This is the second in a new series of blogs where we identify 5 deadly trends that are hobbling sales management and then provide tactical ideas for overcoming with each one. See Trend #1 here.
If there is a single, unrecognized issue that we see holding back the evolution of sales management, it would have to be the lack of a common language in the sales force. We observe this issue time and again in our clients’ organizations, but it’s rarely acknowledged as the serious problem that it is. Let me give you a simple example to demonstrate the point.
We were recently working with one of the world’s largest companies to update their sales manager training program. As a part of that effort, we interviewed a dozen or so sales managers to understand the specific sales challenges that they were facing. Here are two real conversations we had in one of the company’s field sales offices.
Manager 1: Well, if there is one thing I’d like to see my reps doing more of, it would have to be call planning.
Vantage Point: What exactly do you mean by ‘call planning?’
Manager 1: You know… When my reps have an important sales call coming up, I want them to spend more time beforehand thinking through how they’re going to conduct the meeting… What is their desired outcome? What questions will they ask? What objections do they anticipate? Things like that.
Manager 2: I tell you, I really wish that my sellers would spend more time on call planning.
Vantage Point: I think I know what you mean, but could you tell me more about the ‘call planning’ that you’d like your salespeople to do?
Manager 2: Well… I want my reps to be more deliberate about the customers and prospects they call on. I’d like for them to sit down on Friday and map out the visits they’re going to make the following week. Otherwise, they tend to spend a lot their time calling on a bunch of low-value customers just out of convenience.
You Know What I Mean?
You see, ‘call planning’ means something totally different to these two managers, even though they work in the very same sales force. For one sales manager, call management is about having a better conversation during an important customer visit. For another, call management is about picking the most important customers to visit in the first place. And what if I’m a salesperson reporting to one of these managers. “Hey Jason, I’d like for you to do more call planning.” Well, maybe I will and maybe I won’t – depending on what call management happens to mean to me.
And ‘call management’ is only one example where communication misfires get in the way of better and more consistent sales management. What does ‘coaching’ mean in your sales force? Would every manager agree? And what counts as a ‘qualified lead’ in your sales pipeline? Does every salesperson know?
This might seem like a game of semantics, but it’s anything but that. Efficient communication is critical to operating an effective organization. With a common language, you can dance effortlessly from conversation to conversation and never miss the other person’s point. Without it, you can have entire conversations that never reach a point. That’s why accountants learn Generally Accepted Accounting Principles and manufacturing uses Total Quality Management frameworks. These common ‘languages’ enable solid conversations where each person leaves knowing what just happened and what’s supposed to happen next. Wouldn’t it be nice if sales had one of those?
Reversing the Trend
As with most sales management problems, there’s no magic solution. In fact, no magic is required. You just need to do the obvious things:
- Identify the important activities in your sales force – like call planning, coaching, or pipeline management
- Define each one and how you want to talk about it
- Train your sales teams to use the common language
I know this might seem too basic to actually do, but it’s our consistent observation that sales management should be much easier than we make it. And a common understanding of frequently used terms is one of the most fundamental things that we need to enable effective communication within our teams… No matter how rudimentary it might seem.
So let’s just do it. Let’s choose to communicate better using consistent terms with clear definitions. Then suddenly call management might actually mean call management. And a qualified lead might actually be a qualified lead. Then sales managers will know what to say, and salespeople will know what they hear. And everything will be just a little easier for everyone.