I've written before that in my opinion the toughest job in management is the sales manager position.
This position is also the key in building a successful sales organization.
For the purpose of this article, when I refer to the sales manager I am referring to someone who has the responsibility for the hiring, training and development of the sales team for his or her area of responsibility.
I am not referring to the salesperson who may be carrying a sales manager´s title but whose primary responsibility is personal sales.
In no other position in the company is accountability measured more by the results produced than the sales manager´s. The numbers tell all.
The sales organization, the territories and the individual salespeople either meet quota or they don´t. There is no in-between. The position can be thankless with regard to public acknowledgment or appreciation and is similar to the coaching profession in most major sports.
With few notable exceptions, most coaches in the professional ranks receive none of the credit for success and all of the blame for failure as we have seen with all of the changes made as the result of a dismal professional football season.
There are many reasons why it is so difficult to be successful in the sales manager position. One is the lack of understanding on the part of senior management of what's really involved in the sales function of a company.
Because of this lack of understanding, many times senior management makes the mistake of filling the position with a top-producing salesperson.
Being an outstanding salesperson doesn't qualify someone for the sales management position. In fact, many times the characteristics that contribute to the success of an outstanding salesperson work against him or her in the role of sales manager.
Research shows that the majority of outstanding salespeople have high ego drive, a strong sense of self-worth and look for recognition of their personal sales achievements.
However, the successful sales manager understands that the results that can be produced by her team are much greater than any results she could achieve on her own. Thus, the focus is on developing, in my opinion, any company's greatest asset — the undeveloped potential of its people.
The following is an example of the lack of understanding on the part of senior management of what´s required for the position of sales manager. Recently a former manager from my old life insurance days many years ago contacted me for a reference for a new sales manager position he was applying for.
After a successful career in the insurance business he went into the mortgage banking business and formed his own mortgage company that he successfully operated for more than 10 years prior to the housing meltdown in the last couple of years.
After he'd completed the interview process, he called to let me know he did not get the position because senior management felt that his typing speed was not sufficient. He is in his early 50s and did not grow up with the computer as many of today's sales executives have. Therefore his typing speed was only 29 words per minute.
It is my opinion that this company does not understand the requirements of a successful sales manager.
I would wager my last dollar that no one is going to be a successful sales manager as a result of typing speed.
Let's examine some of the attributes of the successful sales manager.
- Coaching and mentoring. Top sales managers understand that the results that can be produced by their people through proper training, coaching and mentoring are much greater than the results they can achieve on their own. They understand that nothing is any more important than their people and therefore they invest their time heavily in the training and development of their personnel as they know they will harvest the fruits of their labor in the future.
- Patience. Much like a wise farmer, successful managers understand that they can´t simply plant seeds today and harvest a crop tomorrow. They must continually nourish their people, help them to grow and bring them along to the point of harvest and this includes ongoing sales training. There are three important elements in the sales training process: 1. It has to be real world; 2. It has to be ongoing; 3. It has to be repetitious. The sales manager has the patience to show them, show them and show them.
- Ego drive. Just like top salespeople, top sales managers also have a high ego drive but it´s in a different form. The top manager´s ego is in the background and is satisfied through the accomplishments of the team. One of the main reasons that many times outstanding salespeople do not make good managers is that their individual ego needs get in the way.
- Selflessness. A successful sales manager must be selfless most of the time. Many times what might be in the manager´s best interest isn´t in the best interest of his people or organization. The successful managers are those who forsake short-term personal gain for the long-term benefits of their people and the company. And this also has to be the best thing for the manager.
- Results through people. Managers are judged by the results of their team. Therefore they understand the value and importance of training, coaching and mentoring their people. There´s absolutely nothing managers have to do that is any more important than spending the necessary time in the field with their people. This means spending time with the stars as well as the struggling neophytes. A manager´s greatest return on her time is the personal time spent with the top performers.
How important is the sales manager to a successful organization?
The sales activity of a company is the only activity that brings in revenue.
All other activities are cost activities.
Research shows the above-average salesperson has twice the chances of being successful with an above-average manager.
The average salesperson has five times the chances of being successful with an above-average sales manager.
How important is the sales manager?
You make the call.
Roy Chitwood is an author, trainer and consultant in sales and sales management and is president of Max Sacks International, Seattle.