Searching for a Sales Manager
Your sales team is the most important part of your business, hands down. Research & Development can provide amazing product concepts, stunning visuals, and flashy extras, however without a knowledgeable and effective sales team, those ideas or prototypes will remain just that. Marketing can identify target audiences, cite the results of countless focus groups, and identify volumes of selling points, but unless sales, effectively communicates those to the wholesalers or customers, then they are just volumes of data. The support teams, accounting, human resources, quality assurance, and production also can do their jobs to the highest levels, but with no sales, they’ll soon be visiting the unemployment office. It’s the job of management, specifically sales management to motivate, pacify, babysit, firefight, schmooze, and at times carry the load on their shoulders.
Many Hats, Many Roles
The sales manager wears many tasks and has to deal with the many personalities of his or her subordinates. They also have to bridge the gaps between other departments, find ways to move excess inventories, cover shortfalls, work with marketing, operations, inspectors, transportation, accounting, and still try to maintain their sanity. It sounds like an impossible task, and when you add the fact that this all could happen within the span of a few hours, make’s it unbelievable by many. But, it happens every day in businesses all across the world; some do it better than others and others, not so well. It would seem that being a great salesperson would be the foundation for being a great sales manager to the outside observer, but that’s unfortunately not the case.
Does a Great Salesperson = A Great Sales Manager ?
The qualities that make a person a great salesperson are very different than the qualities that make them a good sale manager. Three out of four companies make the mistake of promoting great sales people to the position of sales manager and then expect that what made them good will rub off on everyone else now that they are in charge. Selling is an art form, often times it’s a dance between buyer and seller as they negotiate the different facets of the deal such as price, delivery date, and volumes. The two go back and forth in a professional way, each hoping to carve out a deal that benefits their respective firm, and at the end of the day when both are in agreement, they close the deal and walk away happy. Sales management on the other hand is a science, where the manager must analyze the team to determine strengths and weaknesses assess market conditions, develop lists of everything from potential leads to where to order the best take-out for the next sales meeting. They need to prioritize so that everything gets done, their focus is broad and their touch points throughout the company are numerous. They must keep one eye on what’s happening with the team of subordinates and the other eye on upper management to insure quotas are being met, inventory is being turned, and no weaknesses are being exposed.
Seeing that the two positions are different clearly identifies the need for a more careful selection when looking for a sales manager, yet just understanding it isn’t enough. Some salespeople most definitely have what it takes to be a sales manager, but determining it takes some work. Of course this process must be taken very carefully as not to upset the harmony in the existing team. Top salespeople who get passed over for promotion by someone with weaker numbers than them can easily be disruptive, hostile, and even reach a point where they separate from the company, so proceed with caution.
"We" or "Me"
One of the top qualities to look for is found in the person’s attitude. A “we” person is a favorable candidate, while a “me” person is not. The “me” person is usually a great salesperson, makes top commissions or bonuses consistently, and is usually ultra-competitive. They walk with a swagger, dress to the nines, and can be boastful and a bit on the arrogant side, but they move merchandise and turn inventory so they’re given a carte blanche by everyone around them as long as they keep producing numbers. Promoting a “me” person might sound great, but potential issues can quickly arise as they usually are not suited for training; instead jumping in when someone is learning to “fix things” for them and move on. They usually talk much more than they listen, have expectations that everyone can immediately perform to their level, and often times have difficulty in letting go of the selling part of the job and moving to the managing part. But, a “we” person is what’s considered a team player; someone who can step in and help when needed, but doesn’t bulldoze and take over. A “we” person understands the company mission statement, the overall team goals, and they are aligned with the goals and direction of the company. They are often great “cheerleaders,” offering their knowledge freely to help other team members succeed, they are joiners and not dividers, they can turn chaos into harmony, cut through red tape, calm down uptight employees, and are great listeners. Many “we” employees do not see themselves, in a leadership role, but with some coaching can be excellent functional team leaders.
When looking for a sales manager, experience counts, and often times lots of it. Someone who has multiple years within your organization translates into a person who knows many people, understands the ups and downs that your company has experienced, and can be relied on to be able to follow the long-term vision. Your sales team has many experienced employees, but they are not all the same. Some know their customer base like the back of their hand, while others know the company customer base. Some know their numbers, where they rank on the comparative scale, and how close they are to collecting their next tier bonus. Others know how the company stock is doing, how close the sales team is to making budget, and what bigger issues are looming in the future weeks, months, and perhaps years. Again, there are “me” employees and there are “we” employees.
