Nine principles to make you a better sales manager

Date Published: 
November, 2005
Original Author: 
Gary O'Sullivan
Gary O'Sullivan Company
Original Publication: 
ICFM Magazine, November 2005

Being a sales manager means developing your sales skills to a new level, as well as becoming a leader and developer of people.

Going some online research recently for an upcoming speech, I discovered this amazing statistic: When you run a search through Google, it scans over 4 billion pages of information on the Internet in about 0.2 seconds. If a human looked at the same number of pages and only spent one minute per page, it would take 5,707 years to accomplish the same task.

That is incredible. It is any wonder people's expectations are going up every day? Companies and consumers are raising the bar every day. Companies expect more from their staff because their customers are expecting more from them. And everyone wants everything quickly.

But how can a sales manager operate more quickly? Is there technology that can scan faces and tell the sales manager whether those people will succeed or fail in sales? How can a sales manager meet the challenge of keeping people motivated, focused, positive and productive?

Sales never get better—people do!
Many managers focus on trying to improve their sales. That is not possible. Sales are created. How does something that doesn't exist until it is created get better before it even exists?

Sound confusing? The premise is simple: Sales never get better—people do. When we improve our salespeople's attitudes, skills, habits and competencies, then, and only then, will their sales improve.

The obvious next question is, ''How do our people get better?" The answer: Our people never get better until we, their managers, do. It's managers' ability to lead, direct, coach, teach and motivate that allows their staffs to improve.

Organizations never grow faster than their leaders. Therefore, as a sales manager, you must continue to discover new concepts and skill sets which you can in turn transfer to your staff, helping them improve on an ongoing basis.

One way a manager can get better faster is by understanding certain basic principles, the fundamentals of how something works. Once you discover a principle, understand how it can serve you and internalize it into your own thinking, you then can act—perhaps faster than ever before.

It is only when we get better and have a clearer understanding of what we do and how we do it that we can make our people better. And it's only when our people get better in attitude and skills that our sales improve.

Principles don't change; only technique and application do
For thousands of years, people wanted to fly, but one attempt after another failed. Then on a cool December day in 1903, at 10:35 in the morning, the principle of manned night was discovered. With their historic 12-second flight of only 36.6 meters, the Wright brothers knew they had broken the code, discovered the principles.

Over time, those principles became better understood; the people designing aircraft internalized the concepts and continued to act on what had been discovered. Here is an amazing example of how internalizing a principal works: It took man 6,000 years to discover the principle of a controlled flight. It then took us only 68 years to learn to fly 238,857 miles to the moon.

Principles don't change, only technique and application do. To accomplish more in a shorter period of time requires us to discover, understand, internalize and act on the fundamental principles of sales management success.

What are the principles that can help a sales manager be more effective every day? Many readers will find that they are already familiar with these principles, or at least some of them, but most of us forget, and we can't internalize what we forget.

As a professional, you must dedicate yourself to discovering principles that will allow you to do your job better, help make your people better and, as a result, increase your sales.

There are three basic premises on which the career of a successful sales manager is founded:
• Having the ability to hire, develop and keep the right people.
• Acknowledging that being a sales manager can be one's life work—a true profession.
• Understanding that a sales manager is rewarded on the basis of performance.

The sales manager's role revolves around people—finding them, training them, developing them and creating an environment where they are willing to give their all and want to stay.

Successful sales managers are always looking for the principles that will allow them to attract, hire, train, develop and keep the right people in their sales organization. Following are three principles and the power they possess to help you get better at focusing on the people aspects of sales management success.

Principle: Only hire people with the proper ID.
Power: In his book "Good to Great," Jim Collins dispels the myth that "people" are our greatest business assets. The right people are, he says. Finding the right people is essential to any organization's growth and well-being.

Saying you should look for people with the "proper ID" is shorthand to help you remember to look for the right personal elements as well as the required professional acumen.

The "I" reminds us to look for people who have integrity, intelligence and initiative. The "D" reminds us to look for people with desire, determination and discipline.

The ID concept reminds us that integrity and discipline are required for sales success.

Remember: "Without the first quality, a person can cause great damage to your organization; without the last quality, a person will never do much of anything for your organization."

Principle: Confused people don't act
Power: People need a clear vision of what to do, how to do it and when it needs to be done. If the sales manager doesn't make the requirements of the task clear, as well as how they are to be executed, people won't act. Having a clear objective of what needs to be done, how it should be done and the timeframe for getting it accomplished is essential for both the salesperson and the sales manager.

Give your salespeople a clear and specific track to run on:

• Make sure they know what to do: "It is your role as a salesperson to find new prospects."

• Make sure they know how to do it: "Here are five possible ways of locating new prospects."

• Make sure they know when to do it: "Every day you need to spend a minimum of two hours focusing on getting new prospects."

Establishing expectations clearly also gives the sales manager the standards by which to manage.

Remember: Where there is no vision, the salespeople fail to thrive.

Principle: You train people initially; you develop people perpetually.
Power: When people come into a sales organization, they are initially trained on the products and services the company offers. They are trained on the pricing, financing options, the delivery systems and all the information needed to sell for this particular organization and/or in a certain profession.

They are also trained in the basics of the sales process, though if they have previous sales experience, they may receive less in the way of actual sales skills training.

In any case, eventually that type of training ends, with the exception of minor updates, such as training on new pricing or administrative procedures. And, it is unfortunate but true that in many cases, once trained, salespeople are never developed. You need to remind salespeople of fundamental sales skills to reinforce those skills, and you need to teach and coach them in advanced sales skills.

Effective managers know that once people are trained on the basics of the business, they should forever be developing their skills. Continuous improvement is critical for the future development of a sales staff. You must not only remind salespeople about the fundamentals of the sales process because it's easy to get off track, but also make sure they are learning new skills at higher levels that will help them grow as sales professionals.

