Sales Management: A Most Rewarding Role

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I was in San Francisco recently running a sales leadership workshop – an absolutely beautiful city by the way.  A friend and colleague of mine, Michael, shared a story from his early career that brought home the true role of the sales manager – or indeed any manager for that matter.

After a short time into his first sales manager role, Michael was having a conversation with his mentor.  She asked him how things were going and after Michael had talked things through he asked her for her observations.  With total honesty, and maybe a little brutally, she said she felt Michael was a good SALES manager, but that he had some way to go to become a great people manager.

You see, herein lies the challenge.  In sales management there are at least three distinct roles that need to be fulfilled.  And ensuring the correct balance and focus can be a real challenge without the right support.

One of the roles is that of Customer Manager.  A lot of sales managers still assume some responsibility for selling, even if that is simply supporting their people with important meetings or calls.  The thing is, most sales managers have been salespeople, and often very successful salespeople.  Many of them still like the thrill of the chase and bagging the big deal – it’s in their blood.  And unfortunately they can’t resist getting involved and then taking over.  Most sales managers love this aspect of their job and are only too keen to focus their energy here.  After all, it’s helping to bring the deals in, right?  It was this element of his role that Michael’s mentor was referring to when she said he was a good SALES manager – he was good at managing sales.

Another role of the sales manager is that of Business Manager.  The responsibility for reporting back into the organisation, providing accurate forecasts and other such updates.  It is the completion of the administrative tasks that keep things going.  Whilst few people really enjoy this element of the role it is one where a great deal of time and effort is spent.  Studies have shown that most people believe too much time is spent on these activities, yet it is the demand from the business and senior management, and the pressure that comes with this, that drives the sales manager to focus so much of their time here.

The final aspect of the sales manager role is that of the People Manager.  And for me, this is the most crucial part but the one where most often the important elements are neglected.  I have always believed that the opening line of a sales manager’s job description should be about achieving the company goals and objectives through the development of the team.  This aspect of the role is about coaching and supporting the team.  Not doing their job for them, or being absent while you do the paperwork, it is about helping them grow, it is about building their capacity, it is about enabling them to achieve their objectives.

There is a lot of research that shows the significant impact coaching can have on the sales performance of an individual and team, and yet because we are so busy elsewhere – doing the things we like or doing the things we are told to do – we don’t always invest enough time in this part of the role.  And it was this element of the role that Michael’s mentor stated he was lacking.

And I really like what Michael’s mentor did next…

She posed him a question.  She asked him what would happen if his salespeople determined his monthly pay cheque.  If they were given complete discretion to write out how much he should be paid based purely on the value he had given them individually each month – what would be the result, how much would his team pay him?

The point being, the role of the sales manager is to develop the team and to bring value to them, and it is this that should be rewarded.  Think about it, how much more committed, engaged, and motivated is the person who writes out the high pay cheque?  How much more are they prepared to do for the manager who inspires and supports them?  And how less committed is the one who pays a low amount?

This way of thinking certainly helped Michael, and I am sure countless others.  So what about you?  As a manager of people and a leader, would you be prepared to put your income into the hands of your people?  What would they pay you?

But, just for a second, think about it.  What is the real potential and size of the reward at stake here?