A Workplace Without Borders
Many times there are silos in large companies, where one department head needs to talk to another department head to get an open line of communication, and even when that happens, it takes a long time and often the message becomes diluted or fades away all together. Small companies see much less of this, but it still happens when personalities clash or priorities differ from area to area. Observing your team to see how they cut across departmental lines is another great identifier. The salesperson who demands another department do something so his or her order ships on time, or who expects that the factory workers will stay late on a holiday weekend to cover last minute sales may have all the right intentions, but is a poor executer. Some people can approach critical situations much differently; approaching other department teams with diplomacy and courtesy, trying to fabricate a joint solution that will help the company achieve getting that order shipped yet still maintaining an animosity-free working environment. These diplomats in the workplace also make great negotiators as they focus on mutual benefit problem solving and create good will instead of ill will in the process.
Diplomats often make better coaches and trainers than steamrollers, not just because they are more personable, but also because they show patience. Both personality types end up with the same results often times, but a person who is management material does so with much more tact. Since coaching is such an important part of new-employee development, choosing the right sales manager can be a pivotal point in determining the future of the team. A flashy arrogant manager can destroy department morale rapidly and actually drive productivity down while a manager who leads by example is often followed willingly by the team and develops an open-minded back and forth environment. A good coach also makes a huge impact on employee longevity, reducing Human Resource issues, reduced stress, and increased employee satisfaction.
Communicating effectively and timely is critical to morale in the department. A manager must be a leader and a leader must communicate. Some managers lead with an iron fist, demanding employees follow their doctrine, use excessive verbal punishment when failures occur, and keep things to themselves. Sales figures are shared on a need to know basis, as are company plans, and other seemingly innocuous pieces of information. The only time employees are spoken to is when they aren’t performing up to par or they are needed to work overtime to accomplish a task. The work environment is tense and sales people are not motivated to do anything more than necessary as they receive no additional job satisfaction out of it. Sales meetings are dictations of where we can improve, how things could be better, and who is on the chopping block. The feeling of negativity and dread permeates the office at all times except when that manager is out of the office, and then everyone takes a breather. If you are observing this in your company, perhaps it’s time to take a look at your sales manager and how they are executing things.
Strong leadership and strong positive communications go hand in hand. These matters even more today than it did decades ago, as younger employees entering the working world have different expectations from their employers and job satisfaction is much more important to them. Watch for people who are not afraid to give sincere and honest opinions to their co-workers. Leaders know how to complement their team members or individuals on a job well done; they are specific and do so publically as to use the positive energy to further motivate the rest of the team. A statement like, “I’ve noticed how you were able to overcome several hurdles to get product placement with a key customer. Your tenacity is something we can all learn from to help increase new item distribution,” not only flatters and praises the employee but really gets everyone else feeling good about bigger picture topics, in this example new product distribution. It’s a motivator and its value is amazing.
It’s great to have positive moments to share effectively but being able to offer constructive criticism, the other swing of the pendulum, is also important. Giving immediate and direct feedback is essential when something goes wrong but doing so professionally is critical. Working with the employee or team to understand what went wrong, how the damage can be minimalized, and jointly coming up with a plan to insure it doesn’t occur again is only part of it. Communicating the problem and the solution to the customer to retain the business for the sake of the company builds trust on multiple levels. The sales team becomes a tighter knit unit and the understanding that they “live and die,” metaphorically as a team becomes ingrained in their everyday work ethic.
Improving Workplace Communication
By looking at the everyday interactions of the team, it should be easier to see these traits in certain people. Be sure not to make the mistake of only looking at your top performers. Often times a good future manager is just an average salesperson, but they are often great planners, excellent organizers, and highly adept at juggling multiple tasks simultaneously. Because they are not often as passionate as top salespeople, they have less difficulty at “breaking free” of the excitement of selling. Of course it’s going to take some time to shift their overall thinking to leadership instead of sales execution, but it’s worth some time investment to help facilitate it, as the results in the long run will be positive.
I currently have worked in Sales Management for over 15 years and I'm always seeking ways to motivate employees. Lately I've been researching employee retention and started watching my staff to see what areas were causing less-than-optimal levels of employee job satisfaction. This piece was born from that research and I hope you find is enlightening and useful.