I heard this question from a VP of Sales recently. I just began to work with her a few weeks prior, and she wanted to talk about how to get to her number during our coaching session. The look on her face said it all. She had been an incredibly successful Account Executive for her firm and was promoted to a Sales Leadership position because of her talent as an individual contributor. She was learning the hard way that managing a sales team as a VP is an entirely different thing altogether. Her tenacity and ability to focus led to her setting sales records for her company, year after year. Now, her penchant to focus on the wrong things as a Sales Manager was resulting in a challenging year, where she and her sales team are beginning to worry about running out of time. The bad news is that eight months are done, and only 3.5 months remain in her year. Still, if she can change her focus, she can finish the year with a flourish and capture the flag. Or, at a minimum, she can set herself and her team up to achieve their target in calendar 2017.
Realize That The Game Is Different – The attributes and techniques that led to your success as an individual contributor sales star are not the same as the attributes and techniques that will lead to your success leading a sales team. The game is different. You are now getting paid to do a whole heck of a lot more than just selling. Too many sales managers, including my friend the VP, think that they still need to sell, sell, sell, to lead their team. The truth is that you DO have to sell, but now you need to be able to change your game, and only sell to customers 10-20% of the time, and sell to your channel partners and sales teams 80% of the time. You need to be in front of your sales team on a rotating basis, helping them learn to develop their sales skills. Visit each one of them in their territory and accompany them on their sales calls, and avoid the temptation to sell for them, so that they can see how YOU sell. Far better for you to sit back and watch THEM sell. That’s the only way you can observe and assess what they might be doing right and doing wrong. Your mission is to understand what your salespeople are doing, what their priorities are, what they are working on, first, second, and third, etc. Once you know what they’re currently doing, you can suggest, encourage and challenge them to change their priorities or their current approach to investing their time.
Time, Time, Time Is On My Side – No it isn’t! For most salespeople, time is definitely not on your side. As I coach Account Executives, they tell me how hard it is to excel at selling these days. The pace of technology change, the need to be educated and crisp on industry best practices, keeping Salesforce.com CRM details updated, providing vendors with updates on sales campaign details, all of these conspire to consume their day. The truth is that the average AE is updating their SFDC system, answering emails, and working on proposals for prospects and customers deep into the night. It’s pretty rare these days that a salesperson is failing because they’re not working hard enough. More often, they are squandering their time by working on the wrong things at the wrong time, and not using their support resources intelligently. Nobody can tell you day in and day out what you need to prioritize and work on today that will do you the most good. As a Sales Manager, the first step toward hitting your number as a team, and ensuring that Erin hits her number and that Bob hits his number, is to make sure that they understand their goal and their territory. You, as a Sales Manager, can suggest some strategies that will, if followed religiously, lead to results in their territory.
Balance In All Things and Intelligent Balance Is Best – Account Executives who are working new territories, or acquisition territories need to spend their time differently than an AE who has had the same territory for say five years, right? Yes, that’s right. So, how should an AE spend their time differently than an established territory AE? First, they spend MORE time with prospects and LESS time with existing customers in an acquisition territory, because there are far fewer existing customers to spend time with, and they desperately need to focus on converting prospects into first-time customers. Secondly, they may need to devote more time with Manufacturer Sales Leaders and AEs to identify opportunities to partner to help each of you to grow business in this acquisition territory. Each AE needs to balance their time between many things: Prospects, Customers, Colleagues, their Manager, Product Training, Sales Calls, Proposals, updating CRM, etc. They need to find a healthy balance that will lead to success if they stick to it MOST of the time. Why MOST of the time? Because stuff happens that changes your priorities. We get paid enough at this level to be able to adjust with intelligence. Your job as a Sales Manager is to help your AEs to think strategically about their territory, and develop a balanced approach to how they’re going to invest their time day in and day out so that they maximize their chances of achieving success in growing the territory. If Erin is in an acquisition territory, and Bob is in a mature territory with dozens of strong existing customers, their territories are very different. Accordingly, the way that they spend their time in their territories will therefore be very different.
Do Your Job, and Give Them Reason to Believe – Sales Managers have an enormous impact on the culture in their sales organization and how it supports or detracts from their team. If your sales culture is healthy and positive, it will energize your sales team and your entire organization. If your sales culture is diseased and negative, it will drag down all but the most exceptional of sales professionals. Be visible in your organization and be a positive force for change. Make sure that your sales team knows that they are handpicked and a part of an organization that will create a legacy of success together by competing and winning, doing the right things. Set an example for your sales team by prioritizing your time and staying confident and positive at all times. Make Leadership of your Sales Team and Building a Great Success Friendly Culture your top priority.
There are no magic incantations or pills that will deliver you and your team to your sales number for this year. The only way you’re going to get there is if you and your team go on a drive together at the end of the year. You have to go on a drive toward prioritizing your time on just the right things that will help you and your team to catch up, to eliminate the gap between where you need to be, and where you are. The good news is that there is still time. Many sales teams enter the 4th Quarter of the year behind on their sales targets. I’ve noticed that the urgency in the 4th Quarter is always significantly higher for sales teams than the urgency in any other quarter. By focusing and getting deadly serious about closing the gap, you can do it. Dig deep! Work your tail off, and make sure that you, as a sales manager are coaching and mentoring your team. Figure out how they’re spending their time. Help them to avoid distractions and time wasters. Help them to prioritize and achieve a smart balance in their activity in their territory. Get them excited about how good it’s going to feel to claim victory at the end of the year…. You can DO it!
Michael rolled up his sleeves with that VP of Sales who was worried about whether her team could catch up. She now understands that if her team is going to catch up, SHE needs to provide tremendous leadership and get very clear with each of her AEs to eliminate distractions, time waste, and get them to determine just what to spend their time on. She is helping them to eliminate routine tasks that don’t deliver value. She is helping them to identify actions that will help them build relationships with their prospects that add value and demonstrate their intent to serve the customer. The initial results are promising, and she is beginning to narrow the gap….
Michael works with Sales Leaders and Sales Teams to help them to over-achieve against their revenue and margin targets. Michael is a business and executive development coach in Minnesota who helps high technology firms to grow their businesses profitably while building strong long-term relationships with their customers. If you’d like to receive a FREE copy of Michael’s 25 Best Practices for Sales Professionals, just send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, and Michael and his team will email you the best practices. Keep your eyes and ears tuned to Michael’s articles for more helpful strategies around Sales Management and Sales Excellence.