Part II: Rep Stagnation
Profiles in Sales Management
By Jack R. Snader
Is your sales force meeting or exceeding all the targets set for them?
As a corporate stakeholder, you need top sales performance and you need
it consistently. When top performance doesn't happen, you need to know why, and be able
to respond quickly.
But to understand why performance is slipping in a sales force is not easy.
You need to evaluate the situation inside and out, whether it's a problem
with products or services, pricing, competition, sales rep selection, uneven
selling skills, or any of a number of other possible causes. For this kind
of information, you have to depend on reports coming from your sales managers...and
yet the sales managers themselves could be a serious part of the problem.
Rhett the Vet
Rhett retired as a Commander after 20 years in the Navy, where he served
as a Navy pilot. A nice, laid-back kind of southern mountain man, he decided
to move west and enter civilian life as a sales representative. He became
a fantastic, process-oriented rep who lived by the rules and went the whole
route. Boy, he was good. He'd sometimes drive 1200 miles to close a deal.
Once he accidentally rolled his car down a cliff, calmly got out and climbed
back up to the road, thumbed a ride to his meeting with the customer, closed
the deal, bought a new car with the help of the customer, and drove home.
Everybody liked Rhett. He made sale after sale after sale, and then I guess
you know what happened ...he got promoted to sales manager.
Well, in his new sales manager position, Rhett opened the corporate manual
and found out every sales rep was supposed to be doing a certain volume
of business. To his amazement, none of his reps had sold that much. Rhett's
first order of business was to put all his reps from 22-year veterans to
new hires on probation. Most of his reps were stunned, and had to take
time away from selling to contact Rhett and find out what the problem was.
Then they had to waste time going over Rhett's head to discuss the situation
with Corporate and reestablish their status with the company. Luckily,
Rhett got a little "talking to" from his manager, and he rescinded
the probationary status of his people ...before they rebelled.
Incredibly High Standards - Lost Opportunities
Although that problem went away, there were other problems that didn't
go away. Rhett set incredibly high standards for himself and his people
...and that's good, except that he didn't prepare his people for the challenge,
as he had been prepared in the Navy. Rhett didn't delegate. He either did
the work all himself or he dumped it on somebody else. Reps were either
deprived of the opportunity to learn a new task, or they were overwhelmed
with the responsibility of a project they didn't instinctively understand,
involving a workload they could in no way handle in addition to their current
job. Rhett's reps kept a low profile to avoid being dumped on, or else
simply refused the extra duties. Sadly, growth opportunities were lost.
In addition, Rhett just didn't understand giving feedback to his reps.
In Rhett's mind, if you are told to do a job, you do it, and that's that.
Though Rhett had been a great salesman, he didn't know exactly which of
his selling skills or personal traits made him so effective and therefore
couldn't really help others improve. When his reps needed to know how to
improve their selling skills, all Rhett could do was tell them what he
had done, and half the time he was on the wrong track. Again, nobody grew,
and reps felt frustrated by the lack of leadership. They also began to
resent doing a top job from time to time, yet receiving nothing more than
a passing grade from Rhett.
Rhett's district stagnated, and he had to analyze why and offer his analysis
to upper management. How did Rhett report the problems of his district?
Rhett informed his upper management that individuals in his district were
somewhat lazy and did not seek growth opportunities. He reported that most
of his reps were doing okay, but that none of them were outstanding (like
he was when he was selling!). He thought this was true because none of
his reps looked like replicas of himself, and because the sales results
in terms of the dollar amounts did not comply with Corporate goals.
Managing the Manager
If you were managing Rhett, how could you turn this bad situation into
a better one?
As a corporate stakeholder, your main challenges in sales management are:
- Identifying top sales management potential
- Developing the sales managers you already have
You need to ask the question: did Rhett have management potential? In hindsight,
was he the right person for the job?
Maybe Rhett should go back into sales where he undoubtedly excels. Or,
maybe he can learn the skills of managing and make the shift to being a
true coach and leader of others. You may never know until you offer him
a better chance. After all, he learned how to be a good Navy pilot. Maybe he can learn to be a good sales manager and coach, too, with a systematic,
proven development process. If he does learn, both he and his reps will
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