to good profits and with good profit comes the reward of being in business.