The sales environment, like all aspects of the world around it, has changed drastically over time. Though these changes have occurred, selling, at its core, has basically not. Selling, distilled down to its core, can be described as the transference of value from one party to another. Furthermore, selling enables the influence of one person to affect another, ideally in a positive manner. Successful selling is quite dependent upon the mutual satisfaction of respective needs and desires, in a manner that all parties win.
Historically, salespeople have proved themselves difficult to manage. The very qualities that combine to form a successful salesperson are the same traits that make us difficult to manage. Superior, successful salespeople are independent, self-sustaining, self-directing, self-accountable, self-assured, and self-motivated. These traits are obviously self-evident. Wally Amos, of Famous Amos Cookies, once said the "motivation is an inside job." He meant that only an individual can truly motivate himself. So what is a sales manager to do?
The debate over what defines a superior sales manager has been ongoing for years. Despite many varying approaches, methodologies and ideals, I believe that every superior sales manager has at their core, the essence of a superior salesperson. They understand the nature and strength of self. They desire to transfer to their team what has worked so well for them.
My approach to managing salespeople is simple yet highly refined. It consists of three basic elements. Someone once told me that if your management plan is so complex that it cannot be fully explained on the back of a business card, its complexity will eventually ensure its failure. I fully subscribe to that notion. Simple is generally better. The following is my ordered, three-step approach to effective sales management:
As previously discussed, no one but the salesperson herself can provide her motivation. The sales manager however, can provide both leadership and inspiration. He can project a productive scenario so attractive that the salesperson can imagine herself as an active part of it, striving to create it in her professional life. The manager effectively leads via inspiration. Such inspiration may be defined as the "arousal of the mind to special activity or creativity." Effective sales managers communicate what is possible and achievable. They provide clarity of purpose. Salespeople desire to participate because it is in their best interests to do so. They want to be part of the winning team.
The superior sales manager empowers his sales team by establishing support systems, training, communication tools, technical support, customer service, product specialists, leads, and a direct line of communication to their firm's marketing group. The salespeople know that their manager "has their back" and is their interface to both management and/or ownership of their company. While cognizant of corporate policies and mandates, the superior sales manager purposefully goes to bat for his people. As a result, his salespeople feel empowered like they are "ten-feet tall and bullet-proof." Nothing will stand in their way.
The superior sales manager understands the "carrot and stick" principle. He understands rewards and incentives. He designs and implements a compensation plan that excites his salespeople. He crafts a unique recognition program. Recognition, earnings opportunities and increasing commissions are for what salespeople work. Go ahead; Establish quarterly events to recognize top performers. Make a big deal and show appreciation for a job well done. All salespeople need and want an occasional pat-on-the-back. Do it publicly!
Provide a base of earnings so that the basic financial needs of your salespeople are met. Salespeople will be excited and work tirelessly if they do not have to worry about paying the rent or feeding their family. Provide increased earnings opportunities for performance beyond the expected. Design an escalating commission program that is open-ended, with real earnings potential and pay it out promptly. When salespeople have paid for themselves through their sales efforts, reward them out of the "sales-gravy". They more they earn, the harder they will work and the better they will feel about themselves, their sales manager and their employer.
There is no magic at work here. This simple three-step approach is infinitely practical, easy to implement and easy to monitor. Superior sales managers know how to keep things simple and keep their eye on the ball. A focused sales approach with an inspired, empowered and well-rewarded team is an unstoppable market force. Now that sounds like a plan!