To me, sales management is about taking willing sales reps and helping them achieve higher levels of results by capitalizing upon their strengths and natural abilities. The key is they must be willing—they need the desire to learn, and they must be open to feedback. They also must come to the organization with a certain level of intrinsic motivation (some type of goal or need that drives them). The Carrot and the Stick are good for short-term motivation and results, but long-term, they aren’t effective because as a manager, you would need to keep increasing the rewards or punishments (with termination usually as the ultimate Stick). For better results, the rep should have an internal drive to make that fifty-first outbound call of the day after having heard fifty answering machines or “Nos,” without the manager needing to stand over them.
I also believe in a high level of accountability with every team member. The first, and most important step, is to have reps agree on what their goals are for the sales role, and what winning (and losing) looks like. They should also understand the level of feedback and accountability they will receive, all with the solitary goal of helping them win. It’s not about micro-managing; it’s about coaching team players either to win or to realize it’s not the right game for them so they should find some other type of work.
Accountability should be based on data/metrics regarding performance and success. The best and only fair way to judge someone is based on results. What types of results is that rep getting compared to expectations? If they are not achieving the desired level of sales/enrollments, then the role of a good sales manager is to work backwards with the data and available information to determine where the issue lies that is causing the lack of results. Then the task of a professional sales manager is to determine if the deficiency can be resolved and how best to do so. Sometimes a particular sale is just not a good fit for the rep, who may be lacking key abilities needed to be effective in that specific situation.
I have experience hiring, working with, and firing hundreds of sales reps. Inevitably, some reps make it through the interview process, but once they get into their sales roles, they are clearly not a good fit. Management must strike the balance, depending on the organization, of how quickly to end the relationship with that rep. I believe in solid training programs and probationary sales periods, with proper expectations set from the beginning with the newly hired rep as to the performance requirements and timelines. Sales isn’t for everyone, and it is very costly to an organization to keep an underperforming salesperson who shows very little long-term potential.
The majority of my sales management career has been spent in organizations that provided inbound leads/calls to sales reps. Such leads yield a higher level of the results needed to generate an acceptable Cost Per Acquisition (CPA) based on the marketing costs. It is one thing to have commission-only sales reps who are generating their own leads and business. It is another to be the sales manager of a team that is paid hourly or on salary, plus bonuses/commissions, taking inbound calls with the expectation of a certain closing percentage for the company to justify the expense.
Throughout my sales management career, I have dealt with many different lead types, each of which have their merits based on an organization’s culture and goals. I have worked with live inbound leads from direct mail, social media, and domestic and overseas call center live transfers. I have built out marketing campaigns to generate inbound leads. I have created and run telemarketing teams that were generating leads for our internal sales team. I have run power dialers for sales reps for both new, cold leads and large, internal lead pipelines of unclosed prospects (that reps were not calling on).
I have experience running small teams of less than 10 sales reps, as well as sales organizations with 150 reps spread out across four different locations, including offshore, all held to the same standards, metrics, and expectations. I believe in a franchise/affiliate type model, even within an organization, where different branches are all provided identical training, management, leads, metrics, and accountability. I also believe in scalability when building an organization, especially on the sales and marketing side. One important factor is market size and access to lead sources/data prior to building out a team because the goal should be to ensure scalability whether the organization’s vision is 20, 100, or 500 sales reps.
My specialty is with B2C (business-to-consumer)-focused sales teams, short to medium sales cycles, and inbound and outbound lead sources. While I fundamentally know I could lead any sales team selling any product to any prospective buyer, my experience has been with B2C. But the fundamental principles are the same, both for managing and selling.
Sales Management Tip
Here’s one practice I do with new sales reps: During training, I have them create vision boards for their desks, with images, quotes, and pictures—visual representations centered around their personal goals and desires. These boards act as visual reminders for them throughout the workday, especially if they are faced with rejection or struggles, to connect their daily actions to what they want in their lives. This motivational reminder will hopefully drive them through difficult times because they are focused on their own success and not because of management pressures. It will also take the pressure off management to constantly use The Carrot or The Stick. Lastly, managers should take note of the effort reps puts into their vision board, as well as the energy they have towards those items as it will give a good indication of how much the reps are willing to work to achieve them.