We were asked recently to speak at a conference with forty CEO’s from throughout the US, the topic being “building a true sales culture”. Most people in the audience ran small or mid-sized companies (under 50MM in sales) and their sales organizations ranged in size from five to twenty five salespeople. All were seeking answers to a common challenge which was sales turnover/productivity, and most agreed that this issue was critical to their future growth and viability.
A survey of these companies showed that less than thirty percent of salespeople hired over the last three years went on to be successful while most left their companies within the first six to eighteen months. Not being the shy and retiring types they demanded answers to why this was happening and what in fact they could do about it. Were they hiring the wrong people, was their sales process broken, was their compensation structured the wrong way, etc, etc.
We spent the next two hours drilling down into this issue and after peeling back the onion we finally found common ground, a simple but powerful dynamic that was negatively impacting and even crippling sales. The common denominator for those companies struggling most to build strong sales organizations was “diluted sales management”.
Diluted sales management simply means that the person in charge of sales has other responsibilities and these other responsibilities water down their ability to build and manage the sales organization. In some cases the CEO was the sales manager, in other cases the sales manager had a sales quota of their own, neither situation allowed the manager to focus their time, energy and expertise solely on running sales, and in the end both their salespeople and the organization were paying a hefty price.
So given the fact that smaller companies are less inclined to dish out 100 to 200k for a dedicated sales manager, what can they do to mitigate this problem. Here are a few simple strategies that we developed to address this crucial issue. So given the fact that smaller companies are less inclined to dish out 100 to 200k for a dedicated sales manager, what can they do to mitigate this problem. Here are a few simple strategies that we developed to address this crucial issue.
Don’t fool yourself. Be realistic about your situation and don’t make promises of support, training and guidance that your organization is not equipped to deliver. It’s always best to represent the position and your organization honestly when bringing new salespeople on board.
Be more aware in your hiring process and hire people that need less direction and support. Using tools such as Predictive Index can tell you exactly how each salesperson will perform given the level of support that you provide. This simple survey will tell you how independent, focused, competitive and resourceful a salesperson is and will help you to determine whether or not they will thrive without the support of a dedicated sales manager.
Set up a mentoring program with your top sales reps. Assign newer reps to an experienced salesperson for a period of 12 to 18 months. Pay the mentor for their support and consider additional compensation if your new rep exceeds their sales goals. This is also a great way to develop your next sales manager.
Hire a sales coach. Many organizations today hire part time sales coaches to fill gaps created by diluted management. Coaches can add value by delivering high impact sales meetings, conducting sales training, doing field observation and providing one-on-one coaching. A sales coach can be a very cost effective way of bring more structure and focus to your sales leadership practices. A sales coach can also create a bridge to a time when hiring a full time sales manager makes financial sense for your organization.
Ultimately companies that have a full time, dedicated sales manager will realize better sales results and in turn, sales force retention. When salespeople are more accountable for activity, receive more direction, and have a partner in the development of their skills assures sales they simply perform better.