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The Sales Manager's Dilemma - Too Busy to Get Better

This article describes why today’s sales managers need to be developed i.e. trained and coached to be effective in the face of the demands that are put on them.  It covers the problems that today’s sales environment causes for sales managers and the ‘viscous cycle’ that can easily develop whereby they truly become ‘too busy to get better’. The article throws some light on how, with the right help, they can make the shift from being in a seemingly helpless situation to taking control of their own destiny, driving the company’s sales results forward and actually enjoying what they do. The article is mainly aimed at first line sales managers but is also relevant to anyone who holds a sales management or sales leadership role at any level in the organisation.

Pressures on Sales Managers and Leaders in Today’s World

Many sales managers and sales leaders tell us that they need help to get out of a rut that they describe as a reactive, over-worked sales management world that feels like a ‘treadmill’ in which they are having to work harder and harder every quarter just to stand still’.

They come to us saying that they desperately want to achieve a shift towards a different world, where they are both effective and proactive in terms of leading and coaching their teams towards sales excellence and ultimately to become a world class sales function.

When we analysed the environment of a sales manager in today’s world of increasingly online (and instant) communications, despite the job description saying something different, across all industries, most of his or her time is actually spent non-selling activities such as:

  • Escalating pricing or proposal problems with internal commercial or product teams;
  • Dealing with complaints and service delivery issues;
  • Dealing with formal procedures (e.g. discipline, grievance and long term sick leave);
  • Reporting performance against targets (including actual and projected sales figures at the overall and individual product level);
  • Explaining why performance gaps have occurred and how they will be closed;
  • Briefing teams on new policy and direction that has come from above;
  • Ensuring that the team is compliant with policy and regulatory requirements;
  • Planning and running team meetings to ensure all of the above are reviewed, progressed or reinforced;
  • Leading on internal initiatives passed down from above.

Meanwhile and really importantly, sales managers are spending less and less time on the following critical elements of developing the performance of a sales function:

  • Giving structure sales coaching for the front line sales people i.e. the sales teams on an individual and collective level, encompassing improvements in how they perform in terms of:
  • Securing and conducting sales interactions with customers (i.e. call and/or meeting quality);
  • Qualifying sales leads and prospects to ensure that they are worth winning and can be won;
  • Advancing and closing the maximum number of sales at the highest possible value;
  • Developing and maximising the life-time value of key accounts and major accounts,
  • Forecasting and planning to hit target;
  • Setting strategy and sales planning to ensure that the right resources are aligned to the right customers and/or market segments, with the right plans and the necessary selling tools and skills to deliver the numbers;
  • Proactively engaging with and leading the agenda for internal and external stakeholders to ensure they buy into and actively support the sales strategy and associated plan(s);
  • Own personal development to ensure that the sales manager constantly improves his/her performance in all of the above ‘critical sales management competencies’.

Too Busy to Get Better

What we would conclude from this analysis is that today’s sales managers and sales leaders are bogged down in a world of reactive organisational ‘hygiene factors’ and tactical administration. They are managers but they don’t have the time or ‘mind-space’ to be, or develop towards being, competent sales team coaches and sales team leaders.

This situation all too often becomes a self-perpetuating, vicious cycle of spending too much time on the analysis and reporting of why performance has (or is predicted to) fall short of shareholders’ expectations. In turn, this reactive requirement to constantly analyse and report on their progress (or failure to make progress) deflects their effort away from actually improving the situation and building a better future. So, in the face of evermore challenging market conditions (such as increased competition, 24 hour trading, shorter product life-cycles and far more informed and demanding buyers), the problem spirals to a point where the sales managers and sales leaders have to work longer hours and work under constant pressure just to try to keep up with the previous year’s performance. Meanwhile, shareholders, boards and central ‘support functions’ see that the recovery is taking hold and make often unrealistic demands for accelerated sales growth to be delivered while at the same time ask for so many reports that they actually deflect the sales managers and sales teams away from actually making the sales happen.

Every time a failing is identified, sales managers have to report reasons and present a plan to improve and, if and when this doesn’t improve the output figures, another ‘dial’ is added to the ‘corporate dashboard’ to measure another input such as number of sales calls per sales person or sales team.

This classic cycle of ‘paralysis by analysis’ or ‘too busy to get better’ is becoming far more common for sales managers in today’s commercial world of short-term demands for growth that is accentuated by  a lack of time and space to plan, a lack of training and coaching (in terms of how to think and act more effectively), and instant information and communications channels that make it easier for the central functions to track performance and demand reports and explanations from them when things are going wrong.

The current trend towards increasing short-term demands on sales managers’ time and mental focus can quickly lead to a feeling of helplessness that results in the good ones leaving and the rest turning their focus to  ‘just not being the worst of the bunch’.

Sales Managers Need to Become Sales Leaders

Sales managers need to break the viscous cycle and empower themselves to take charge of their own destiny and performance by proactively leading the organisation to collectively buy in to a sales development strategy that will make the sales function deliver success over a one, two and three year period.

They must create the space in their weekly and daily schedules and make the space in their own minds to be able to focus on: setting the sales development strategy; sales planning; stakeholder leadership; coaching and developing the team; and their own self-development in order to turn the vicious cycle described earlier into a ‘virtuous cycle’ of evaluating, planning, directing, implementing, coaching and driving improvements in their sales teams’ performance.

To be great sales managers, they actually have to be great at leading their markets, leading and coaching their teams, leading their stakeholders and leading themselves!  To achieve all of these things, they need to be equipped with:

  • Great sales management and sales leadership methodologies, tools and techniques (for leading the market, leading and coaching the team, leading their stakeholders and leading themselves);
  • The right attitude, mental space and agility to focus on the important as well as the urgent;
  • Best practice skills, competencies and behaviours across all of the key sales management and sales leadership disciplines (i.e. leading the market, leading and coaching the team, leading the organisation and leading self);
  • The determination and focus required to execute actions with pace, impact and flexibility when the environment suddenly changes.

When equipped with the right tools, techniques, skills, attitude and determination, the sales manager’s world becomes a different place. It takes on an over-arching sense of purpose and, with some early successes in terms of making progress with the strategy, builds confidence and an ability to put any set-backs into perspective and keep creating momentum in terms of developing sales excellence. Crucially, a feeling of being in control is restored the sales managers start to really enjoy what they do. This in turn makes time in ‘the zone’ more easy to achieve

However, achieving success in breaking the vicious cycle of ‘being too busy to get better’ will need support  from above and/or from an external specialist coach.

To make the shift towards a world where sales managers and leaders are both effective and proactive in terms of leading and coaching their teams to become a world class sales function, they need to be trained and coached to ensure that they are equipped with all of the necessary skills and techniques to enable them to proactively make the right choices, focus on the right things and take the right actions to deliver the right results.

How Sterling Chase can help you and your colleagues

Sterling Chase delivers tailored sales management development training and coaching solutions that enable sales managers and sales leaders to become truly great at what they do.

To quote one of our clients: “The sales management coaching programme has been one of the most worthwhile ventures I have witnessed during my years in the company.  When I speak to those who have been taking part they describe it as fantastic value, first class use of time and life-changing”. Vice President,  Global Telecommunications Solutions Provider

If you want to know more about what we can do for you or your sales leadership and sales management teams, just fill out the form below and one of our senior practitioners will contact you for a free consultation.

The Sales Manager's Dilemma - Too Busy to Get Better