Why can’t we build better sales managers? (Part 1)

I’m beginning to wonder if we have the idea of sales management wrong.

And when I say wrong, I am actually asking if the way that we define sales management is broken. Or better said, obsolete.

It doesn’t take any effort to find a host of voices stating the obvious: sales managers are either over-worked, under-supported, or flat out doing the wrong things.

Maybe even all three.

But, again, that has me wondering.

Traditionally, the role of the frontline sales manager (aka the FLSM) has been defined by two major requirements:

  1. Make sure the team hits their sales numbers
  2. Make sure the team hits their sales numbers

Yes – I wrote the same thing twice. Intentionally.

But that’s true, isn’t it? A manager can do/be all sorts of other things – as long as the team hits their sales numbers.

What is on the list of other things that sales managers do?

  • Do the jobs that other functions are supposed to be doing (Marketing and HR are often blamed as the culprits, but the list is potentially endless)
  • Step in and sell
  • And my personal favorite – non-contributing essentials (the administrative stuff that has nothing to do with selling)

Starting with doing the jobs of other functions, sales managers often have to unsnarl the obstacles that are blocking the delivery of customer value. From troubleshooting a delivery issue to actually recruiting sales talent, sales managers often spend hours each day making sure that things are getting done. Things that other functions are responsible for. Is that the right thing for sales managers to do?

Next, there is the act of selling. In a positive sense, it becomes the best kind of classroom, where the sales team can watch their boss show them how to navigate complex deals. But just as frequently, the sales manager simply hijacks the deal and delivers the win. Without building any greater team capacity in the process. Creating a repeating loop of that sales manager always being “needed” to land the bigger deals.

Finally, the non-contributing essentials – what everyone in “management” gets to do. From filling out HR and Finance reports to managing inventory, there is not a single thing on that list of activities that generates revenue. But – at the end of the day – “somebody” has to do it.

As long as the team hits their sales numbers.

Now, hear me in this: I am not saying these things shouldn’t be done. As a business owner, I fully respect that operational duties are mandatory and beneficial.

But is it the sales manager’s role?

If I designed from the top down, mechanically, it makes total sense. Because “somebody” has to do it. And that “somebody” might as well be the frontline manager.

However, if I designed from the bottom up, organically, it makes no sense at all.

Let’s stay with the premise that the bottom-line requirement is the same (make sure the team hits their sales numbers).

What do sales people need to be most relevant to their customers? And if they have someone to help them do that, must it be just one person?

In other words, consider everything that a sales rep needs to be most relevant.

  • Tailored marketing support
  • Personalized training and ongoing development
  • Just-in-time operational troubleshooting
  • Technical assistance
  • Feedback on how their business is doing
  • Data and analytics services
  • Strategic direction
  • Empathy – and correction

If we built from the bottom up – starting with the customer interaction – what would sales teams look like? And would they all be led by a single manager? Does the traditional picture of a single sales manager address all of this? I don’t think so.

Is this where AI will step in – replacing tasks that the sales manager currently does so that he/she can focus on different priorities and thus maintain that single point of accountability? Or do we need to redesign based on a service model, with the sales rep/customer relationship at the core?

I will be exploring this idea more in the next blog, but I would LOVE to hear what you think first. And better yet – what are you actually doing?

I mua. Onward and upward.

By Tim Ohai

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