Finding the right person to fill the sales management role is a common quandary in wholesale distribution. It can be especially challenging when a decision is based strictly on sales territory performance without regard for the specific skill sets required to lead a sales force.. 2005 has been a good year in wholesale distribution with some industries recording double digit growth rates. With market cooperation like that, most sales people are smiling as they hit or exceed their quotas. Deciding on the right sales person to promote to sales manager can become a difficult and risky decision..
“We need a new sales manager. Let’s promote Tommy, he’s our leading producer in field sales.”
“No! We can’t afford to lose Tommy’s production in the field.”
“That’s not a problem. He can be a working sales manager and still call on his key accounts.”
Most of us should recognize that conversation but not many of us recognize the fallacies that lie within it. In wholesale distribution, it seems that the primary prerequisite for becoming a sales manager is being the top performing sales person. Promoting our top performing sales person to sales manager simply due to results is a big mistake. Personal experience tells me it has less than a forty percent chance for success. Our chance of success is decreased even further if we really believe that our sales manager can manage the sales force and still be solely responsible for a number of high volume accounts.
Different Skill Sets
It is an undisputable fact that different skill sets are required to become a successful sales manager as compared to being a successful sales person. Selling is a profession that requires professionals. Managing a group of professionals with the type of personalities required to succeed in sales is no easy task. Yet, in my humble opinion, it is probably the most important management position you can hold in a company. Sales management holds the key to meeting company objectives. Effective sales management builds the platform for success. Sales people are not the easiest group in the company to manage. If they were they would not be sales people. Selling is not easy. It takes a special talent, self motivation, self discipline, a passion to succeed and the ability to accept rejection. The reality of the situation is simple. The majority of sales people are not managed well. Let’s look at some common sales management mistakes to help us develop the list of hints I promised that will increase your ability to determine which sales person at your company is likely to succeed as sales manager.
Mistake —– Low tolerance for process.
Let’s face it, there probably isn’t a sales person alive that likes paperwork and administrative tasks. However, a Super Star Sales Manager will be process oriented. They understand that success in sales is driven by best practice and best practice is built around process. Sales effectiveness depends on predictable and repeatable best practice. The Super Star Sales Manager will create the kind of culture that negates the inherent aberration by sales people for process, structure, detailed and documented action planning.
If your star sales person embraces structure, pays attention to detail, is always current with required communications, documents his action planning process and doesn’t whine about administrative requirements passed down by corporate, chances are he/she will have a high tolerance for process. This means he/she possesses a basic understanding of structure and accountability. Everything isn’t locked up in their head just because they have been doing it a long time and have had great success.
Mistake —– Weak coaching and mentoring skills
Relationship equity is still a primary ingredient for sales success. However, relationship equity with the customer is quite different than relationship equity with peers, subordinates and executive management. A Super Star Sales Manager will build enough relationship equity with their sales force to be able to provide effective coaching and mentoring in reviewing the sales person’s activities. They understand that you must manage activities and measure results. This coaching and mentoring process includes buddy calls, monthly territory reviews that provide support and resources to leverage individual sales talent. This process includes opportunity recognition and pipeline management. What does the sales person have in the pipeline? Can the sales manager provide proactive support and resources to increase the chance of success?
If your star sales person is reluctant to accept or seek out help, this may be an indication of the Lone Wolf methodology. Maximizing territory performance requires a team effort. Utilization of all resources and support is mandatory to grow market share and maximize profitability. Look for the sales person that is successful but recognizes that they are not alone. Look for the sales person that shares the credit for success, coaches the inside sales staff, recognizes the contributions of customer service personnel and others in the organization. This sales person has also gained the respect of his peers and is often seen giving advice and sharing ideas.
Mistake —- Lack of development programs and leadership skills training
Leadership skills are extremely important to effective sales management. This is especially true when managing a sales force that leans more to the route mentality, is in a comfort zone, becomes complacent or is focusing on demand fulfillment as opposed to demand creation. The ability to recognize the need to adapt your management style not only to the situation but also to the individual is a key to gaining respect and trust from the sales force. This is a learned skill. Failure to seek out leadership skills training can be detrimental to success. A prerequisite to success in sales management is the ability to recognize talent and develop that talent. A Super Star Sales Manager will recognize talent and is willing to help develop that talent to reach its highest potential. They also prune the garden effectively. This means they hire well but fire even better. Failure to formalize a development program for sales management is a big mistake.
If your star sales person is not interested in attending seminars, doesn’t listen to self development tapes and hasn’t read a sales book in the past year, chances are they believe they are as good as they are going to get. Look for the sales person that is willing to be away from his territory, sacrificing commissions to increase his individual knowledge. This is the type of sales person that is a sponge when it comes to continuing education in the fields of sales. This person not only seeks company sponsored training but is willing to invest his own money and time in self improvement activities. They have a philosophy of continuous self improvement striving to be the very best that they can be.
Mistake —- A Member of “The Lucky Territory Club”
Numbers alone don’t always tell the story. We need to analyze each individual success story. Just because a sales territory has performed well doesn’t automatically mean the sales person is a star. A ten percent sales growth sounds great but how good is it if the potential growth for that territory should be in the twenty or thirty per cent range. A ten percent sales growth in that territory sounds great but how good is it if the market in that territory actually grew by thirty percent and the sales person was in a comfort zone walking by opportunities daily.
When evaluating your star sales person for potential promotion, analyze the numbers thoroughly. Is the sales person the real reason for that territory success? Are the numbers as good as they appear when you consider all the factors? Determine how this territory was established. Is this sales person responsible for the long term growth of this territory or did they inherit it. Analyze new account development in this territory. Evaluate this sales persons prospecting skills. How many new accounts have been developed in the territory? What kind of penetration success has been demonstrated with existing accounts?
Look for the sales person that has the ability to think strategically. They are willing to sacrifice personal gain for the benefit of long term company success. (A rare quality). A sales person that may be a maverick and shoot from the hip occasionally but every risk they take is a calculated risk. Their personal objectives for territory performance are in alignment with the company’s strategic objectives in relationship to product development,, segmentation, vendor development and margin initiatives. Look for the sales person that has good communication skills internally, one that has learned to listen exceptionally well, a skill that often eludes some of the best sales personnel.
If you are ready to promote your star sales person to sales manager, pay attention to the hints listed in this article. If your star sales person measures up according to the factors discussed in this article, your chance of success increases dramatically. That means your Super Star Sales Person can become your Super Star Sales Manager. If they don’t measure up according to the hints discussed, look deeper into your sales organization for that sales manager or go outside the organization. There is no such thing as entitlement. Remember, different skill sets are required to be an effective sales manager.