Great Sales Management Isn’t Pretty

When I was a kid, my dad would take each of the kids for one week each summer on the road with him as he was doing his sales trips. My dad was a territory sales rep in Iowa, Nebraska and Kansas. We would ride with him, talk on the CB radio to find out where “smokies” were, (I have already dated myself in a rather sad way), keep track of his appointment book, pull samples for his meetings and so on. We’d get chocolate shakes for lunch and go see movies at the movie theaters in the little towns we’d stay in at night. More often than not, he’d take us in the appointment and get to watch him sell and work with customers. I learned an amazing amount. Like most things you learn when you are a kid, I didn’t have any appreciation for what I was learning until I was much older.

One of the things he taught me was that success in sales is 90% process and 10% magic. “If you work your process, you earn the right to do your magic.” I heard that a thousand times. Nutty thing to say then, now I understand he was brilliant. The point is even more valid when it comes to sales management. Sales management is about process. Process, when done correctly, is boring. The 90% of the time that a sales manager spends on process creates the opportunity for him or her to be magical the 10% when sales leadership is necessary. This week I want to talk about the 90% process, next week I’ll talk about the 10% magic.

How to Manage Sales People
The first thing I want to say is that management and leadership in the role of sales are not the same thing. Different goals, different skills and different muscles.  For sales management, I believe you are working on the execution of a process. Think of it like manufacturing. There is a design and engineering phase and then there is a production phase. The production phase is about efficiency and quality control. Sales management is what happens in the production phase of sales. To successfully manage sales people during this production phase I recommend the following:

  1. Drive to a Step Process – Just like manufacturing, when you go to production, you set up a series of linked processes. In each process there are requirements to be completed in one step before you can go to the next step. Sales management’s role is to ensure that we are following the process and that this execution is efficient and meets quality standards.
  2. Only Focus on the Gaps – It is tempting to try to armchair quarterback every deal in a weekly meeting with sales people. Don’t. The sales management process should be pointing out gaps in either the information that is supposed to be gathered in a particular step of the sales process, the people who are engaged or how long that step is taking in comparison to your expectations. Focus on just those gaps. If there are no gaps, then the process is working. Focus on only those accounts with gaps.
  3. Compliance and Coaching Are Different – Coaching to solve gaps is a different exercise than ensuring that the machine is working. If you are brainstorming a solution for handling a thorny prospect or a stuck deal, set a separate meeting time. Production discussions are about running the machine, period.
  4. Own the Time – Have your sales people bring their calendar with them. Their calendar is not their own, it is yours. Working through the next week or month’s schedule is a part of the meeting. Where will they be next period, are they going the right places with your right expectations, are they visiting to visit or are they advancing the sales process along the steps? These are the questions that sales management must ask as a part of the regular meetings.

Running the Sales Management Machine

  1. Meet with sales reps 1:1 – As a sales manager, you have to drive sales process compliance and efficiency rep by rep and account by account. I advocate a 30 minute meeting every week with each rep for whom you are responsible. Set it for the same time every week and run it the same way. I know, it’s not sexy, but it is enormously effective.
  2. No group meetings for sales people – There is a self-delusion that sale managers have. This delusion is the belief that sales reps learn from each other as we go through a sales meeting and discuss accounts. The only person learning in a session like that is the one sales person who owns the account. In addition, he or she is usually evasive or defensive when put on the grill in front of his or her counterparts. Group meetings are for product and process education, recognition and market planning.
  3. Thirty minute rule – All sales reps have ADHD, (unless they are the one talking), so don’t have long meetings. A simple rule is 30 minutes of prep for you per rep meeting and 30 minutes of meeting with each of them, done every week. If you have 5 reps, that’s 5 hours per week to run the machine. If you run the machine, the machine will run and get better, but it is boring. That’s OK. Run the machine the right way and you get to make more magic, which I’ll talk about next week.
  4. Be consistent – If you want to train someone to think like you, ask them the same questions every time and they will soon anticipate your questions. This means that they will prepare to answer your questions and begin to ask those questions of themselves every time. Soon you will have people who think like you. If you play “gotcha” by asking all sorts of different questions, they will give up because they can’t get it right. By working to a process, you can develop your series of management questions. By asking those consistently, you will soon get a group of sales people who are following a consistent process. That’s an efficient machine.
  5. Get commitments, take notes – By running this meeting every week, you should be able to implement rigor and impeccable follow-up, which is what is necessary for a good sales process. Take the notes of what is to be done each week by each person and start off the following week with where the person is on their commitments from the prior week. Sounds simple, right? This is one of the biggest mistakes we see- a lack of consistent rigor around commitments.

We have seen as much as a 40% lift in productivity of sales people over a less than 90 day window in the companies who have implemented just this set of practices.

It’s boring, isn’t it? That’s why so few sales managers do it- they want to do the magic and they forget the need for the rigor. You get to do your magic because you earned that right by following your process.