How do your sales managers spend their time?
The title is supposed to be thought-provoking rather than critical. In many organisations there are lots of demands on a sales director’s or manager’s time. Management meetings, business reviews upwards and downwards, strategic planning, meeting partners, visiting customers, motivating the troops, product launches, advertising reviews, recruiting, ad hoc internal meetings. The list goes on (and on). While all these tasks are necessary and many are urgent too, what are the really important ones? Which ones will make a difference to your business results?
The place to start is with the objective of the job; in very simple terms the objective is to achieve an agreed level of sales, yielding the right gross margin all within a given sales cost. The next important thing is the quality of the business forecast. In a listed environment this is vital as the failure to achieve sales forecasts is one contributor to the unwanted profits warning. Failure to achieve forecasts and budgets mess up cash flows, investments, costs and morale.
There are only three really important things in a sales manager’s working life. The first and most important is customers: the reasons for this are obvious, aren’t they? Leaving out the clichés (or home truths) like “customers make payday possible” and “the customer is king”, the sales manager can acquire valuable business and competitive intelligence, verify forecasts, monitor and coach their salespeople at work, generate leads, and of course close major contracts. Many sales managers are drawn into sales situations rather than being proactive and having their own schedule of relationship-building programmes. This approach is invaluable when things go wrong or when there is a big deal to be won. How many of your sales managers spend more than 30% of their time with customers?
The second is people: after all, they are the ones that do the selling. At a weekly sales meeting, how much time is spent communicating, rather than telling? How much time is spent training, for example improving closing skills, or in maximising returns from value selling? In one to ones how much time is spent call or account planning, and in front of the customer if the sales manager always closes the deal, how does the salesperson ever develop the skills to do it themselves? Releasing or hiring salespeople is expensive – improving them is, in most cases relatively cheap.
Finally, there are the numbers. Sales Managers live and die by their numbers, but it doesn’t matter how many times a prospect list is examined, or salespeople coerced into improving the possibility of an order, or offering increased commission, the numbers will not just happen! The keys to managing a business target and forecast are:
• Knowing on a day to day basis your order intake, the gap to target and forecast, and how the gap can be realistically bridged
• An intimate understanding of your target markets and key customers
• Ensuring that your offerings add real value to your customers by improving their business performance
• Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of your salespeople and ensuring that they are deployed and managed in the most productive way
• Understanding the risks and opportunities at a customer, or in a market and taking appropriate action
• An obsessive focus on qualification – only those prospects that are truly qualified will deliver orders
• Understanding your competition, and how to beat it, and
• Honesty – do not penalise salespeople for telling the truth, rather than saying what they think you want to hear!
It is not possible to achieve a target or forecast or by working in the office “managing” a spreadsheet full of numbers. The only way these tasks can be achieved is by sales managers spending their time with their customers and salespeople, and by doing this, theirs and your chances of success are significantly improved.