How To Avoid Sales Management Mistakes in Your Small Business

suzannepalingEvery week as SmallBizLady, I conduct interviews with experts on my Twitter talk show #SmallBizChat. The show takes place every Wednesday on Twitter from 8-9 pm ET. This is excerpted from my recent interview with Suzanne Paling of Sales Management Services has over 25 years of experience in sales management consulting and coaching, helping companies in all industries improve their sales performance and processes. For more information, visit: www.salesmanagementservices.com.

SmallBizLady: WHAT ARE THE MOST COMMON SALES MANAGEMENT PROBLEMS YOU SEE?

S.Paling: The 15 most common sales management problems I see in my consulting practice include:  The Inconsistent Sales Rep, Selling Only to Existing Customers, Social Media Paralysis, Salesperson Fiefdom, Trouble with Titles, CRM Non-Compliance, The Mysterious Remote Rep, Unethical Behavior, Misaligned Territories, The Selling Sales Manager, The Superstar Sales Manager, Loosely Defined Sales Cycle, The Mediocre Rep, Unqualified Vice President of Sales, and High Base Salary.

SmallBizLady: WHAT IS THE HARDEST CHALLENGE A SALES MANAGER FACES?

S.Paling: Regularly, I see really strong salespeople get promoted to a sales leadership position, receive little or no training, and then just be expected to do their job.  They put in long hours, trying to figure out what to do.  Often they just don’t know how to go about solving some of the most common sales staff problems.

As they progress in their career, especially if they work for smaller sized companies, they don’t have any type of mentor with sales management experience.  They need guidance on handling a tricky issue and wish they had a toll free number for a sales management hotline so they could talk to someone about it.

SmallBizLady: WHY DON’T COMPANIES OFFER SALES MANAGERS TRAINING?

S.Paling: Sales training gets put in the budget, sales management training does not. Most sales managers are either former superstar salespeople or solid producers.  Company presidents assume that this salesperson is segueing into a similar position and if they were good at sales they will be good at sales management.  They’ll figure things out.  They don’t need training.

The problem with that thinking is that the sales management position has almost nothing in common with being a salesperson.  It’s a totally different job.

SmallBizLady: WHAT ARE THE MAIN DIFFERENCES BETWEEN A SALES REP AND A SALES MANAGER?

S.Paling: A sales representative works for the customer, is an individual contributor tasked with an individual revenue goal.  They call on and regularly advocate for customers, get along reasonably well with their peers and use resources to make themselves successful.

Conversely, a sales manager works for the company, accomplishes goals through others, is tasked with a group revenue goal, accompanies sales reps on customer visits, upholds company policies and procedures, has hire/fire power over reps and provides resources to make reps successful.

SmallBizLady: HOW DO SALES LEADERS ATTEMPT TO SOLVE PROBLEMS?

S.Paling: Sales leaders have a “heart to heart” with a rep about a problem.   The rep improves for a period of time, the sales manager gets busy, the rep reverts to their old behavior and they’re back to where they started.

The other reps see this happen, they start taking the manager less seriously and a culture of non-accountability develops.

SmallBizLady: WHAT PREVENTS THEM FROM SOLVING THE PROBLEM?

S.Paling: Busy answering 300 emails, sitting in endless meetings, and getting bogged down with all the data in the CRM system, they have limited time to do their main job – working with and coaching the reps.  It takes time and ability they don’t have to address a problem with rep.

Then you have the hiring dilemma.  Right now, there’s a shortage of good salespeople.  If they address the problem with a rep, the rep might read the writing on the wall and quit.  Or if the rep doesn’t improve, the sales leader might have to terminate their employment.  Then the sales leader has to replace them.  How many weeks or months will that take?  What if they can’t find a suitable replacement?  The sales leader decides that putting up with the rep might be the better option

SmallBizLady: WHY DO THEY KEEP HOPING THINGS WILL CHANGE?

S.Paling: If the company has a decent product, good benefits and a lucrative compensation plan, many managers feel like that should be motivation enough.  Here is your quota.  I hired you with the understanding that you want to make a lot of money.  Now go do what’s necessary to bring the sales revenue in.  They hope the rep will wake up, realize what a good situation they have and start doing what’s necessary to make quota.

SmallBizLady: WHAT CAN A BUSINESS OWNER DO IN ADVANCE TO MINIMIZE PROBLEMS WITH REPS?

S.Paling: Business owners and sales leaders need to have a plan in place before they hire their first or an additional rep.  Prior to the rep’s start date, figure out new hire orientation, product training, minimum performance standards and quotas.  Think about how you will handle issues like missing quota or not doing any prospecting before they show up on day one.

Any pre-work you put in makes handling problems much easier from the start.  The rep understands the expectations and you are ready to take corrective action if necessary. 

SmallBizLady: CAN YOU GIVE ME AN EXAMPLE OF A PROBLEM YOU HELP SALES MANAGERS SOLVE?

S.Paling: In one chapter, I talk about the mediocre rep, the one who always just makes quota, year in and year out, while others experience 20 – 40% increases or better.  How do you handle that situation?

First, get the facts:  Compare their performance to the group average.  If the group average is 116% of quota and they come in at 101%, determine how much money their territory loses every quarter.  Next, solve the problem yourself first.  What would you do if no one could tell you no.  In this case the sales leader determines that if a sales rep goes two months or two quarters in a row (depending on the length of your sales cycle) they will go on probation.

I then recommend leaders show the plan to their direct supervisor.  Sell them on it.  Present some charts and graphs.  Work together to address the issue.  Compromise with them if need be.  Once that work is completed, the sales leader can approach the rep about the problem.

Put a timeline on solving the problem.  Give the rep all the support they need, but let them know they have to be performing at a certain level by a certain date or you will have to put them on probation.

SmallBizLady: HOW SHOULD SALES LEADERS SPEAK WITH THE REP ABOUT THE PROBLEM?

S.Paling:  Make no attempt to solve the problem during that initial conversation.  Approach the first meeting with the idea of doing a lot of listening.  Ask open-ended questions and hear what reps have to say.  Show them the information that you’ve put together and encourage them to look it over for a day or two.  Schedule a follow-up meeting during the first meeting.

During subsequent meetings, offer the rep your full support.  Provide the time and resources necessary for them to show improvement.  But put a timeline on solving the problem.  Let them know they have to be performing at a certain level by a certain date or you will have to put them on probation.

SmallBizLady: IS THERE ANYTHING A SALES LEADER CAN SAY OR DO TO LESSEN THE TENSION DURING THESE MEETINGS?

S.Paling:  On some level, this rep isn’t meeting company expectations.  That’s a tough thing for anyone to hear.  Think about any contributions this rep has made to the sales effort, big or small, and mention them during the meetings.  They will remember and appreciate the gesture.

SmallBizLady: WHAT DO SALES LEADERS NEED TO UNDERSTAND TO BE SUCCESSFUL?

S.Paling:  Managing sales people means sitting in judgement.  You have to be able to hold reps accountable and take appropriate action when goals aren’t met.  Some people find that concept very difficult to deal with.

If you found this interview helpful, join us on Wednesdays 8-9 pm ET; follow @SmallBizChat on Twitter.

Here’s how to participate in #SmallBizChat: http://bit.ly/1hZeIlz

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