Successfully managing salespeople is a little bit different than managing other positions. I know; I’ve been there and I have helped many businesses like yours achieve their sales management objectives.
A quick background
I was a small business owner for more than 20 years. Like many of you, I started a business without any real formal management training, and certainly without sales management training beyond what I learned by working for other sales managers, both good and bad. For 15 years, I had one primary business and two small businesses, and in that time, I learned a lot about what it takes to manage successful sales teams. I also ran a sales management training company for five years before I came to ECi. In this series, I will be sharing what I have learned and taught my clients in order to help you grow your small or medium-size business.
Early in my experiences, I read many sales management books and attended business owner groups like Entrepreneur Organization, which I highly recommend. I got some other business owners together in informal networks and we shared our best practices over time. These ideas helped me to improve my structure and processes, which then helped me to hire high character salespeople. I was able to get my new hires quickly on board and up to speed, with much better sales results – AND with much less stress on my part. Along the way, I also made lots of mistakes, and I’ll share those with you too in this series.
Common problems in managing small business sales teams:
No time for sales manager to manage: Many small business owners and managers tell me, “I just don’t have time to spend with my sales reps. I’ve got so many other priorities. I wish I had more time, but I just don’t.”
“Nike” Why can’t they just do it? “Just do it” is Nike’s slogan. Their owners and managers started the company by pulling themselves up by their bootstraps, working hard, and hitting their goals. “I don’t know why my people can’t just get out there and get the job done,” is a comment I often hear.
No structure in place—goals, sales process, accountability: “I’ve been doing this for years. So far it’s worked ok, but now I do realize that I need some of that.” If this is how you feel, I want you to know that even some large corporations that I have worked with don’t have clear goals and processes. A whole lot of managers don’t have any sort of accountability. They just try to hire people who can get it done.
Lots of excuses from reps; not sure what is real: We want to remove the real barriers to sales, but so much of what we hear is just “head trash” that comes from hearing a lot of “No’s.” It’s so much easier for a rep to say “I lost an account to XYC competitor because they were cheaper.” If I’m a sales rep, that takes the responsibility off me so that I don’t have to reflect on what I could have done better.
Not sure what my reps are doing: In small and medium-sized businesses, there is often not enough emphasis on NEW sales.
Reps get bogged down in service issues; no time to sell: Sometimes reps get bogged down in service issues. Often, they spend time with their favorite customers and it may not really be doing service or getting new orders. Maybe they are comfortable there.
I know rep is probably not a good fit, but someone is better than no one: I’ve certainly done this before, where I hire somebody and I know they’re not the right fit and I know they’re not the right fit certainly for sales, but a warm body is better than nobody. Sometimes we get candidates through referrals we trust and don’t spend enough time comparing candidates for fit.
“Hopium” hoping it will get better: Sometimes we use hopium when we’re talking to our salespeople and they say, “Oh, I’m going to get that sale. It’s going to come in.” You ask them why they didn’t say they would buy. “Oh, we spent 30 minutes talking, we know the same people, they’re just so nice. I know they need what we have.” None of that has a clear next step. None of that is actually somebody saying “I’m going to buy.” So hopium clouds reps’ and managers’ perspectives on what is real and what is not. You might say to yourself, “I’m hoping that my sales are going to increase. I’m hoping to get more new sales this year. I’m hoping that somehow the rep that’s been there for five years without selling much is going to step up to the plate tomorrow and knock it out of the park.”
So these are the most common challenges for every sales manager. We can all relate to thinking or saying these things, and hearing our reps say them. At ECi, we recently polled our customers to find out what one challenge they would like to address with their sales reps. The most common answers matched my experiences.
ECi Poll: The one challenge you would like to address with your sales reps:
- Too many excuses
- They don’t bring enough NEW sales; avoids prospecting
- Seem to focus too much on discounting to get sales
- We don’t really have a sales process; just winging it
- Need to hire more or better reps