Why can’t we build better sales managers? (Part 3)

I know this may sound crazy, but here are the musings I cannot get out of my head…

  • Is it possible that we have outgrown the traditional role of a sales manager in all but the bottom half of accounts – where deals are the most transactional?
  • Is it possible that a large number of the people who are sales managers today are in that role because of the salary and prestige of being a “manager” – not because they are actually happy in that over-worked, under-resourced role?
  • Is it possible that if we offered to change the role of sales management to (a) a local team leader overseeing more than just Sales in support of top customers or (b) a super seller, leading and coaching a team of peers, that most sales managers would jump at the chance to be in one of those roles?

For the last two weeks, I have slowly been building a case for changing the idea of sales management.

This week, let me lay out what that looks like.

First, here are my main reasons:

  • There is literally not enough time in the week to do everything that a sales manager needs to do (see more here)
  • Customer inputs consistently say that they need a “different” kind of help from sellers – and these areas are often not a priority for today’s sales manager (see more here)

This leads us to a handful of options.

For starters, we can say this is an efficiency problem and hire more managers. If you are like me, the financial mathematics behind that idea immediately causes it to go off the rails. Most sales teams are already optimized in their manager-to-rep ratio. And if they are not, there is likely not enough money to bring that option to life.

On the other hand, we can say this is an effectiveness problem and hire different managers. But the chances exist that no matter who we hire, we will turn them into the same version of sales managers that we have now. Because how we developed and empowered our current crop of leaders will be the same approach for the next. Remember that old definition of insanity (doing the same things and expecting different results)?

I see a critical third option. We have to do different things. In other words, I think it’s a hybrid of both efficiency and effectiveness. We have to evolve the definition of the role of the sales manager. Or more precisely, evolve the definition of sales management.

Consider this: If we design from the customer interaction backwards, we will get a MASSIVELY different model for how to structure the business. Amazon has famously done this, creating an operating model that people are still trying to decode.

Imagine if we were to design Amazon from the top down.

Do you really think Amazon’s logistics and sales functions would be structured the way that they are now? How about the IT function? I seriously doubt that the company would look anything like it does today. Nor would it be anywhere near as successful.

Let’s take the same approach with sales management. And start with a question.

Do customers need sales people who can be part of their entire problem-solving journey? This is a huge question. Most companies are set up to only manage the “buying process” – and even that is a poor definition of what they do. In reality, most sales teams are set up to manage the “sales opportunity process” (even calling it THE sales process, as if that is the only process in sales that matters).

But if we listen to what customers say – and evaluate the strongest, most profitable customer relationships we have – we can quickly see that our engagement with the customer is established long before the RFP. In fact, we will see that we helped write (or at least influence) the RFP. Because we work with that customer very differently. Because our sales people are involved in the entire problem-solving journey.

So, why don’t we make that the core responsibility of sales management? Why don’t we design the role around maximizing the sales team’s success in that entire problem-solving journey?

It would mean that we take a business-within-a-business approach. We treat each sales interaction as our anchor point, and structure the team around supporting those interactions. Make sure that the customer has access to a team of folks – from the sales rep to the logistics person – all on one team. Yes, I am suggesting that named accounts have named teams of support (which includes assigned Marketing, Customer Support, and Operations – plus Sales). And it’s not reserved for just the very top of the account list. We tier this approach until the profitability gets lost in the model. In other words, a local team may support the top local accounts, then share some resources virtually to handle the mid-tier accounts, then hand everything else over to a web site or call center somewhere.

But the sales manager becomes the local CEO of a small business, overseeing everything that drives the biggest revenue. All of the small stuff goes away to someplace and someone else. Corporate centers of excellence have dotted line responsibility for the local functions, but they support the local teams at the end of the day. And sales teams would have their own local coach, a super seller that is responsible to drive sales TEAM success.

This would eliminate siloes and maximize empowerment. This would give the customers that matter the most immediate access to the support they want to pay for – support that they are already paying for. This would enable local leaders to recruit the best talent and place them in roles that are designed for local support, not national.

Wait – pause. What value does a sales manager provide in this scenario? Great question.

I propose that the traditional definition of sales management is (a) limited to sales opportunity management and is thus incomplete in the scope we are talking about and (b) the result of tops-down, Industrial Age thinking and is thus not aligned with maximizing the customer interaction. As a result, revenue generation is capped at best. Conclusion: the traditional role of the sales manager is no longer needed.

What I am talking about is not an old idea. A raw version of it has been done before – and quite successfully (unless non-sales people take over and the drive to generate revenue gets lost). Now, imagine how technology can enable a modified approach today. And imagine what machine learning and AI will enable us to do tomorrow.

I guess what I am really saying is that maybe it’s time to learn from the past.

Maybe the customer has come full circle and needs this kind of selling experience.

And maybe I am completely off my rocker.

What do you think?

I mua. Onward and upward.

By Tim Ohai

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