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from Systema

Part I: Rep Turnover

Profiles in Sales Management
By Marsha Wells and Jack R. Snader

Is your rep turnover higher than you'd like? If you oversee a large sales force as a regional manager, vice president of sales, or a top executive you may puzzle from time to time over the differences in sales rep turnover rates in different territories or divisions. Why is turnover in one division two-three-four times that of another? Overall, it doesn't seem likely that sales reps in one part of the country would be significantly different from reps what makes the difference?

Our research shows that, often, the problem lies in the behavior of sales managers toward their reps. The effects of a sales manager's leadership and management skills are powerful. An excellent sales manager can turn decent reps into strong ones and poor performers into decent ones...but an ineffective sales manager can turn top performers into deflated cynics and struggling reps into washouts.

Why is it that top sales reps who have been promoted into sales management sometimes end up doing the wrong things and demotivating their reps? And how bad can it get? Let's look at a couple of profiles in poor sales management:

Christina the Corporate Climber

Christina was the #1 rep in North America. She started with the company on the service side, then grew up through the sales ranks from account executive to key account manager, pulling in maximum sales. To compete in a male-dominated, aggressive business, Christina took aggressiveness to a higher level. She was straight-forward and lived up to extremely high standards of achievement. After reaching the top in sales, she was one of the first women to be promoted to sales manager.

Taking the qualities and skills she utilized so well in sales, Christina began to demand the same tough standards from others that she had applied to herself as a salesperson...and that's when she began to cross the line. She became autocratic, punitive and demeaning toward her reps when they didn't perform at the top level. She was a poor listener when it came to her reps, although she managed to listen to corporate executives quite well. In the short term her reps felt motivated to achieve big sales in order to avoid the stress of being ripped to shreds by Christina, but in the longer term they did not feel motivated to stay with the company. They began to leave, right and left.

The good news is that, because she showed high sales dollars for her district and in spite of her high rep turnover rate, Christina managed to propel herself higher up in the organization, leaving sales management to more suitable individuals. The bad news is that the company lost several good reps in the process.

Two-Faced Tim

Tim worked in sales for about 8 years before his promotion to sales management. As a rep, Tim was a top performer and a well-respected, nice guy. People thought he was charming, a rather soft and caring kind of individual. Unfortunately, when Tim moved to a sales management position, another aspect of him emerged.

When reps asked Tim for resources or assistance, he'd promise whatever they'd ask for. However, being overwhelmed with the responsibilities of his new position, Tim unfortunately often neglected to carry out his promises. Trust began to erode among the ranks. Receiving no negative feedback whatsoever from Tim, his reps started to wonder whether every time he told them they were doing "just great" and he had "no complaints," Tim wasn't really saying something else about them behind their backs. "After all," his reps reasoned, "If we're as good as Tim says we are, why doesn't Tim give us the support and honest feedback we need to improve? ...not to mention a raise or promotion for being so great all the time?"

The Breakdown in Trust

...caused increasing suspicion and doubt, and additionally, Tim's reps missed opportunities to be challenged and to grow. The sales reps liked the company and wanted to maintain their seniority and benefits. They even liked Tim, ...but they couldn't trust him. And they felt they were stagnating in their careers. Consequently, they began transferring to other divisions, with some even leaving the company, one by one.

Managing Managers

If you were managing Tim or Christina, how could you turn their bad situations into better ones? First, recall that the transfer from sales to management is extremely difficult. Being promoted to management requires having demonstrated superior selling skills, yet the skills used in managing are significantly different than the skills needed to succeed in selling. When sales managers try to apply their selling skills in their management tasks, it just doesn't work.

Christina's aggressive selling posture and high standards made her tops in sales and equally made her an overbearing flop as a sales manager. Tim's nice-guy image was successful when he was selling, but proved inadequate under the pressures of the juggling act called sales management. But solving the problem is complex. Developing a whole new skill set requires time and energy, yet no sales managers have a surplus of either time or energy. A small percentage are able to learn on the fly...but many, even highly talented people cannot. The result? Unfortunately, a small number of really good sales managers and a glut of relatively ineffective ones throughout our culture.

After you recognize the problem, the second thing to do is find a sales management training and development system that's quick, efficient, and effective. That's where Systema enters the picture. We can help the Tims and Christinas of the world.

For information on Systema's sales management development systems, e-mail us at

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