Sales Managers are usually really Salesperson Leaders, which can be very challenging in a small company. There are few areas where the manager’s results are so easily quantifiable. Firing bad reps doesn’t get you out of the hot seat yourself!
By having your team focus on these six key areas, in order, the picture changes. Sales reps learn to take ownership of their activities and methodically improve them. Small business owners learn to lead and inspire instead of micromanaging.
Customers see the difference very quickly, because the sales professional’s newfound belief in the employer becomes obvious and inspiring.
Successfully managing a sales representative is difficult for a small business owner. Building your own company gives a unique connection with the product and early customers. This is very hard to replicate in a new front-line professional. We tend to either throw people in the deep end and hope they don’t ALL drown, or dictate the activities and conversations they engage in. That stifles their creativity and enjoyment – and therefore their commitment.
Product training is essential, of course; and SOME role-play can help new players imagine themselves in their role. Don’t forget, though, that to be sustainable the sales professional has to develop their own relationships and communication styles. Take the coaching approach: you are inspiring your employee, and removing their obstacles; rather than micromanaging their activities. This can make the whole situation better for all concerned, including your customers. Like most things in business, this can seem like an elusive art. However, as usual, it’s a process; and there’s a simple way to get started.
Inspire and remove obstacles
There are six keys (plus one prerequisite) to work through in equipping a Sales Professional. They must be approached in the order given here for best results. There’s plenty of room for adjustment to suit your particular needs, but the core principles don’t change. These are things to explore and learn together, not opportunities for training. It’s a good idea to write up a description together of the current situation, including numbers from both activities and results. You’ll come back to this in a year when your company revises its strategy.
1 – Strategic goals
Your company has to have a growth strategy with a clear vision for the future. “Hey, let’s hire a Salesman and see if that helps” is not a strategy. At worst, if nothing has been articulated, you may have to create assumptions to work with. Start simple. The sales professional has to complete whatever you put in the [sales activities] field below. In a tiny company, probably the [marketing activities] too.
It’ll sound something like this:
“We believe we can sell [dollars] of [product] to [target market] bringing them [benefits] by [date about six months out], by executing [marketing activities] and [sales ativities]. We can test this plan by doing [marketing activities] and [sales activities] by [date about a month out] which should create [number of leads] and [dollars]. We’ll check weekly to make sure we’re keeping up with the needed activities and revise the plan every [months] to make sure it meets out needs”
2 – Habits
Peoples’ strengths and weaknesses show up as habits. These either get you ahead or hold you back. Habits are not just repetitive activities, but also the tendency to take or avoid responsibility.
You will need to treat habits as behaviours – which can change – and not personality dispositions that some consider fixed. Some sales reps are known developers of old accounts; some seem better suited to opening new accounts. Realize these are just patterns of behaviour. With coaching, employees will mature and start choosing behaviours seemingly against their nature in order to broaden their ability to be effective. Choosing to modify behaviour and committing to any inhabitual activity takes a lot of effort, so the next item is an accountability tool to reinforce good intentions.
3 – Public Action Plans
At this point the development of your high-potential sales professional has been set in motion. Follow-up becomes a weekly review. With strengths and weaknesses identified, help your employee select items to work on each week, whether these are sales or marketing activities; specific exercises your company has developed; or suggestions from behavioral profiling tools such as “MBTI” or “Disc” assessments.
In order to build accountability, it’s time for the employee to go public with their commitments to action. Create a posted action plan where everyone can see it, relating to the specific actions each player will take this week. A word of warning: employers tend to skip ahead and start with this step. Forcing employees to make public commitments with no obvious link to the company’s strategy; or without a non-judgmental review of behaviours and habits, can be very demoralizing. A culture of trust and openness is needed.
4 – Victories
Add celebration to your weekly team meetings. Celebrating victories routinely is critical, ESPECIALLY if you don’t get any thrill out of it! Your team needs to commit to bring a victory – personal, action-related or results, it doesn’t matter – to the weekly review.
If you commit – publicly – to celebrating a victory – publicly – once a week, you will have given yourself something to live up to. You will tend to push yourself to create something tangible to celebrate each time.
5 – Challenges
This is the meat-and-potatoes part of the process. By this point, some six to eight weeks after starting out, your reps are hopefully in front of customers four days a week. The weekly review becomes critical. Your role as Sales Manager should be strictly leadership; specifically, as John Maxwell calls it, “Equipping”. You are giving your employee the tools to overcome the challenges that come up.
However, as I said at the start, it’s not enough to think of this as “training”. Rather, think of using a semi-standardized dialogue where you prompt with questions (based on Toyota’s coaching “Kata” or form) and make your employee think. Offer to assist with the challenges they are facing by simply asking to hear about them, and then ask:
- What is the target situation?
- What is the actual situation now?
- Thinking about the last thing you tried, what did you actually plan as your last step?
- What did you think would happen?
- What actually happened?
- What did you learn?
- what obstacles do you think are holding you back from the target situation?
- Which ONE are you addressing now?
- What do you think your next move should be?
- What do you expect would happen?
- How soon can we find out if you’re right?
- What are your action commitments then, for the next week (these go on that Public Action Plan)?
This weekly session will be the backbone of your Sales Management for a long time. A warning: like the action plans, trying to jump into this without a clear link to strategy will result in misaligned priorities and confusion. Follow the steps in order, and when you get to this step, buckle in and make sure it happens ritually, every week.
6 – Annual Review
Hopefully your company re-assesses its core strategies at least once per year. One output of that process – or your review of your own assumptions – would be a refreshed and updated growth strategy.
If your sales team hasn’t written the plan for you – and by now, you will have equipped them to do that – make absolutely sure it is clear and the activities needed for its execution are thought out. Then start over, with setting specific goals around the actions your team needs to take, and get going again.
Get that weekly meeting going now
Get that weekly meeting going with a weekly review of the growth strategy activities. The big starting-out question is, are we keeping up with them? If we think we know how much activity it’ll take to meet our goals, then the big priority is making sure we do those activities.
Then explore and establish with your sales professionals the goals and habits at play; get public action plans and celebrations implemented; and get into coaching them through their challenges. Keep everything as regular as clockwork and learn together. Your team will become a powerhouse of sales activity very quickly.