Sales managers - be nimble!

Sales managers – be nimble!

As the new year begins there are countless articles sharing personal and business advice. One story that caught our eye appeared on the front page of the NY Times Business Section. The article by Adam Bryant, the NY Times columnist and author of Quick and Nimble, shared 6 pieces of advice for managers developing that ever-desired characteristic – nimbleness.

Although the article was about business managers in general, we thought the advice was worth translating for the sales community, since nimbleness is a hallmark of sales success!

  • A Simple Plan. Boil down company strategies and priorities into a simple plan that can be internalized and acted on – with clear metrics. We know successful front-line sales managers adopt this principle – they act as filters, not funnels. They make sure their teams are not overwhelmed with administrative trivia and they clarify strategic initiatives into actionable objectives. As one sales manager recently told us – “the more time my people can spend in front of customers with a clear sense of direction, the better our chances of exceeding our sales goals.”
  • Rules of the Road. Great companies establish a set of values by which they operate. It is particularly important that sales teams have a set of rules of the road. When rules of the road are in place, salespeople have clarity around expectations (such as the availability of internal resources and the likelihood of accessing them for a particular opportunity) and appropriate behavior (such as under what conditions the sales manager attends sales calls). Sales managers must reinforce the rules of the road and address deviations.
  • A Little Respect. Increasingly, selling to major accounts will be a team sport (consisting perhaps of salespeople, support people, tech people, business specialists) that will vary from one sales opportunity to the next. Given this shift, it’s critical that every member of the sales team have, what Robin Domeniconi, CEO of Rue La La, calls M.R.I. – Most Respectful Interpretation of what someone is saying to you. She notes, “If you get people talking and challenging each other, you’re going to have the ability to arrive at the right decision so much quicker and so much easier.” But you have to carry out that dialogue with the recognition of the vulnerabilities of others on your team. This is a tall task when operating in the environment of a major sale – that only succeeds when sales managers provide the required leadership to the team.
  • Team Success Also Demands Accountability. In major accounts sales, team accountability must be added to the equation. Sales managers don’t have the time to hold everyone’s hand and walk salespeople through an activity – sales teams must have – and meet – realistic performance expectations. There must be dependability. Everyone on a sales team must do what they say they will do so the sales team can focus on executing their sales strategy – not focusing on making sure everyone does their part. Here sales managers need to establish a culture of accountability.
  • Have Frank Conversations. Beyond respect and accountability, teams can only succeed if team members are willing to have frank discussions to work through inevitable disagreements and misunderstandings. These talks aren’t easy and many managers avoid them – so problems are side-stepped. Salespeople and sales managers are no exception. Providing feedback can be uncomfortable for the sales manager and salesperson – but it’s critical to achieving success. How do you share quality feedback? Much has been written about sales managers and giving feedback – including in the Sales Training Connection where you will find a lot of “how to’s” on this topic.
  • Hazards of Email. The lure of email is powerful. And for some types of sales communication it’s great, but it’s also open to misinterpretation. If there is conflict relying on email or even worse – 140 character Twitter messages – isn’t the answer. By talking over the phone or in person, sales managers are more likely to avoid misunderstanding.

There are a myriad of skill sets and competencies needed by sales managers. Some are discussed a lot – some not so much. We thought “nimbleness” desired at least a word or two.

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