Remember: Initial training has an end, but the ongoing development of a person never does.

When sales managers commit to selling as their life's work, they start looking at things differently. They come to realize the more professional they become, the better quality people they can attract and keep.

Once the commitment is made to become the consummate professional, the sales manager finds the power to achieve the discipline necessary to reach new levels of success.

Following are three principles and the power they possess to help you get better at focusing on the professional aspects of sales management success.

Principle: Demonstrate the behavior you expect.
Power: Leaders of the organization set the tone for everything. They are, like it or not, the model. It is so important for sales managers to realize that every behavior they demonstrate sends a message, a message of what is acceptable and what is not.

Sales managers who follow this principle are always early for any meeting. They always address things that are not in alignment with the company's values at the appropriate time and in the correct manner. They walk with a sense of mission and talk with strength of purpose. They understand that their every behavior, action and word is creating the model of "how things should be done around here."

Remember: Your organization will be a reflection of your behavior.

Principle: Do what you say and only say what you can do.
Power: One of the most important things sales managers need from the members of their sales team is trust. Trust must be earned through the things you say and do. When people trust their leaders they will follow them, and when they don't, they will instead always question them.

Professional sales managers understand that the greatest quality they can possess is that of integrity. You establish your integrity over time by being a person who does what you say you will.

Too often, sales managers will answer a question or grant a request without taking enough time to think the situation through. When it later turns out they gave the wrong answer or they can't follow through, their integrity is damaged. When building a career, it is important to do the things you say, but to also be careful what you say.

Remember: We are judged by others by what we say and what we do.

Principle: Use your influence, not your authority, to get things done.
Power: Sales managers who use their authority or position to get things done have a difficult road to travel. Managing this way never brings out the best your people have to give. It's a management style that doesn't breed loyalty, only contempt.

Sales managers who use the ability to influence others in a positive way get more done—and get it done better. When people are doing things because they want to, they put more of themselves into the task and take pride in owning the job.

Influencing others requires building relationships. It requires effective communication and trust from those who follow you. The sales manager who masters the art of influence establishes a committed group of people willing to do whatever it takes to reach the department's goals and objectives.

Remember: The ability to influence far outweighs the authority to demand.

A sales manager is in a paid-for-performance profession. However, the sales manager can't produce all the sales volume an organization requires. After all, if one person can produce all the sales needed, there's no need for a sales manager.

Sales managers must produce results through the efforts of other people. Their ability to manage and lead their organization successfully not by doing themselves but by getting things done through other people is critical.

Following are three principles and the power they possess to help you get better at focusing on the performance aspects of sales management success.

Principle: You can't be a manager and not lead.
Power: Managers must not only be effective sales managers, they also must be inspiring leaders. Leaders think strategically; managers implement tactically. Leaders set the goals; managers reach the goals. Leaders foster teamwork; managers mobilize the team.

Understanding this principle allows managers to have a clear understanding that there are times when they are managing—getting things done—but they are also always leading.
Being clear on the leadership role of being a sales manager is critical to the long term success of the organization. Inspiring leaders are masters at creating and communicating a clear vision of where the organization is going and how they intend to get there.

An effective leader is good at driving change, at getting people to commit to the overall goals and vision of the company while getting everyone in the organization working together.

Remember: You may not be managing at any giving moment, but you are leading every second.

Principle: Sales managers are always selling.

Power: When people move from the role of salesperson to sales manager, regardless of whether or not they are selling managers, they never stop selling. As a matter of fact, they start selling at a new level, and selling new things.

For example, ask any salesperson the biggest sale they've ever made, and they can tell you off the top of their head. If you ask a sales manager that question, his or her answer should be a name: Susan, George, Barbara or Bill. It should be the name of someone they have sold on entering the profession, or joining their company, who subsequently became a star performer, selling hundreds of thousands or perhaps millions of dollars in products and services.

Selling people on themselves, on reaching higher goals, on the importance of making that second effort—these are just few of the sales a sales manager has to make. Successful sales managers realize they are selling some idea, concept or attitude to someone every day.

Remember: The day a sales manager stops selling is the day he or she stops succeeding.

Principle: You may not always be hiring, but you should always be recruiting.
Power: Most sales managers hire during a time of crisis. They hire when they need someone now. Too often, they therefore make hasty decisions that are not in the best interest of either their company or the person they hire.

Often sales managers recruit when sales are not going well, which may mean morale is down, as well. A new person coming into such a negative situation may soon leave, believing the opportunity is not what they were led to believe it would be.

This is why sales managers should always be recruiting, whether or not they are hiring at that particular moment. They should always be talking about the opportunity their profession offers. They should always be educating their marketplace about the fact that they are always looking for top sales talent.

Since you never know when a top-producing person may leave your organization, and because you never know when the best sales talent in your market may be looking for a change, you should always be recruiting.

Remember: Every week you don't recruit, the next month you may settle for a lesser degree of performance.

People, professionalism, performance
Building an effective, professional, ethical and productive sales organization is the result of years of commitment, effort and determination.

A successful sales organization is made up of people who see selling as their profession of choice and understand that performance is an everyday responsibility.

A successful sales manager is one who can attract the right people, help them become professionals and achieve consistent performance. To do this, sales managers must operate on a set of principles that provides them with a clear vision of what is possible.

Sales management success requires a lifelong search to discover the principles that will transform them and in turn allow them to transform their people, who will then transform our business.

This requires discovering the right people and then helping them understand that selling can be a true profession, helping them internalize your organization's purpose and influencing them to act.

Remember: If you practice the principles, you will possess the power.