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Sales Down? It May Not Be Your Salespeople

I often meet with companies that tell me, “Sales aren’t what we want them to be so we want you to train our reps.” While training sales reps is a large part of what I do, I often find that the biggest problem lies somewhere else…with the sales manager. Part of the problem lies in how we create sales managers. Sometimes the president, CEO or business owner manages the reps directly, even though they have little or no experience managing salespeople. In larger organizations, typically a sales manager used to be a top producing rep. You’ve paid them all you can pay them, commissioned them through the roof, they’ve won every award, received every accolade and there’s nothing left to do but promote them. The rep is happy because it sounds like a move up but once they sit down behind their new desk they quickly realize that selling and sales management are two very different animals. Most companies invest little, or nothing, in the development of their sales management. BIG mistake. The “line manager” (the person the reps report to directly on a day-to-day basis) is the lynchpin of your organization. They’re responsible for the daily supervision of your sales team and for making sure the quotas are met. (And exceeded!) Their workload is great, their day is full. But are they being productive? When sales are down the first place I suggest you look is to the sales manager. Ask yourself, and them, these questions: 1) Are sales meetings regular and productive? Most sales managers don’t know how to run a sales meeting. Meetings need to start on time, have a specific agenda, include training, end on time and be focused. Ask your reps if they would attend the weekly sales meeting if it was optional. If they wouldn’t, you’ve got a problem. 2) Are pipeline meetings regular and productive? Few managers run a pipeline meeting well. Pipeline meetings need to focus on whether or not the reps have enough in their pipeline to support their goals, developing accurate forecasts and offering strategies to move sales forward to Closed. Do reps leave these meetings excited, and armed with advice that will help them be more strategic and close more business? If not, you’ve got a problem. 3) Does the manager do regular field coaching? (or office coaching for inside sales reps) Managers tend to do as little of this as possible. It’s frustrating to watch reps struggle, knowing you could do a better job but little can help a rep to improve their performance better than a field coaching session. Managers should watch reps sell (and critique their performance afterward) as well as having reps observe them while they sell. Manager not getting into the field enough to coach reps? You’ve got a problem. 4) Does the manager interview new reps regularly (even when there’s not an opening) and know how to conduct a sales interview? Interviewing salespeople is an art, and unlike interviewing any other potential employee. Salespeople typically do well on interviews because they’re “selling” their favorite product…themselves. Managers tend to ask stupid questions and end up basing a hire on whether or not they like the person as a person. I don’t care whether a potential sales rep is likeable (other than to the extent that sales reps need prospects to like them)...I care that they’re going to be productive. I often consult with managers on how to interview and actually sit in on the interviews. If your sales manager isn’t asking “situational” questions and clearly explaining the responsibilities of the job, as well as “selling the job” to the rep, you’ve got a problem. 5) Does the manager lead by example? Sales reps watch everything their manager says and does. Is your sales manager a complainer? Does she turn in paperwork late? Does he moan about the economy? (The company? Other managers? Etc...) Does she arrive late and leave early? Sales people take their cues from their sales manager. If your sales manager isn’t a true leader, you’ve got a problem. Fixing your sales management isn’t the answer to every sales problem but it’s almost always the first place I look in an under-performing organization. If you can’t get your sales management running on all cylinders it almost doesn’t matter what you do with your sales reps. There are lots of programs that can help sales managers become better at their jobs. An investment in your sales managers is likely to pay off with a substantial R.O.I.

The author is Master Sales Trainer and partner at The Entrepreneur Center; Long Island's most innovative business education facility. He works with organizations and individuals internationally to help them bring about measurable and sustainable sales improvement. He combines four decades of sales, sales management, consulting, training and coaching experience with a background in theater and stand-up comedy to help clients like Cisco, Siemens, Citibank, and Aramark to maximize their sales results in a highly engaging way that entertains while it educates.

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