The manager’s a hands-on man. At least according to the meaning derived from Latin “Manus = The Hand”. But isn’t sales management known in the popular opinion of the “simple salesman” for not laying hands on people and letting others work instead?
Why sales management does not meet the requirements
When you think of management, terms like meetings, budgets, plans and control come to mind. All tasks that need to be done in a more operational way.
Especially in sales, management tasks become independent relatively quickly. Endless meetings in which you read each other figures – and even have to justify these figures – are the result.
How can you make sales management a successful profession?
Some time ago, the award-winning management thinker Fredmund Malik wrote in his book “Führen. Strips. developed a compact manual, which defines management as occupation, which one can learn, like each other occupation also.
In his book, Malik explains the principles, tasks and tools of modern management. Based on this work, we would like to highlight in this article the special challenges and opportunities of management in sales. Let’s start with the principles of successful sales management.
Principles for successful sales management
Principles are understood to mean principles in the sense of “rules which are inherent in the matter itself”. This is meant in such a way that there are also laws introduced from outside which can also be abolished again. In contrast to laws, principles describe the essential connections that define a topic. The principles presented here are therefore not proposals for action or tips that can be implemented or not. They are the basic components of good management and characteristics of good sales management.
People tend to look primarily at their own actions and sometimes lose sight of the desired outcome. By result orientation we mean first and foremost that we first consider what we want to achieve and only later what activities we have planned for this purpose.
One can observe that many people are more task-oriented and less result-oriented. They say more what they “have to do” and less what they want to have achieved.
That’s why we need managers in sales management who focus on results rather than actions. As a result, it is less interesting how many telephone calls have been made. Much more important is how many telephone calls led to orders with a certain revenue level.
Many companies still have sales management goals that are activity-oriented. There, salespeople have to make a certain number of visits instead of bringing about a certain incoming order with new customers.
Salespeople have to write weekly reports instead of ensuring that all notes on customer conversations are stored in the CRM system by the weekend at the latest.
Contribution to the whole
Modern companies are organised by division of labour. In their job, people do what they specialise in. In sales, this means initiating, deepening and maintaining profitable customer relationships.
However, this is only a small part of the company’s purpose. Especially in sales the truism that “without sales the company could not exist” or that “the customer pays the salaries of all employees” is often kept. This is basically correct, but the function of sales alone is hardly capable of sustaining a company in the long run.
Modern sales management is understood as a well thought-out integration of sales services into the services of the entire company.
Because the sales department works at the interface to the customer through its work, the sales management should ensure that the sales department and all its employees consider these contributions to the whole as important.
Sales management means drawing the attention of one’s own employees to their contribution to the whole and demanding it. In particular, sales employees who spend a large part of their working time in the field run the risk of “mutating into the customer’s lawyer”. These employees may then need support. Perhaps in such cases you use a question such as: “What is your contribution to the economic success of this company (apart from the fact that you ‘generate sales’)?
Concentration on a few things, but on what is essential
Concentration on the current bottleneck is an important principle of the EKS (= Evolution-conform strategy or later bottleneck-concentrated strategy) originally conceived by Wolfgang Mewes. Accordingly, there is always one factor that limits success the most.
For this the metaphor of the water hose is often used, which does not supply enough water because someone is standing on the hose. You could increase the water flow by putting more pressure on the hose, but the easiest way is to remove the kink in the hose.
This focus on the factor that most influences success at the moment is an important principle of good sales management. Successful organizations are able to regularly switch from an everyday perspective to a top-down one and look objectively at which factors currently limit success the most.
In sales, the phases in the initiation of customer decisions for new customers and existing customers can be represented as a layer model or as a so-called “funnel”. The individual layers could be project steps of the customer decision. I have already reported on this several times in past issues of the Sales Forecast.
Now the management can easily measure how many customer contacts are in which stage and which improvement has the greatest effect. If, for example, the largest break or loss is measured in the transition from “interest” to “decision”, then it can be very useful to concentrate on whether and how more customer projects can be led from interest to decision.
We tend to want to avoid mistakes and eliminate weaknesses. This is a remnant of our childhood and youth because much of the Western world’s education is focused on establishing a “minimum standard” of education. For this reason, pupils are punished above all for the mistakes they make when they have to carry out the tasks given to all pupils in the same way.
Unfortunately, some managers adopt this principle for their leadership tasks. They then design the same “targets” for all employees and punish deviations, mistakes and weaknesses.
If we assume that employees in sales are basically suitable for work in sales, then you will still recognize certain valuable strengths in certain employees that are particularly important for achieving the goals of the department or division.
If you neglect these strengths and want all employees to perform the same tasks with the same quality, you will be busy identifying and eliminating underperformance. Even if you manage to do this, you will at best be mediocre, because every employee needs a lot of strength to eliminate his weaknesses and probably loses his strengths in the process.
Instead of concentrating on the respective weaknesses, it can be much more valuable to recognize the strengths and use them consistently in the sense of the performance of the complete sales department. This is more costly than levelling down, but basically worthwhile – provided that the employees meet the basic requirements of good sales.