As sales managers, we sometimes want to replicate the exact process that worked for us when we were individual contributors. We look at our sales reps and say to ourselves: “If they would just do as I tell them, they would be successful.”

In large corporations, there are training modules that supposedly lay out a formula for sales success. Therefore, the first-line sales managers are directed by “corporate” to make sure the newly hired sales reps adhere to the sales tactics that were taught in training. The thought is to not reinvent the wheel, but instead utilize best practices and proven sales strategies that have worked in the past. While it is hard to disagree with fundamental sales best practices, I am a big believer that there needs to be some wiggle room for sales reps to alter their sales approaches in light of their individual skill sets, personalities and sales experience. A seasoned sales manager should be able to recognize the fact that all sales reps are not created equal, and therefore should not be managed the same way. After all, if you are managing strictly by certain metrics and sales results, one could make the argument that the manager could be replaced by a computer.

It is true, to a certain extent, that sales are a numbers game. The more sales calls you make, the more sales you should make. This philosophy is the basic tenet for most junior sales reps starting out in business. The manager gives them a goal of a certain number of sales calls per week. These could be by telephone or face-to-face. This was the case with my first professional sales job in 1976 with Burroughs Corp. in New York. We were required to fill out a weekly call sheet. The more names on the sheet, the more sales you made, supposedly. Back then, there were no smartphones, no computers or navigation systems. Not even fax machines. We drove to our territories, parked our cars in industrial areas, and started knocking on doors. In one building in Brooklyn, New York, I could log 8-10 sales calls for my weekly call sheet. Well, that is, if you consider a sales call knocking on a door and being told they have no time to talk to sales rep! So I always had a full weekly call sheet, but most calls did not result in sales. Another sales manager rule at Burroughs was that you needed to be out of the office by 8:30 a.m. This requirement resulted in a group of us leaving the office and driving to a local diner to have breakfast several days a week.

Other sales management philosophies require the rep to generate a certain number of proposals per month, or a certain number of executive-level meetings. The idea is that, historically, a set number of meetings and proposals would result in a set number of sales. While there is some truth to this philosophy, it tends to reduce sales to strictly a numbers game. This approach might work for junior sales reps just starting out in business, but unfortunately I have witnessed managers deploying similar tactics to all sales reps, regardless of industry experience, relationships or proven track records of success. This, of course, begs the question: Why would you hire a seasoned sales exec and then manage him or her the same way you would a junior rep? A seasoned sales manager understands it is not wise to manage strictly by numbers, sales reports and spreadsheets. In addition, a talented sales manager might learn something from a successful sales exec that could be passed on to the entire sales team. The sales manager should know that some reps need more guidance than others. And the goal should be to develop a team that requires as little guidance as possible. This provides time for the manager to shield the sales execs from as much corporate B.S. as possible. Sales execs can then focus on selling, and not reports and associated paperwork. Devoting more time to productive selling activities is where you want your sales execs to focus their energy.

All activity does not translate into sales productivity! Strictly managing by numbers and metrics across your entire sales team can be a slippery slope. Evaluate each team member individually and determine exactly how much “management” is necessary. One size does not fit all!



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