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What is the Real Role of the Sales Manager?

2 Aug, 2013 By: Tom Callinan, Strategy Development


What is the role of the sales manager?  When I ask that question I frequently hear, “close more business,” or “monitor the activity of the sales team.”  In my opinion both of these replies demonstrate a lack of thought as to where a manager should be focused. 

Imagine your favorite football team hires a new coach and after their first big practice he takes the podium at the new conference and says the following, “When I was in the huddle I realized that the quarterback wasn’t articulating the play as well as I liked so I took over to ensure the team understood what we were running.  I decided to stay in the backfield to make certain the QB checked off on all of his options before he threw the pass.  Just as he was about to release, I grabbed his helmet and directed his vision to number 88, who was open down field.”  You would think the guy was crazy, as in fact he would have to be.

Isn’t that football analogy the exact same as your desire to have a manager that can close more business?  How does an effective coach win more games?  That’s simple:  Get the best athlete for the position, work with them on conditioning, the fundamentals and understanding the plays, review films to understand your play and that of your competition, and then drill execution into them during practice so that they can execute on game day.  You measure results in wins and losses as well as individual stats such as yards per carry or yards after reception.  In management terms you want a good selection process, solid onboarding and individual development process in place, and a pre-call planning/post call debrief process that helps your sales professionals execute.  You want to measure meaningful stats that I’ll touch on later.

The manager’s job is to develop a winning team: The team’s job is to sell (when referencing sales teams).  If you really want to grow your organization it is critical that you understand that your managers’ jobs are to develop their teams so that they can execute on your business plan.  If you are an executive that manages managers that is how you should focus this critical group.  If you are a manager make certain your focus is on building a winning team: If you do that you will consistently achieve your business goals.

How do you know your developmental efforts are working?  You measure them, but even here I’d caution you against following some of the normally professed metrics.  Back to the questions I frequently get: “How many calls per day should my sales professionals be making?”  Back to the coach’s news conference, “I was really impressed with number 86 who ran 50 laps around the field today during practice.”  The fans don’t know whether to laugh or cry: 50 laps, really, who cares?  Was he able to breakaway from his defender?  In tight coverage did he find a way to make the catch?  Was he able to gain yards after the catch?

Let’s look at this from another perspective: Jim is either really lucky or very talented on the phone and he is able to get an appointment for every 12 calls he makes.  Joe doesn’t have Jim’s luck or talent and he makes 60 calls to get a single appointment.   The manager is reviewing the day’s stats with the sales team and gives Joe a big shout out for making 50 calls today.   The manager also makes mention, in not so favorable terms, that Jim only made 25 calls.  What’s the manager missing?  Joe didn’t get a single appointment yet Jim secured two appointments with his 25 calls.  The manager has the wrong metric!

Does that mean that the sales manager should never measure how many calls a sales professional makes in a give period?  No, there are times when you want to do that as part of an individual development plan.  Let’s say a sales professional is way short of quota and their pipeline is weak; they clearly have an activity issue, either quantity, quality, or both.  The manager should work with the sales professional to help them identify their issue and help them develop a plan to address it.  If it were quantity I’d have a very short time period to correct: If I have to tell somebody they need to work I don’t want them on my team.  If it is quality I get them the training they need—from one of the stronger team members or even me if that is a personal strength—and address their shortfall.  That’s my job as a manager, to develop my team members.

Let’s get back to basics and analyze how you put together a winning team: 

  1. I select the right team members.  I don’t care how much you spend, how hard you practice, how much time you put into development if you don’t have the correct people on your team you aren’t going to win.
  2. I put the player in the correct position, or in sale terms in the correct territory.  The post office or highway department does not define a sales territory but rather by accounts, both current and zero based (ZBA) accounts you want to penetrate.  Territories can vary widely and you can have specialty players, such as wide format, production, major accounts, GEM, etc.  If I put Adrian Peterson in the game as a defensive end he’d be on waivers instead of headed to the Pro Bowl so make certain you match the skills to the position.
  3. I hold great practices; or in our world I on board the new recruits to provide them with the fundamentals they need to succeed in this business.  I then create individual development plans from everything I know about the sales professional.  I gained this information in their interview, profile, reference checks, and from observing them in their onboarding.
  4. I focus them on the correct metrics and that is how I measure them.   The most important metric is revenue but in order to have revenue you need to have prospects.  I also know that all else being equal, average unit selling price and close ratio remains constant, if I double my prospects I’ll double my revenue.  Therefore, prospect growth is more important than revenue for long-term success.
  5. I make certain every interaction I have with the sales professional aides in their development.  I don’t go out on a sales without a pre-call plan; I help them develop their longer term prospects as I know the more time we have in the selling cycle the more influence we have on the decision; I am doing what I’ve always done but I am doing it through a lens of development vs. an immediate gratification lens of closing the business.

As a manager how do I know I am winning? 

  • My organic growth is in the double digits
  • My turnover is less than 25%
  • My sales professional productivity is greater than $600,000
  • I am accomplishing the above metrics while growing the size of my overall sales team if I am a director or VP level and if I manage a team my members are being promoted into roles with additional responsibility.

By now you clearly understand your role:  Develop your team members and through their development achieve your business goals.  Make certain you’re focused on that development and enjoy a long and successful management career!

Tom Callinan is the founding principal of Strategy Development, a management consulting firm for the technology and outsourcing space specializing in sales effectiveness, advanced sales training, operational improvement and performance improvement strategies (http://www.strategydevelopment.org).  From 1998 – 2005, Callinan was an executive with IKON Office Solutions (acquired by Ricoh in 2008), most recently vice president and general manager of IKON’s largest business unit with revenue of  $1.4 billion.  Prior to IKON, Callinan was the founder and CEO of Copifax, Inc, a copier dealership that was recognized with numerous awards including inclusion on the INC 500 list of fastest growing private US companies.  Copifax was acquired by IKON in 1997.  Callinan graduated with honors from The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania. Tom can be reached at http://callinan@strategydevelopment.org or 610.527.3317




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