man_with_world_on_back_shadowI always knew I wanted to be a Sales Manager, (after my tuba career didn’t work out). Seriously though, I’ve had some terrific sales managers in my career. No strike that, they were sales leaders who left a lasting impression. The difference between the two is critical to a sales person’s development and success.

Managers spend their time focusing on the tasks. Leaders execute the vision. People become sales managers thinking they’re going to change the world, but all too often what they end up doing is reacting to constantly changing direction from above.

I learned early on that the front-line sales manager has the toughest job in the company. Front-line managers are trying to motivate, coach, develop, reinforce and inspect their own teams, but they’re dealing with constant pressure from top leadership. I’ve seen both sides of this coin and you have as well.

On one side you have the leadership who is in lock step with growing revenue through highly skilled, well thought out and executed sales campaigns. On the other, you have the leadership that leads by the kneejerk reaction to the latest report on this month’s sales or activities. Front-line managers who work under the latter end up spending too much of their time running interference. They end up trying to create a shield between upper management and the sales rep, instead of being able to align their efforts with the true company objectives.

dialing_phoneTop sales leadership often has clear goals on where they want the organization to go, but, somewhere down the line, those goals often turn into misguided directives. You’ve seen them yourself. Pipeline is low so leadership sends down a new mandate to make 20 calls a day. What happens? Reps spend their days making sure they hit their call numbers, not paying attention to what they’re saying in those calls or if they’re even calling on qualified pipeline. What results is a sales team that is really good at “gaming” the system.

Sure, you may have some success, but you won’t drive real change in your company. Remember, people are going to do what you pay them to do and what you talk to them about doing. Accordingly, Sales Managers will act the way upper management wants them to act. You have to ask yourself one question every day as a sales leader; “What value will my leadership and direction deliver to the sales organization?”

Help your managers succeed. They’re your boots on the ground. Expect them to lead and give them the direction and tools they need. Focus on these four areas:

1.  Drive the Right Accountability

What do you want your reps to be accountable for? Consider my “number of calls” example above. As a sales leader, I’d rather my sales people make four calls a day that have great outcomes rather than make ten calls that lead to nothing. Drive the accountability that ensures your front-line sales managers focus on the activities necessary for repeatable success and that they do them well.

  • What’s the best way for the sales manager to be accountable for driving qualified pipeline on their team?
  • How can you help your sales managers ensure their teams are following client focused, value-based selling principles on every sales call?
  • How are your managers responsible for reaching higher-level executives in their prospects’ organizations?

Don’t get caught up in benchmarks that won’t create lasting success. Make sure your front-line managers are accountable for the right actions.

2. Build Customer Alignment

customer_alignmentThe focus of any sales organization should be on what provides value for the customer. Are your front- line managers reacting to what’s urgent, rather than what’s most important? I’ve seen, and even participated in, sales managers allowing the sales person to become not only the account manager, but the product specialist, the customer service rep, even the chauffeur, especially when it’s a big account.

More times than not, that is a disservice to the customer and often creates a debilitating ripple effect. Your customer doesn’t get the company’s best. The salesperson bends over backwards, trying to be all things to all people because he/she doesn’t have the resources to pull in the right expertise when it’s necessary. The salespeople don’t have time to sell. The front-line managers are buried in trying to make the salespeople sell. No one is effective because they’re submerged in fire drills.

Alleviate the piling-on effect for your sales teams and front-line managers. Build alignment between your sales, services, and product teams to ensure not only a buyer-centric sales process, but also a customer-first service structure.

3. Involve Them In Initiatives

Give your front-line managers the power and influence they need to succeed. People are effective leaders when they are emotionally connected to their initiatives. Enable them to lead their teams, by helping them to be effective change agents. Don’t force new programs on them. Instead involve them in the creation of any initiatives that are directly related to their team’s success. They’ll be more willing to drive it on their own teams if they had a say in its development.

4. Develop an Repeatable Rhythm

pendulum_shadowProvide your front-line sales managers with a repeatable rhythm that supports consistency throughout your sales organization.

Do your front-line managers have a cadence that helps them coach reps to success?

The amount of time your front-line managers waste just trying to keep up with the forecast is valuable time not helping their team sell.

Ensure consistency and improve efficiency by giving them tools that make their jobs easier.

Develop a sales operating rhythm that provides a consistent language and process around:

• Territory Reviews
• Account Reviews
• Opportunity Reviews
• Forecast Reviews
• Active Sales Call Participation and Feedback

Remember, it doesn’t matter how many reviews you do with someone, if there’s no focus on executable action, there is no value within the sales team. An operating rhythm helps you as a sales leader drive that action. .

When everyone is using the same Management Operating Rhythm®, they’re all speaking the same language and everyone knows the benchmarks they need to create success. As a result, your front-line managers are less burdened and there’s consistency throughout the sales organization. Your sales managers then have the opportunity to become sales leaders because everything they do has value attached to it, instead of being some sort of compliance exercise.

Enable your front-line managers to spend their time creating value for the company. Don’t make them run interference. Don’t pile on. Help them become leaders and focus on the right activities and your sales organization will generate more revenue and more repeat business.