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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 Luckily, Rhett got a little "talking to" from his manager, and he rescinded the probationary status of his people ...before they rebelled.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:

  1. Identifying top sales management potential
  2. 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 benefit.

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