If you want strong sales growth, you’ll need strong sales management

If you want strong sales growth, you’ll need strong sales management

By Theodore Pappas, for SBT

In today’s struggling economy, business owners are trying to grow revenues just to stay solvent. The economy long ago has pushed many businesses beyond the breakeven point. Now, it’s grow revenues or perish.
There’s one requirement in developing new sales: sales leadership. Without it, a sales team flounders and rarely reaches its objectives. The owner or sales manager must provide that leadership or, if inexperienced in leading a sales team, the owner should consider hiring a part-time sales manager.
In most successful businesses, sales leadership comes from the sales manager. Next to the owner/president, the sales manager is the most important "engine" in the organization.
A successful sales leader is an effective teacher, knows how to plan, has courage, possesses common sense and demonstrates compassion.
Leaders are stallions; they lead the herd.
They are unafraid yet careful.
Welcome accountability
And they welcome accountability. Accountability is the abrasive that polishes their personality – it makes them radiant. Accountability proves their worth.
All great "coaches" were first good teachers. They taught first and then had their students emulate them. They broke down complicated tasks into easy-to-follow routines. Their students learned to execute from the simple to the complex. It’s not enough to tell a salesperson: "Here’s your product, there is your territory, now go out and sell something!" The good teacher is also a good motivator. However, without the benefits of good teaching, the voice of motivation becomes a noisy tin can.
The owner or sales manager that plans to grow sales from one level to another must have several plans. The leader must have a process for hiring, interviewing, selecting, coaching and managing.
Often times each team member has to be taught and motivated individually and differently from the others. The leader must sense that need.
Other important programs deal with qualifying, differentiating, overcoming objections and value-added techniques. Not all people can be led the same way. The mark of good leader is getting all the flowers to bloom "where they are planted." The leader gets every sales team member to succeed.
Sales leaders need the courage to be an advocate for the sales team. That means both delivering the bad news to the team, such as increased quotas, smaller territories and reduced commission rates, and being willing to tell the president that he is wrong – behind closed doors.
A manager that doesn’t stand up for his team loses respect and control. And a good sales manager supports the boss and does not belittle him behind his back.
Quite often the sales manager risks a lot being honest. But without honesty, he’s not a leader but just a replaceable "staffer."
Since individual sales team members rarely have the ear of the president, they need to depend on their leader to voice their concerns.
Along with courage comes common sense. Too often decisions are mired in artificial operating procedures, which stymie growth and customer satisfaction. The leader has to see through bureaucratic mesh and be willing to take a pragmatic approach to a solution.

Focus on the mission
I have seen presidents become more concerned about where and how a document is filed than in getting the order and satisfying a customer. The sales manager needs to make sure that the president doesn’t lose focus on the overall mission: getting the order and growing profitable sales.
There are times when sales managers, having had the courage to properly address difficult situations and having used common sense, could not always adjudicate sales situations to the satisfaction of the entire team. However, even when a manager must be firm, that firmness can be tempered with compassion.
The compassionate leader needs to demonstrate to his people that managers are co-strugglers in the success and failures of their sales people. That is, when sales people fall short of objectives, the manager shares in the loss.
An effective sales leader is not a fool who charges in without forethought. To be effective, a leader must be respected by his boss and peer managers. That means his actions must reflect the best interests of the company. What’s good for sales is not always what’s good for the company.
It has been my experience that the sales manager is too often viewed as the manager that makes too much money. But the effective sales manager earns every dime. Think of it: nothing happens in any business until someone sells something. Finally, if you want to make sure that your sales herd returns to green fields of profitability, entrust it to the stallion that has traveled the road.

Theodore Pappas is the principal of Sales Coaching and a member of the Institute of Management Consultants in Brookfield. He can be reached at 262-784-9910 or at: tpappas@wi.rr.com.

May 30, 2003 Small Business Times, Milwaukee

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