Front-line sales managers are the “pivotal job” for improving sales productivity. That means – if companies want to improve sales revenue and optimize sales profitability, they should do everything they can to make sure front-line sales managers are doing what they should be doing.
This is hardly new news. It has been a well-established truth for at least 20 years. The bad news is too many front-line sales managers in too many companies are still spending too much time on low priority tasks.
A report on Sales Managers by the TAS Group was quite telling. “Fifty percent of the sales manager’s time was spent on counterproductive tasks – 23% on fire fighting, 12% on management reports, and 13% on administrative tasks.” Just to add salt to the wound – only 13% of their time was spent with customers. These numbers are not just a little bit off – they constitute some sort of institutional maleficence.
Now, there are a couple of people who need to jump to the head of the line to do something about this. The most important is the senior leadership team of the sales force. Without their engagement it is unlikely any thing will substantially change. The front-line sales managers themselves should also do a little self-analysis. But there is one additional group that must take some responsibility – sales reps.
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In many organizations sales reps are contributing to the sales manager time problem. With that in mind, let’s explore three areas where sales reps could help if they assumed more accountability.
- Sales Calls. One activity that is a good use of sales manager time is going on sales calls with reps where the sales manager adds a unique contribution to the call. The key is “add a unique contribution.” Too many times sales reps ask managers to go on calls where that criterion has not been met. The sales rep needs to take responsibility for where and when they engage the sales manager.
- Strategy Coaching. A second good use of sales manager time is sales strategy coaching – a sales manager helping a sales rep to think through strategy for an account. A basic assumption is the sales manager needs to have developed a set of protocols as to which accounts and the level of information a sales rep should bring to a sales strategy session. The sales rep’s responsibility is to put effort into the initial formulation of a sales strategy and to acquire the customer information needed for the session – too many times that level of pre-work by the sales rep is lacking.
- Skills Coaching. A sales manager needs to go on sales calls with sales reps to help improve their call planning and execution skills. Improving how a sales team interacts with customers is at the heart of developing a more effective sales team. But it requires observations and feedback on real calls – a very time consuming task. Getting it right requires joint planning between the sales manager and sales rep and the sales rep selecting the right accounts for coaching and doing the required pre and post work. Many sales reps could do a better job on their half of this story.
Time spent on optimizing how front-line sales managers spend their time is – time well spent. Everyone has a role to play and everyone needs to show up. If someone is missing, their sales team will likely not become all they can be.
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