The primary outcome of research for our book, Cracking the Sales Management Code, was the discovery that sales managers can only manage the activities of their salespeople. They can’t manage their sellers’ revenue. They can’t manage whether or not customers buy from their salespeople. In short, they can only influence the things that their salespeople actually do every day.

This should be a valuable insight for sales managers and enable them to focus their efforts on identifying the things that they can control when managing their reps. However, any discussion about managing other people’s activities always leads to a discussion of “micromanagement”. Many managers say that they are uncomfortable measuring and managing their salespeople’s activities, because they don’t want to be perceived as nitpicking. They did not like being micromanaged when they were salespeople, and they do not want their sellers to feel that way either.

While it’s true that not many people like to be told what to do, and it might feel demeaning and cheat reps of the pleasure of making their own good decisions, interest shown by a sales manager in a salesperson’s activities does not necessarily equate to micromanagement. It’s entirely possible to have an objective and productive conversation about a sales rep’s activities that does not demean or offend.

We call it “sales coaching.” A well trained sales manager can lead the seller to their own conclusions in a thoughtful and deliberate way by asking the right questions and guiding the salesperson to identify the right assumptions and reach the right conclusions.

Here’s a hypothetical conversation.

Sales Manager: What do you think you could do to increase your revenues by 10% next year?

Rep: Win more new customers.

Sales Manager: Alright, so how many new customers would it take?

Rep: Two or three new customers each month?

Sales Manager: What do you think you could do to accomplish that objective?

Rep: Make more prospecting calls?

Sales Manager: That sounds about right. How many additional prospecting calls do you think it would take?

Rep: Five more each week.

Sales Manager: Sounds like a reasonable number and an excellent plan. Can you try that for a month, and then we’ll get together to see how it’s going?

Not too directive. Not micromanagement. Just sales coaching.

As I’ve said, no-one likes to be told what to do. However, most people really do like to know what to do. If salespeople are confident that the actions they take will lead to more sales, they’re highly motivated to do those activities. And sales managers can play a pivotal role in helping sellers identify those activities. It’s not micromanagement if it’s done properly, and it’s unlikely that true coaching will be interpreted as over-management. Best of all, our research proves that a focus on activities will lead to greater salesperson productivity…Which will make everyone happy.

If you’re still not convinced that measuring and managing sales reps’ activity is a good idea, consider the alternative – to let salespeople figure it out for themselves through painful trial and error. Nothing is more discouraging than doing something that you think is the right thing to do, only to see it fail. Sales managers earned their positions because they know how to sell, and they know how to sell because they know the right things to do. Letting people do the wrong things seems like a bad management strategy.

You have a great opportunity here: taking the lead in influencing the activities of your sellers. You can’t manage their revenue… You can’t manage their customers. So consider taking a more active role in managing the things they do. An enlightened rep won’t see this as micromanagement, but rather as good sales coaching. And good sales coaching is a wonderful thing!

 

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