Sales Managers That Sell

Last week’s column generated some strong feedback from readers — salespeople and managers — who insisted that good sales managers are those who spend their time selling, those who are “in the trenches with the troops.”

Couldn’t agree more.

The selling skills and talents of the field-tested, results-driven sales manager are one of the greatest assets of any sales focused organization, and Internet ad sales teams are the perfect example of organizations focused on revenue results. But active involvement in the sales process, and a dedicated focus on moving inventory and meeting revenue goals, are different jobs for the great sales managers. Sales people are accountable for individual results, great managers produce results through and with other people.

A disconnect occurs when a focus on personal quotas impels managers to be more focused on their own individual revenue lines than on the results of the team under their charge. It’s impossible to be a great manager when you are in competition with your direct reports.

The greater skill, and one that experienced and highly successful sales managers work constantly to develop and strengthen, is the ability to motivate, coach, coax and drive others to sell more, more effectively, and more efficiently. That’s not accomplished by taking a sideline position and sitting back. Supervising and harassing does not do it. It’s done by selling well, by teaching by example, by showing that tough accounts can be closed and impossible goals met.

It’s done by training, both classroom style and field-training; making joint calls, planning account development strategies together, debriefing the wins and the misses to make sure each sales person learns from every interaction. For high performance sales teams, led by top-flight sales management, training is not something that happens sporadically at scheduled offsites. It’s a daily occurrence as sales people of every level interact with the sales manager to hone their professional skills and sell and service more and more tricky accounts and prospects.

Coaching and motivating also derives from clearly setting expectations and metrics, so that every sales person knows just what is expected and how to get support in achieving it. Every employee needs clear conditions of success, and that generally means more than a quota.

What is the range of success criteria for your organization, and how does a sales person know if s/he is achieving them? Is there an expectation of new prospect contacts in a month? A renewal rate you need to hit to make business goals? Are there yield rates or levels of sales profitability the sales person should be reaching? How about goals around face-to face meetings, levels of contact at client companies, sell-up objectives or depth of penetration within key accounts?

Great sales management gives sales people a clear understanding of what is expected, above and beyond simple quota levels. And those objectives are not just stated, they are demonstrated — by solid selling. Showing the sales team that those seemingly unachievable goals can be hit, and are being reached, by the sales managers.

So, to all the nay-sayers from last week’s column, I apologize. I did not make myself clear if you were able to take away the impression that sales management doesn’t need to sell. To my way of thinking, great sales managers never stop selling. The question to ponder, however, is this: What is the furthest reaching impact? Is it taking all that sales talent and applying it to a few accounts? Or is it channeling that sales machine to grow and develop the whole team, so that every member of the selling staff is learning to be the best they can be, by having the opportunity to work with a master?

Next week: More on the specific backgrounds and skills to look for in an Internet advertising sales manager.

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