It’s always good to listen to your customers. Every six months or so The TAS Group hosts a Customer Advisory Board meeting where we bring together a small number of our customers to listen to what they have to say, understand the challenges they are facing, hear what they like, or don’t like, about the products and services we provide, and get their opinions on our planned innovations. It’s always educational and illuminating, and sometimes – like last week – it can be inspiring when we hear how our offerings are making a real difference to our customers’ sales organizations.
Last week I spent a day and a half with senior representatives of Apple, Autodesk, Baxter, Honeywell, Level 3 and Xerox. These highly motivated individuals care deeply about how they can improve the productivity and performance of their sales teams. Their passion was palpable, their curiosity contagious, and their search for excellence was edifying. We had a very interactive session that was valuable in informing our future innovation path, gratifying in the affirmation of our strategic direction, and I hope, beneficial to each of our customers through the reciprocal discourse with other professionals facing similar challenges.
One of the topics we discussed was The Sales Manager’s Perspective, and to kick off that session we asked our customers to consider the question ‘What do we expect from our sales managers?’ With the exception of the last point (which is mine alone – added with tongue stuck firmly in cheek), the following is a direct transcription from the flip-chart where we recorded the answers.
- Messaging – Bi directional
- Talent Management
- Performance Management
- Knowledge of …. immense (too much to list)
- Knowledge of tools and How to use
- Resource Deployment
- Revenue Results
- Internal Management
- Voice of the Customer
- Perform like Super(wo)man
How on earth is anyone expected to succeed at all aspects of this job? Is it any wonder that the average tenure of sales leaders is just 18 months? As we all know, many of these sales managers who we ask to perform all of these tasks were plucked from the ranks of the higher-performing individual contributors, where they had learned to fly solo, and soar to heights unencumbered by passengers. In many cases their earning potential was unlimited and constrained only by their own personal aptitude and application. Now they need to lead a team, and resolve the complex equation of motivate and mentor, cajole and coach, reward and reprimand, enjoin and empower – all while balancing the needs of their organization, the sales person, and the customer.
This is one of the problems we try to help our customers solve. Much has been written about the average amount of non-selling time in the sales person’s week, but there’s not been enough attention paid to the day in the life of the sales manager. This critical cog in the sales engine needs to run smoothly, or the revenue machine grinds to a stuttering halt.
Our recommended solution (or part thereof) is to use technology to remove the unnecessary management overhead from the manager. According to Webster, management is ‘the process of dealing with or controlling things or people’. There’s little value delivered in that interaction. The focus must be on coaching, motivation, sales support of deal structuring.
Our take – informed by the experience and input of our customers, who of course use Dealmaker (blatant plug?) – is that with the appropriate tools, you can elevate the sales person to self-manage, reduce the need for the ‘tell me about your week’ conversation, or the ‘what’s your commit forecast number?’ discussion, and liberate the sales manager to be a valuable resource that the sales person will seek out for assistance, rather than view as an unavoidable ‘report-to‘ overhead. This was best described by one of the contributors who outlined four prequistes for success.
- Provide information when and how it is needed – “now information”
- Let the technology do the “managing” so “I” can focus on the coaching
- Provide information so the interpretation and application of the information (rather than the collection of data) is the focus of the manager/salesperson interaction
- Elevate the discussion
Without such an approach, ‘successful sales manager’ is in danger of becoming an oxymoron, and solving Fermat, Foucault or Fibonacci, is easier that solving the complex equation that the front line sales manager needs to process every day.