Toughest job in management? The sales manager

The first-line sales manager's job, in my opinion, is the toughest job there is in management.

The success or failure of any company depends on the effectiveness of this vital position. Since the sales department is the only department in the company that brings in the dollars, the sales manager's effectiveness at leading the sales team is of the utmost importance.

To clarify, when I refer to a person who is a sales manager, I'm referring to someone who supervises and is accountable for the sales results of his or her staff.

I'm not talking about the salesperson who may be carrying a sales manager's title but, in reality, is merely a glorified salesperson.

For example, in the hospitality industry, generally speaking, a salesperson for a hotel is typically referred to as a sales manager even though he or she may not be managing anyone other than him or herself.

A first-line sales manager has to assume direct responsibility for the development of all the salespeople under his or her supervision.

Unfortunately, many companies still adhere to the old model of a sales manager as the person who merely supervises sales staff. The new model for sales leadership, however, looks quite different.

Today a sales manager is more of a coach than a traditional manager.

Beyond the basic tenet of getting the sales staff to sell more, she must play a significant role in the career guidance and development of the people she supervises to help each achieve their goals.

By seeking to instill in each one the motivation to improve sales ability, she moves them beyond money motivation toward becoming a true sales professional. The sales manager exists to help her salespeople perform better for themselves and for the greater good of the company.

The greatest mistake most companies make is that they take their best salesperson and promote him to sales manager regardless of whether he is actually qualified for the position.

Being an effective salesperson and being an effective manager are two different things and being good at one does not, in any way, signify that a person will be good at the other. As a result, many companies end up losing a great salesperson and gaining a poor manager.

In-depth research shows that the future of successful salespeople depends more on the ability of their sales manager to develop their talents and abilities than on any other variable in the business. Even when a company has a strong sales management candidate, they often promote the person to sales management without providing the training and support required to succeed.

It's my premise that the majority of salespeople look for the easy way in every business situation.

In fact, I believe that that the majority of salespeople would prefer an easier way of failing than a more difficult way that would almost guarantee success. When a salesperson is promoted to sales management, he or she carries this same basic characteristic. In management, however, the rules of the game change; there is no longer an easy way out.

A sales manager's performance is judged on success in building and maintaining a productive sales team.

This requires hard work and hands-on involvement. Implementing an effective selling process departmentwide that covers all the bases and leaves nothing to chance, getting in the field with sales personnel, training, coaching, planning productive sales meetings, mentoring, setting goals and discipline are all key responsibilities.

It's much easier to sit at the computer and send e-mails than it is to dedicate one's self to building a successful sales team.

One of the most interesting things occurring today is that companies are bringing in outside assessment firms to evaluate the effectiveness of sales personnel. Interestingly, these companies convince the senior management that the company should be testing all of their sales personnel to ensure their effectiveness and letting go of those salespeople who don't make the cut.

This type of evaluation process all but exonerates the sales manager who is not hitting the numbers, by offering up the sales staff as the logical scapegoat. In testing each salesperson, negative findings will be interpreted to mean that the company has been hiring the wrong people, thereby giving the sales manager an excuse for lack of productivity.

Now new candidates will be tested to ensure they meet the sales profile. What the company does not understand, however, is that the chances of these newly selected sales candidates being successful with the same unqualified sales manager is about the same as the failure rate of the previous salespeople who were fired for lack of results.

It doesn't matter how many times the sales staff is replaced, if the sales manager's lack of skill and ability remains the same, a company can expect to get the same results.

To be successful, sales managers must take the leadership role in the development of their sales teams.

Companies must understand that management training is essential for sales managers to be effective leaders. If a sales manager has not learned an effective, transferable selling process, one must be found, learned and then brought to the sales team for their training as well.

A sales manager lacking in leadership skills can outrun the excuse of having unqualified salespeople for only so long.

In today's competitive marketplace, failure on the part of the sales department is not an option.

Sales managers who can lead, develop and motivate their sales team are the key to profitability.



Roy Chitwood is an author, trainer and consultant in sales and sales management and is president of Max Sacks International, Seattle.