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Sales Management is DIFFERENT

Updated on July 31, 2012
Inventurist profile image

Ed has been an entrepreneur and business owner/start-up generator for 15 years. He has also been a shotgun coach!

Developing and Inspiring Salesmen is Different from Manufacturing or Financial Management

Two Pats on the Back for Every 1 Kick in the...

It would be difficult for anyone that hasn't had a myriad of other jobs to understand there is a difference. Motivating a salesman is much different than motivating any other worker to do their job well. Recognizing this is the mark of a good sales manager. Acting on this is the mark of a superior Sales Manager. Building on this is the mark of a Sales Management Icon. Not even thinking of this - is all too common.

When the bean counters become the leads in marketing, companies are usually in trouble and it is about to get much worse. I have only known one accountant that had much of a sales or marketing mindset. He is extremely successful - because he got it. Most accountants only see the cost of doing something instead of anticipating the positive result of good actions. After all, accounting is an historical perspective on actions.

Production managers look at everyone under their control as cost centers to be managed for expenses and costs. If they can squeeze one more ounce of productivity out of anyone on the production floor, they may earn a bonus for their efforts - the manager that is. Rarely does that translate to the folks on the floor - except in the most productive, fastest growing, best managed shops. Finding ways to motivate production level workers have gone from improved working conditions to health insurance to vacation days. Today, the idea that if you don't do what you were hired for may just mean you don't have a job. That too can be a significant motivator.

Money speaks to many jobs for motivation. I've been involved in farm labor before - and yes, if you pay by the piece to get something cut up, picked or stacked, you better do the calculations beforehand. Poultry processors did an experiment many years ago offering the help from South of the border so many cents per pound of chicken they deboned - instead of an hourly wage. The floor supervisors had to be careful because if there was a slow-down in the supply of chicken needing deboned their lives were in jeopardy!

Sales Management Is Different

When dealing with salesmen (I'll use the generic salesmen instead of trying to go back and forth with saleswomen or some other politically correct crap) it is important to understand who is a salesman, that is a successful salesman to begin with.

Defining a salesman is very difficult. Most good salesmen are self-starters, somewhat rapid adapters, highly intelligent (for the most part), and range from something like ADHD to nearly too cool for school. Motivation may run from needing to eat, to winning the game. It is often impossible to really know who a salesman is. After all, they have to be whoever they need to be to the customer to get the sale. That doesn't mean not being true to who they are - or somehow not being honest, it just means they must recognize who their customer is and how much personality it may take for that customer to make a decision in their favor.

Salesmen come in all shapes and sizes. They come from all backgrounds and education levels. Salesmen, good salesmen, care about what their customer needs and make sure they are getting something that fits that need. Oh there are plenty of shysters out there - unscrupulous sleezeballs that aren't worthy of the title salesman. But think about it - their are those same unscrupulous dingbats in accounting, manufacturing, security, IT, just about anywhere. So please don't think salesmen have a special corner on that market.

Now think about this. If a batter hits .350, he is a fabulous batter - a professional in the making. Someone that is ranked highest in the land! If a surgeon is successful 75% of the time, he's actually considered successful. A student can usually graduate from high school with a success rate just round 70%. A salesman has to hear no about 97% of the time - and only hear yes 3% of the time - to be a Rock Star! That means a salesman gets up out of bed to hear no on every sales call for the first three months of the year - yes for three days - then no for another 3 months before the next yes. Of course it is usually spread out a little more than that - but in the course of a year a salesman hears NO from January 1st through December 13th or 14th and yes the rest of the year. That is the person you are dealing with in managing a salesman.

So What Does A Salesman Value

A salesman will work his butt off if he has some solid idea of what it is he is working for. No, that salary that you are paying him isn't his motivation. The salesman is the perfect marketing opportunity. Throw out that bone and the salesman will do what is needed to achieve it. If you aren't sure how to make it to a certain level of sales, identify what that level could mean for the company and get the sales force on board to achieve it. They will let you know what the roadblocks are in short order - listen to them. If these roadblocks are changeable on your part - and it fits in the budget, fix it. If they can't be fixed, be honest with your sales force and they will find a way to make it work. Give them the flexibility and they will bring you the prize.

I had a great sales manager at one time that used to say I'll pat you on the back three or four times to every time I kick you in the ass. He did too. Sometimes he had to stretch to find a way to do either, but he pretty much stayed with that ratio. I took the criticism much better from him than anyone else I ever worked for. Partly because it was good criticism and partly because he was honest about what was needing improvement on. I always knew he really had my best interests at heart in how he was guiding me.

For some reason, some sales managers have the idea that making it more difficult to achieve goals somehow motivates their sales force. In a tough economy, that may be temporarily acceptable. You get back to the idea that the person is only in the job because they need to eat. Being honest with your sales force about the need to reach a certain number will get you that number more times than ever changing it up as you go. Lying to salesmen, or even stretching the truth is not a good idea. Once they smell that blood in the water, they will be looking for another opportunity and leave you high and dry.

Another key aspect is how managers deal with peers. If a manager ever shows favoritism, make it earned favoritism - not because the manager feels sorry for someone or feels obligated to someone or because of some kind of relationship. If a salesman is killing it and the sales manager uses them in a sales meeting to encourage others to achieve - that isn't favoritism, that is just smart. The sales manager is asking a person's peers to emulate success - and telling them how. He is also motivating the successful salesman to do even better.

Negative moves rarely improve sales. If there is a spoiled sport in the group - take them aside and explain to them that they are pulling down the whole. Never let that spoiled sport win the day - it will have too much of a negative impact on the whole. Ask for the opinion of your more senior sales people. You don't have to use their opinion, but you may learn from it. Also, by asking for their opinion - you will have motivated them to take a second look at themselves.

The worst thing you can do to a salesman is to be complacent about success. Telling a salesman they don't need to be motivated, that you expect them to work hard just because that seems to be the way they do things - will deflate them to just being another person on the payroll. Always treasure what a salesman does for the company.

Remember, nothing happens until somebody sells something!

The Inventurist


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