Managing an Outside Sales Team. Help or Go Away.

Want to listen later? download it now!

Today’s tip is directed toward sales managers. Well actually it is geared toward lousy sales managers or sales managers that are currently deficient yet don’t know what they are doing wrong, or maybe they know that something is wrong but don’t know what to do to help their team produce results.

Maybe this tiip should be called a rant because very commonly I see very capable hard working sales people held back and many times crippled due to no guidance or the wrong guidance from the sales managers above them.

Here is the first reality for sales managers. The top producers don’t do what you say. That’s right, many times the top producers are top producers because they listen to you politely, bob their heads up and down and then ignore you and go do what works.

That is also a lesson for all you capable hard working sales people out there. Many times, not all the time, but many many times, if you blindly accept and follow your sales managers directives it is a slow death march to mediocrity at best.

Let’s quickly review some functions where sales managers can greatly help or significantly cripple the effectiveness of their sales team.

#1. Sales managers, you have the list of buyers. Your salespeople in the field don’t. You with just a few hours worth of effort, I am not kidding just a few hours worth of effort can focus your team on those most likely to buy, those that buy the most, those that are most likely to renew and buy again and again and again, those that are most profitable to the company.

But you know what I see all too often, salespeople in the field, inside people in their cubes, wasting gas, shoe leather and getting carpal tunnel, yet going nowhere because their sales managers have given them no guidance or very poor guidance on who is most likely to buy, working their butts off struggling.

Bottom line, it is management’s job to make sure that company assets are allocated where they will do the most good. One of your most valuable assets is the time of your sales people. One of the key things for management to do is to make sure that those who are most likely to buy, are the most profitable to sell to are called and approached effectively.

It is insanity to not have a very tight profile of your most likely and profitable buyers. You are sitting on the data and it takes mere hours to assemble it. It is ridiculous for you to send your sales people out to the battlefields and be oblivious to the fact that 70, 80, 90% or more of their time, I am not kidding I see it all the time, is spent with low probability or no probability prospects while the high probability prospects are staring at the phone and your team is not calling.

2. Over-emphasis on activity. Sorry troops but I see this all the time. Sales people feeling pressure from their manager to make more calls, walk through more doors, pitch people who are walking by to look good on their weekly report to their sales manager. Well here is news for you. They may be trying but they are also dying.

Let me first say that obviously there is a certain volume of action that must be done and if someone is not in that reasonable zone of activity they need to crank it up.

But it is also true that if a sales person is calling on the wrong people, working with lousy scripts or doesn’t have a solid handle on how to communicate value, if they are not laying a solid foundation for a sale with their initial prospect interactions, here is a bulletin. More activity is not going to help the sales person or save your sales management butt.

In fact, your insistence on more activity hastens the sales decline and makes a turn-around harder. You can pound the conference table and harumph all you want, but if you send your team out there and don’t make sure the best prospects are being called, you provide lousy scripts or value communication aids and don’t coach or evaluate properly how well a solid foundation for a sale is being laid, more calls, more visits, more cards being handed out isn’t going to help.

It hurts. Because you are mandating that your sales team spend time on things that will not have a major impact on sales results.

If they are not calling the right people, not communicating value properly and not doing the right things in the initial stages of the sales process, more activity is not going to save you or help them.

3. Third thing which cripples your sales results and is a major component of effective sales management is proper coaching in the initial phases of the sales process. Not the end of the sales process but the beginning. Another bulletin for you. If your salespeople are trying to close on a weak sales foundation, guess what, closing percentages are not going to be good and accounts closed less than desirable.

Sales managers, when your team members go out on an initial appointment you need to feel confident that they are capable and ready to move that opportunity forward. Ask them how they are going to open up the meeting, review the questions they will ask, ask them how they will respond to objections, what success examples they are going to use, what stories will they tell, how will they communicate company strengths, de-emphasize competitive weaknesses, what they will accept as a next step, what they will not.

If they can’t articulate these things to you they won’t be articulating well to the prospects.

It is a major sales management responsibility and a hallmark of effective sales organizations that sales managers coach effectively at the beginning stages of the sales process.

If your approach is like many to pound the table for more proposals and then get involved at the closing stage, or maybe we should call it the wishful thinking stage, is a serious serious strategic error. As a sales manager you most influence the closing percentage and new account quality of your team by proper involvement in the beginning stages of the sales process, not the end.

Guess what. Approach the right people with impactful value messaging and lay a proper foundation for a sale and it is hard to screw that up. Approach weaker candidates with incomplete messaging and try to close on a foundation of sand and you can push all you want but closes are going to be few and far between.

So here is my message to sales managers.

Help your team to properly allocate their time and make sure the higher probability prospects are being approached.

Don’t leave it to each individual salesperson to recreate the wheel of communicating company value. Provide them guides of benefits, phrases, examples, stories and specifics that have impact.

Make sure that initial prospect interactions are properly choreographed. That each individual salesperson is laying a proper foundation for a sale. Get involved at that stage and satisfy yourself that your salespeople are laying the proper foundation for a sale and bringing you proposals that have a realistic chance of closing. Premature proposals are no fun for anyone.

My message for sales people working under lousy sales managers.

Understand that if you just go along with the company line you will fail. Top producers, top earners, do things differently than the rest.

Do your own research on whom to call.

Prepare your own value messaging and “pile of words.”

Invest time and practice doing the right things at first meetings and the initial phases of the sales process. Prepare questions, your opening, answers, have stories, samples and examples at the ready. Did I mention prepare questions?

Take the initiative to do those things under a lousy manager and you have a shot at success.

Sales managers. If you are not capable the best sales people flee your organization for better environments.

Help them or get out of the way.