Managers say they want to build a sales organization that has the qualities of speed, agility and skill. One that is sophisticated, responsive, high performing and above all successful. But is that what they are getting?
No role carries with it more pressure to perform than that of the sales manager. That requires certain qualities in a manager, in particular a high level of confidence, drive and determination.
As the pack leader when it comes to selling, the sales manager must show that he, or she is in control. Nothing less is expected of them. Yet dig beneath the surface of the typical Alpha Male (or Alpha Female) sales manager and you will find that there are often unresolved issues bubbling away beneath that external veneer of control.
Few sales managers live in a perfect world, or work in a perfect company. They have learned to live with the pressure of sales targets, increasingly demanding customers and more aggressive competitors. There is little point complaining about these factors – they are simply part of the job description.
What Bugs Sales Managers?
So, what is it that bugs sales managers? Well, when they take you into their confidence, many managers will reveal a range of bug-bears. That is what they see as unnecessary yet often intractable obstacles to greater sales success. It is worth noting many of these are internal, rather than external in nature.
1. The struggle for recognition, appreciation, or power – many managers feel that although they are in the firing line when it comes to results, they don’t get the kudos, backing, or support that is needed. This isn’t just an issue of politics and influence, because it tends to have a direct bearing on resource allocation to sales and sales support. Underpinning this issue is the next factor.
2. Poor teamwork in support of sales, for example:
3. Strategic anxiety, for example where the sales manager is concerned about the growth direction of the business:
4. People – Performance Issues
Almost every sales manager is concerned about the performance of at least one member of the sales team. Often this performance issue is not new, it has been around for a long time but has often been creatively avoided. Perhaps the manager lacks the authority, the determination, or even the courage to bring the issue to the fore and have it dealt with. The situation may have festered for so long that both parties are now entrenched and a battle of wills in in play.
That is because there are often complications involved, the impact on the rest of the team, the legacy of the past, relationships with others in the organisation or perhaps a customer, or partner, dependence on the person for specific information, or perhaps even a legal issue. The result is that the manager lives with a situation that isn’t just unsatisfactory, but can consumer lots of the managers time and energy.
Why do these issues frustrate managers and dog sales? Well, while managers are busy managing their teams they often overlook the requirements of managing their wider organisational context. It is not enough to coach the sales team, sales managers need to coach all those who have an impact on sales. That includes the CEO and the COO!
Sales managers need to be more strategic, more political and more Machiavellian! They must bring all those issues that have the potential to impact on sales performance into the open. They must communicate and consult more widely with their management colleagues. In short they must sell their sales agenda more effectively.
Would you rather be seen by your colleagues as a strategic genius, or an effective tactician? Well, perhaps it depends on your pay grade, or job title.
On a practical level whether you are a strategist or a tactician, depends on your answer to the following questions:
There are opportunities for most managers to become a little more strategic in both their thinking and their approach. It means an approach to developing sales that is more:
We are continually asking managers if sales is ‘the engine of their business’, but are often surprised by the replies that we get. That is because only one in four sales managers, or directors will say without hesitation that it is. Alarmingly the rest will either answer ‘no’, or ‘not really’. They universally believe that sales should be the engine of their business, but the reality is that it is not.
So, what do managers mean when they say that sales is not the engine of their business and what are the implications? Well, in this article we will discuss both of these issues arriving at the surprising yet clear conclusion that it is time to move sales up the corporate agenda.
The Concept of the Sales Engine
Sales as ‘the engine of the business’ is, one would imagine, not too much of a stretch of the imagination for most managers. After all, without sales revenues the business could not survive. But can the term sales engine relevant to most sales managers and their organisations. We asked hundreds of them. Their answers revealed much about the role and potential of sales in the B2B marketplace today and in particular its key opportunities and challenges.
Is Sales the Engine of Your Business? – The Answers
Three out of four managers answer no to the question ‘is sales the engine of your business?’ Almost universally they wished it was and they felt it should be, but the reality was different.
So, most sales managers conceded that sales is not the engine of their business. But what does this mean? Well, there were two reasons:
Often the two views are held by managers, which is not surprising given that as we will discuss shortly they are inter-related. The notion of sales as the engine of the business is something that although very logical and appealing to the sales manager would seem to be a long way off for many organisations. It strike to the core of how sales and marketing are run and the role that they must play.
Sales is not as ‘engine-like’ as it could, or should be
One of the reasons why managers don’t see sales as the engine of their organization is because their organisation’s approach to sales is not as systematic, organised, or structured as they would wish. In other words sales and marketing is not very engine-like, with managers in particular pointing to a deficit in terms of sales; process, system, skills, or structures.
Indeed, most managers would use the words sporadic, reactive and ad-hoc to describe at least some aspects of their organisation’s approach to how its products and services are marketed, or sold. The words shown on the left below are more reflective of their marketing, than those on the right.
|Sales Effort||Sales Engine|
|Capability of Person(s)||Organisational Capability|
|Sales Person / Personality Driven||Process Driven|
|Sporadic (start-stop) Once-off||Consistent (ongoing)|
|Hit and miss||Scientific
Effective & Efficient
Before you continue reading, here is a test: which of the word’s in the two columns above best describe your organisation’ sales and marketing?
To put it another way sales and marketing are more art, than science, they are also more effort, than engine. However there are clear signs that a change of emphasis is taking place. Managers are looking beyond the efforts of the sales person, or sales team and the occasional sales campaign to the systems, structures and science of selling. As a result, sales is inevitably becoming more engine-like.
Sales is not at the very core of the organisation
The second reason why managers say that sales is not the engine of their business is because it is not sufficiently high up the organisational agenda – it is not at the key priority of the organisation and is not recognised, or at least treated, as being the key driver of success.
The fact that sales is not the number one priority in many organisations is particularly surprising in the context of the global economic slowdown – a time when one would expect ‘all hands to be at the pumps’ in respect of sales. Clearly as far as sales managers are concerned there has been a lot of lip-talk regarding sales. It also perhaps reflects the reality that for many organisations who forgot during 10 years of unbroken growth what it was like to search for new customers, becoming sales-led is a real challenge, akin to changing the organisational DNA.
Why do managers feel that sales is not the top priority? Well first because sales is the responsibility of too few people in the organisation – the focus of a particular department (individual or team) that is often isolated in terms of organisation wide support and does not receive the senior management attention that it deserves. Of course, given the reality of how most organisations are run, a feeling by the sales director or manager of being undervalued and more to the point under supported is typically a reflection of the CEO role in respect of sales. Bottom line it means that sales is not getting the organisation wide focus, or support that it needs and results are likely to suffer as a result.
If sales is not the engine of the business, then what is? Well, in some companies the product, or technology is the driver, in others it is seen as the delivery, or the management of customer relationships. Clearly, in these organisations sales has an internal selling job to complete – it has to sell the organisation on the paramount role of sales.