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The 7 Secret Sins of Sales Management

The road to hell is paved with good intentions... and that's certainly true in sales management. There are many behaviors that seem smart, but which end up killing productivity.

This post is loosely upon the writing of Ray Williams, who's been a chairman of two companies. Ray calls them "myths", but I call them "secret sins" because they're sins disguised as virtues.

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Illustrations by Afiat Sukmaraga


Secret Sin #1: Putting the customer first.
When managers preach and practice the longstanding axiom to put the customer first, they overlook their employees, who are responsible for creating and nurturing the customer relationship. Customers quickly learn they can bypass the rep and get what they want by appealing to the manager. This results in lousy morale, high turnover, and customer dissatisfaction.

Rather than letting that happen, sales managers must put their employees first. Managers should communicate regularly and comprehensively with employees. Managers should never undercut their employee's authority to deal with customer issues. Instead, they should work through the sales reps when communicating with customers.

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Secret Sin #2: Letting results drive morale.
Managers often believe that increased sales will result in higher morale. However, low morale makes it difficult, and even impossible, to increase sales. What results is a classic "chicken or egg" situation where everyone's waiting for things to improve, with decreasing hope that they actually will.

In order to avoid this sin, sales managers can't afford to wait for sales to go up before addressing morale issues. Instead, they must take immediate steps improve morale by convincing employees that sales will soon improve. How to do this? Easy. Four steps:

  • STEP #1: Present a clear vision of the future.
  • STEP #2: Get a reality check from the sales team the vision will work and (important!) benefit each team member.
  • STEP #3: Refine that vision into a practical set of steps that everyone agrees are achievable.
  • STEP #4: Get firm commitment from top management to support the execution of that vision.
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Secret Sin #3: Managing numbers not activities.
Hey, numbers are important. However, numbers only represent the history of what's happened. Treating the numbers as the top priority leads to jiggling the revenue stream, pushing revenue into different quarters, and (worst case) cooking the books to make the numbers look good. Dumb, dumb, dumb.

Let's get back to basics. Management's first responsibility is to manage people and their activities. While a manager cannot (honestly) manage the numbers, a manager can always manage the activities that lead to the numbers.

If a manager focuses on what the sales team is doing, and measuring the effectiveness of each activity, each day... the numbers become foregone conclusions that need little attention.

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Secret Sin #4: Using quota as a management tool.
First, let's define quota. Quota is the minimum performance standard of an organization and the minimum performance of the individual inside that organization.

So think about it. When sales managers use quota as a management tool, they are are placing maximum emphasis on minimum performance. The result is entirely predictable: the entire sales team aims at the minimum standard and seldom exceeds it.

Let's get real. Quota is a corporate measurement tool. That's all. Quota is simply what the organization needs to achieve in order to fulfill its goals. Quota has nothing to do with what the employee wants from his or her employment with the organization.

Quota does not and cannot motivate, especially when managers uses it as a club to beat employees about the head and shoulders at the end of the month.

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Secret Sin #5: Believing you know all the answers.
Many managers think that their job is to know all the answers -- and provide them to their employees as frequently as possible.

But that's just not true. Each time a manager answers an employee's question, he or she becomes a thief. The manager has robbed that person of the opportunity to think and the opportunity to grow.

While experience has value, people don't learn when that hard-won wisdom is handed over on a platter, much less forced down their throat.

Contrary to popular belief, a manager's job is to ask the right questions.
The trick to managing effectively is being able to spark, in the employee's own mind, the thought processes and ideas that will make the employee successful.

Great managers know the "magic questions" that help employees discover where they need to improve and how, and which get the commitment necessary to make the improvement.

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Secret Sin #6: Taking credit for the top performers.
Sales managers frequently point to their top performers as an indicator of how successful they are as sales managers.

However, while the manager may have hired that top performer or grown him or her into that role, the success of that individual is more likely to reflect that person's drive and ability, rather than anything the manager brought to the table.

The truth is that sales management ability is defined, not by the top performers, but by how the manager handles the poor performers.

The worst performing sales person on the team illustrates exactly what the manager will accept, because that person remains employed.

What's more, the worst performer acts as a drag upon the rest of the team, who are well aware that they must work harder in order to cover for the manager's willingness to tolerate poor performance.
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Secret Sin #7: Depending upon common sense.

When people view the solution to anything as being "common sense", they tend not to pay much attention to it. The result is that the same problems keep cropping up month after month, year after year.

And that's exactly what happens inside companies where sales managers rely upon "common sense" to fix problems, create new opportunities and handle crises.

To get the best from employees, managers must know their employees and their interests, and manage according to those interests. That requires applied psychology, not common sense.

To make sure that sales activities result in profitable revenue, managers must define and track a productive sales process. That requires system analysis, not common sense.

Great sales managers are constantly upgrade your skills and knowledge about people, business, and products.

None of that is common sense; just plain hard work, study, and plenty of practice.

READERS: A big vote of thanks to management genius Ray Williams who was kind enough to share this information with me... and with you! I sure wish I had him as a manager!

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