February 7, 2014

Senior Executives are Hurting Sales by Piling Too Much Crap on the Sales Manager

When speaking to organizations or coaching sales teams, I am quick to point out how little time most salespeople spend truly pursuing new business. In fact, depending on what I observe at a particular client, it’s not uncommon for me to boldly state that the simple reason they are not developing enough new business is because the very people charged with BD actually spend very little time focused on BD. Brilliant observation, I know.

Said differently, one of the biggest causes of failure among individual producers and sales teams is that the salespeople forget their primary job. Instead of being focused on revenue growth, they default to more reactive behavior  – responding to what’s urgent or easier to tackle. Many love to babysit their favorite accounts in the name of client retention or customer service. Other under-performers like to help out the operations folks  (tracking orders, making deliveries, etc.) because they’re either control freaks or enjoy servicing more than selling. And then there are the salespeople who are simply too nice; they get their kicks playing good corporate citizen and enjoy planning company parties and sitting in Safety Committee meetings. While all these other activities seem wonderful on the surface and may get someone labeled “team player,” the problem is that they destroy sales performance. And this lack of focus on the primary job is so deadly because it’s insidious. The people who have lost sight of the main thing think they’re doing a good thing, and that is why I am so blunt and so extreme when pointing this out to my clients.

So why take up two paragraphs sharing how salespeople lose sight of their primary job when this post is supposed to be about senior executives and sales managers? Why do you think?  Because almost everyday I see the same sins with sales managers.

Way too many sales managers (or vice presidents of sales who manage sales teams) have also lost sight of their primary job! Except unlike the salespeople who, for the most part, do this to themselves, sales managers are being taken away from their most important, most valuable, high-payoff activities because senior management is burying them with an unimaginable amount of crap that has almost nothing to with leading the sales team or driving revenue.

I am seeing a whole lot of sales managers who look way too much like the poor fella pedaling that load in the image above. They’re doing everything but their primary job:

  • Daily donning of their firefighter helmet; jumping in to put out a customer service fire or save the day for an important customer
  • Troubleshooting quality issues and offering insight to engineering
  • Sitting in countless executive committee meetings
  • Assisting Operations people with special requests
  • Visiting overseas manufacturing facilities
  • Chairing employee appreciation committees

The sales manager (executive) job is already hard enough. Everyone wants a piece of you for various reasons (great topic for another post).  I believe the sales manager’s position is the key leverage point for turning around the performance of a sales team and driving New Sales. Typically, as goes the sales leader, so goes the sales team. Yet, it’s become not only acceptable, but fashionable, to take the sales leader away from his/her team, and load their plates up with all kinds of non sales-managment tasks.

My strongest advice to senior executives who want more Sales is to free up your sales manager to make it happen. Stop dragging them into meetings just because you want their input or because they’re part of your executive team. Stop asking them to play corporate ambassador. Stop giving them new assignments and projects. Stop. Stop. Stop!

The world works way better when everyone is focused on their primary job. If Sales is a priority, then clear the decks so sales managers can devote the lion’s share of their time to managing Sales.