6 Ways to Smell a Bad Sales Manager

November 22, 2013
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This article was originally published in Executive Travel Magazine with the slightly more optimistic title Sales Team Management Secrets:

The success of a sales team is inextricably linked with the team’s management strategies. Sales managers tend to be vocal in reference to the underperformance of their sales teams, but they don’t always reflect on their own contribution to their team’s shortcomings. As a manager, you have the power to influence your team’s performance through compensation, tools and practices, and the team’s success or failure ultimately is your responsibility. If you are managing a struggling sales team, check to see if the odor originates from you.

1. Your commission structure does not “reward” and “punish” the appropriate behaviors

When I started my sales career at the beginning of the 21st century, I worked for a mid-sized telecom company. The company provided comfortable base salaries and a horrible sales commission structure. Because it took no effort to collect the base salary and because hard work barely paid off, I knew a few “account executives” and “senior account executives” who used company time to operate entirely separate businesses–operations that provided their primary income! If you lack control over your team’s payment structure, you must at least be able to identify and terminate free-loaders.

Compensation manifests in many forms and must be designed to incentivize sales people. Make sure the structure serves to reward desired behaviors and punish undesired ones. Promote an energetic environment by instituting contests and games to create healthy competition. For example, choose a company you would love to land as a client but have been unsuccessful at engaging and offer the first rep to hold a meeting with a C-level executive a reward of $100 cash. Perhaps most importantly, make it a point to compliment your sales people in front of customers, colleagues and fellow team members. Sales executives crave recognition and public pats on the back go a long way.

2. You offer no feedback, vague feedback or harsh criticisms

Managers can have a wacky way of rationalizing their style. I once had a manager who criticized harshly, yelled frequently and never offered praise. I learned he rationalized this approach by assuming it would keep me tough. He was “testing” me. While that approach may have worked for the wrestlers he coached, it is generally ineffective to motivate sales professionals.

A great sales manager knows when to stay out of the way, and how to helpful when needed. The bad sales manager seems to have a talent for the opposite, interfering when things are going well and running for the hills as soon as their own contribution can be measured.

3. You provide your team with outdated and unattractive marketing collateral…or none at all

I was working with a foreign airline experiencing revenue production issues stemming from an unsuccessful sales team. The team primarily targeted wealthy, high-level business executives. When I asked for a sample of their current brochure, I received a flimsy, discolored trifold with crowded language and numerous misspellings. A piece like this undermines the value of the represented company and contributes to the demise of the sale. Marketing pieces must assist a company’s sales process by acting as a persuasive device that “speaks” directly to its target market. I have encountered many companies claiming to work with high-end clients while distributing materials that look, well, less than “high end”. If your marketing materials don’t support your pitch, how can low sales possibly surprise you?

Having the right tools is critical in the selling process for high-yielding teams, and marketing materials are but one example. Another important tool is your Client Relationship Manager (CRM). A well-administered CRM is indispensible for sales forecasting and allows your sales professionals to keep track of prospect information and tasks required to move the sale forward.

4. Your primary method of training is by “shadowing”

“Shadowing” is a great training method, but only when combined with a more formal, standardized process. One larger company I’ve worked with deals in commercial and government contracts. They attribute their casual style in training and management to their entrepreneurial company culture and the rejection of all things bureaucratic. New hires are typically onboard weeks after they are needed and are thrown into the fire immediately. Now, the company has hundreds of new hires all representing the company with different sales pitches. If you stop any one of the sales executives hired in the past year, you will get different, incomplete and usually inaccurate answers with regards to the company history, capabilities and practice areas.

In the above scenario, the sales hires are expected to hit goals, but are provided no road map. Every person is “reinventing the wheel” with his or her personal technique. There is no brand consistency, company-wide service expectation or proficient method of sharing information.

5. You don’t keep your word or follow your own rules

I know a few managers who make a practice of arriving late to meetings and rescheduling meetings thirty minutes before they are supposed to begin. If you as a manager walk in late to a client meeting, how can your team take you seriously?

Actions speak louder than words and management behavior serves as a model to encourage or discourage good sales practices. You don’t have to be in the office all the time, but you have to be present through communication and hold true to your commitments. Lead by example.

6. You have high turnover

If you and your sales team exhibit one or more of the above qualities, the bad management odor is permeating through your company. It always surprises me how companies can be so blasé about high turnover. This is the number one way for anyone (inside or outside the company) to smell a bad manager. You’re doing something wrong. What is it?

It’s your responsibility to sniff out the situation and rework your management strategy.

What qualities should you look for in a stellar sales person?

Building a strong team can stack the cards in your favor. Most sales managers will agree that a successful sales rep is quick on their feet, energetic and pleasant. When interviewing, it is most important to replicate the exact same process for each candidate so you can most accurately compare. You will want to conduct interviews in the same environment, asking the same questions and requesting solutions to the same problem- solving scenarios. You should ALWAYS create real-life scenarios to check for a candidate’s skills in recognizing solutions to issues quickly. Finally, less value should be placed on qualitatively measured past sales successes. It sometimes seems like every sales professional you meet has been a “top performer” at a previous position—but how much does that really tell you?

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