Welcome to Sales Management
by Mark White

There are few positions in any company more critical than sales managers. So much rides on the shoulders of these warriors. During the first three months on the job, it's not uncommon to find new sales managers running in circles, making wrong turns and even getting lost. It can take three months just to get acclimated; three more to become semi-proficient; and longer yet to succeed consistently.

Senior management often assumes young managers know what to do, when to do it, and how to do it. But if the truth be known we frequently fail to adequately prepare our sales managers to take the reins of our sales teams. As anyone who has ever managed a sales team knows, there's a lot more to sales management than jumping in a car at 8:00 am and making calls with a rep until the whistle blows.

We're not in Kansas anymore, Toto

Assuming a new role. Making the transition from sales rep to sales manager is similar to that of a professional athlete to coach. The aging athlete has learned and developed skills that will help him better understand and appreciate what he will ask of and expect from his players. But once he trots off the playing field and into the coaching profession, the old pro assumes an entirely different role.

Walking out of the sales bullpen for the last time also means taking on a new role. It may take a while to fully appreciate and accept it. Ironically, reps accept a promoted peer's new role a lot quicker than he or she does. In fact, from the moment the promotion is announced, the reps have already made the transition.

Initially there is a tendency for a new manager to continue thinking and acting like a sales rep. And why not? It's only natural. After all, he may have spent several years earning his livelihood as a sales person. One minute he's making calls; setting appointments; giving demonstrations; presenting proposals; closing orders; and devoting all his working hours to chasing a quota. The next minute, (even before he's taken a seat behind his desk), there are all sorts of people knocking on his door with management "opportunities."

The sooner a new sales manager accepts the fact that he is no longer one of the gang, the sooner he can begin to develop the skills necessary to succeed as a sales manager. But he must be patient. He must accept the fact that there is much he needs to learn. Learning to manage is not a sprint; it's a marathon.

One thing hasn't changed. He still has a quota and it's now five to ten times higher than his previous one. How will he achieve it? Through the efforts of other people. Achieving quota through others that's the heartbeat of sales management.

It's a chicken or egg thing

Reviewing the management process. A sales rep with a proven selling process and well developed skills has a high probability of success. Likewise a sales manager who consistently executes a management process with the requisite skills, can also expect to succeed.

There is something unique about the sales management process. It has no beginning and no end; sort of a chicken or egg thing; a cycle that continually repeats itself. The process is comprised of four proactive disciplines: hiring, training, driving the business and evaluating performance. At its core is a winning environment that the manager creates, fosters, grooms and perpetuates.

A sales manager may find herself immersed in all four disciplines on any given day. For example she could be conducting interviews (hiring) at 9:00am, launching a new product (training) at 11:00am, making calls with a rep (driving business) at 1:00pm and counseling an underachieving rep (evaluating) at 5:00pm. All her working hours are spent engaged in this process. It's what she does as a sales manager. It is a personal and professional process. How well she executes each discipline depends on how well she develops the skills needed to navigate through this process.

Out with the old, in with the new

Embracing new skills. Comparing the sales process to the management process for the first time can be a little intimidating. But this is a reality check all new managers must take.

It is important for the new manager to remember that he didn't become a successful sales rep over night. It took time. But once he developed his selling process and honed his selling skills, he succeeded. The same principle holds true when launching his sales management career.

It's your show

Preparing to create a winning environment. One of the exciting things about becoming a sales manager is putting a personal stamp on the environment in which the team will work. In fact, the new sales manager creates it. He also sets the tone and the pace of this environment.

Whenever a new manager is assigned, questions swirl around the sales bullpen.

"What is this person like?"
"How will this gal operate?"
"What can we expect from a rookie manager?"
"Do you know anyone who's worked with this guy?"

What reps are really asking is, "What kind of environment are we going to work in?"

Anyone who has worked for more than one sales manager knows that each is unique. Not only does each bring different skill levels to the job but each creates, (knowingly or unknowingly), an environment that is distinctly his or her own. A new sales manager should ask himself the following questions:

"What types of environments have I worked in?"
"What characterized each?"
"Which environment worked best for me?"

As he begins deciding what type environment he wishes to create, he should keep in mind the needs of the company and the team. For example, the company expects him to create an environment that is:

Customer focused
Supportive of company goals

Similarly his sales team expects him to create an environment that:

Enables them to realize their personal goals.
Holds them accountable.
Provides fair and consistent management.
Offers sufficient support.
Is positive, upbeat, and (hopefully) fun.

Looks like the new manager has a lot on his plate. Is he up for this? He should take a deep breath and remember that he has been promoted to his new position because senior management thinks he has what it takes to create a winning environment; an environment that will satisfy the needs of the company and his reps. He may not realize it, but he began creating a team environment the moment he accepted his new position.

On your mark

Getting ready to lead. Sales reps want to be led. They want a manager who inspires and challenges them. They look for a manager who fosters a sales culture based on values and beliefs; who makes them feel that what they do is important. If managing process is all about hiring, training, driving the business and evaluating performance, then leading is all about creating a vision, firing imaginations, energizing capabilities, and building confidence.

"How can I tell if a new or prospective sales manager is a leader?"

If you have to ask, he's probably not. There's a lot of truth to the old adage that leaders are born not made. Leaders gravitate to management positions. If the idea of leading a group of sales reps does not excite him, he's probably not management material. However if rallying reps around a common cause or goal revs his engine, he's probably standing in the right line.

Mark White is President of M White Enterprises, a sales management consulting firm (www.welcometosalesmanagement.com) and author of Welcome to Sales Management. The First 90 Days and Beyond. An Operating Guide for New Sales Managers (AuthorHouse). MWE conducts seminars to prepare prospective, new or inexperienced sales managers to succeed in arguably one of the most demanding positions in any company. Mark spent 30 years in the office equipment industry in a variety of sales, sales management and senior management positions at Xerox, Ikon, Danka and Staples Ltd. of Bermuda.

Many more articles in Sales & Marketing in The CEO Refresher Archives


Copyright 2005 by Mark White. All rights reserved.

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