Managing Your Sales Force

Managing a sales force is a critical function within any company. A well-managed sales force is a key to whether a company will thrive or struggle, especially in a weak economy. The sales team drives revenue, and when the sales force falters, then so does to the company. So, whether you are a brand new sales manager or an experienced “old hand,” here are three principles that all sales managers must follow to lead their companies to success:

Hire the best talent available: When building any team, including a sales team, it is imperative to hire the best available talent. Although great players don’t always play together as a great team, this is usually less important on sales teams where individual performance is a major component of success. You can find experienced performers by scouting competitors or looking outside your industry to find people with proven sales track records; otherwise, you can hire raw talent by finding smart recent graduates and screening them with and assessment tool. Many web-based assessments are available for a modest fee. Generally most sales teams are built with a mix of both experienced producers and promising new recruits. As a sales manager, you can use your experienced “pros” to help you mentor the new people.

Coach them to success: A primary responsibility of any sales manager is coaching people to success. If you were personally a top producer as a sales person, you need to use that experience to help your people succeed rather than compete with them. As a manager, you succeed when your people succeed. Go on joint sales calls and help them by conducting a short debrief when you get back on the road and on the way to the next account. Ask them what went well, what could have gone better, and what could they do differently in the future? Focus your feedback on observable behavior and not the person so that you can avoid personal criticism. Build them up and make them strong. Be careful not to jump into a situation on the call unless the sales person is giving some incorrect information or doing something contrary to company policy. Otherwise, let them handle the situation even if they are struggling. This could be a good “teachable moment.” Often, people learn the best lessons from situations that don’t always go according to plan. Good coaches know how to use these opportunities to dramatically improve the performance of their people. While these may be difficult lessons to learn, they are also likely to be remembered.

Hold them accountable and upgrade when necessary: Sales results are the bottom line, and are generally reported weekly or monthly. If the targets have been reasonably set, then the sales manager’s job is to hold people accountable for success. While even good sales people will miss their targets on occasion, they will still perform well over a longer period of time. Be fair with your people, help them diagnose problems, and seek to get them through slumps; however, if a pattern of under-performance emerges, then your job is to counsel them into another job opportunity and to find a new replacement for your team. Upgrading your sales team is never an easy task, but it is also critical to building a strong sales force.

Thus, these three sales management principles might be described as the cycle of success: Hire the best, coach for success, and hold people accountable. Like any job, being a manager, especially a sales manager, can be extremely challenging at times. It is also easy to get distracted by doing administrative tasks or going to meetings at the home office. However, following these three core sales management principles will focus your efforts on the primary tasks for any sales manager. Sometimes, it really can be as easy as one, two, and three.