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Transforming a super seller to super sales manager

By Alice Wheaton, MA

After delivering a presentation on top-performing salespeople to three high powered corporate mentorship groups each consisting of up to 16 CEOs in three days, I could not avoid the question that had been repeatedly asked and was still reverberating through my brain: “Why can it not work to promote top sales performance into a sales management position?” The question was perfectly valid, since my topic dealt with how to move level three salespeople (average performers) to levels four and five –(the super sellers, or big games hunter and closers).

To be sure, it is possible to promote a level-five super seller to sales manager, but more often than not, that promotion does not meet either the new sales manager’s, or the CEO’s, expectations. The following are a few reasons for this lack of success:

ONE: The core competencies and task analysis of a top performer, and those of a sales manager, are entirely different. Consequently, the person promoted will need structured coaching on the requirements of the new managerial role. This coaching is often neglected, the presumption being that the leadership traits developed in one’s own successful sales practice are transferable when one becomes leader of a team of salespeople.

TWO: It is vital that the sales manager be familiar with the implementation and execution of successful sales systems and processes that help manage an entire team of salespeople; previously they were responsible only for their own activity.

THREE: This new rookie manager must make a massive shift in business focus from tactical efforts to strategic efforts. As a top-selling salesperson, their focus was mainly on day-to-day selling. Like every other member of the team, they began every month with nothing in their sales funnel except for the prospects that might or might not develop into clients. They constantly updated and implemented new sales skills to win the long-term sale. As a super seller, they turned on a dime to solve problems for the customer. The faster and the more effectively they responded to service issues, the more positive and far-reaching a connection they cultivated with each client. Since receiving a promotion to a sales management role, which required a strategic approach, the rookie manager has been required to adjust their sales practice from tactical to strategic. Stepping back from their earlier tactical role, which garnered great success, may not be that easy. If they are to succeed, they must be strategic in helping the members of the sales team solve their own tactical sales problems. The focus must shift from maintaining the efforts of one, themselves, to leveraging the power of many, the entire team.

FOUR: The new manager must be adept at training the team, which is a vastly unique and different skill than selling.

FIVE: The instinct to help, the need to quickly bring about resolution to the problem, and the desire to show the bosses they made the right decision by promoting them, may cause a person to rush in and solve the problems of the team members rather than teach each of them how to find their own solutions. The hands-on approach can be supportive, but taken to the extreme it will cause dependence, and the new manager will work 16 hours a day solving sales issues while the sales reps have a balanced life.

As a manager, one must reign in their own undisputed “in-the-trenches” problem-solving skills and help other salespeople learn the same skills that made them successful. In effect, they should be multiplying, or leveraging, themselves. This is one of the undisputed traits of a great leader.

The following are several steps that the executive team (headed by the vice-president of sales or the CEO) and the sales manager can and must implement in order to assist and shape the necessary transitions from successful selling to successful managing and leading.

1. Understand clearly that the roles have changed. Shift focus from self to others.

2. While in a sales position, they were sharply focused on their sales success. Now, they must focus on enabling and supporting the success and growth of others.

3. “Doing the deal” is no longer the sales manager’s priority. The objective now is to always consider overall corporate objectives, where each deal is one among many –all of which require support.

4. Realize that the super seller did not become an overnight success, and that becoming a successful sales manager will take time.

5. Revamped thinking skills:

Before the change of role, the salesperson thought in terms of a budget ranging from one month to one quarter. As a sales manager, however, they must now extrapolate these budget numbers into the five-year strategic plan. Do not assume s/he is immediately able to think both tactically and strategically to accomplish this longer-term view. This requires coaching and learning, over time.

6. Positional isolation:

Prior to the role change, the manager had fellow team members with whom to commiserate. Following the change of role, that support system is no longer appropriate. The change of status can generate stresses that can result in self-centredness. For example, if one of the team asks for help, the rookie sales manager’s inner resources may already be used up dealing with their own change issues. Caught in a vicious circle, the unsupported salesperson may then create even more stress for the sales manager who, in turn, is going to require even more support from managment. Positional isolation can be deadly to a career!

7. Too much, too soon

Following earlier successful top sales behaviours, the new sales manager will wish to make a powerful difference and achieve what he/she thinks is the equivalent of super selling. In attempting to have the greatest impact on the sales team, the new sales manager will likely wish to move quickly, and in so doing, try to change too much too soon. We should recall that the best results come from the smaller changes, or as Peter Senge says in his book The Fifth Discipline “… the smallest change for the greatest leverage.” The most effective advantage on change is incremental. In other words, the ratchet wrench, not the sledgehammer, works best.


8. The game of blame

Initiatives, too many too soon, may result in complaints from the sales team. Unfortunately, this results in loss of trust of the sales manager. However, the manager must be willing to be disliked, knowing that management must be willing to make tough decisions without feeling compelled to justify or defend them.

9. Too little, too late

Few people are comfortable with confronting someone over performance issues; consequently, poor sales activity is often tolerated for far too long. By the time the “call to truth” conversation takes place, both the sales manager and the salesperson’s frustrations are at an all-time high, and nothing is easily resolved.

To avoid such circumstances, in advance the sales manager must know the core competencies and standards for the position in question, especially those having to do with performance issues. Evaluation in monthly debriefing sessions is essential.

Failing to deal with floundering salespeople will ensure disrespect from the remainder of the team as well as senior management. Weaknesses, when identified early, can be transformed into strengths with the appropriate action, learning and support plan. A sales manager would be advised to become a conscious learner and reflective practitioner him or herself, incorporating an ongoing agenda to transform weaknesses of their own.

10. Principles, not personalities

Becoming caught up in the personality behind the sales or customer issue drains all resources – time, energy and credibility. If a salesperson is clear that the new sales manager is intent on helping them reach their goals – that is a focus on the principle – the salespeople will provide their buy-in much more quickly. However, the sales team can become a quagmire of speculation and dissent when personalities, not principles, rule the day. Sadly, when personalities predominate, a new sales manager can easily get swept into this drama, drowning the principle of “focus on sales goals.” The sales manager must develop and personalize the leadership strategy, style and approach that help the sales team consistently emphasize and activate principles over personalities.

The old sales adage states: “The speed of the leader is the speed of the pack.” This is very true. Who, then, is responsible for leading the sales manager? Typically, the company leadership is too busy with larger issues to micro-manage . However, while micro-managing is never the primary or long-term objective, leaders must recognize that, after a super seller has been advanced to being a rookie in sales management, some temporary “shaping” (and most definitely some ongoing support) is required.

Ideally, the company will have completed occupational profiles of their management positions, identifying core competencies and criteria for effective evaluation. When such profiling is properly done, the tasks of managing, evaluating and training everyone is much more efficient. Although this advance process requires an initial investment of time and money, it saves considerable time and money and improves overall effectiveness of all sales teams. The process thus provides a healthier overall environment from which to effectively grow both super sellers and super leaders.

 

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Copyright 2006 SOHO Business Report
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SOHO Business report magazine, a Dream Launchers project publication, helps Small Office / Home Office Entrepreneurs succeed. We help home-based business and small business with free articles, multimedia (audio, video & interactive), tools and tips. Topics for home business and small business include business planning (e.g. business plan and marketing templates), strategy, guerrilla marketing, Internet marketing, publicity, project management, importing, exporting, taxes, finance, trade shows, technology, negotiation, consulting, sales techniques and tactics, work life balance, growth management, profit optimization, team work, leadership, human resources (recruiting, hiring, training & firing) and network marketing (referrals and contact building). SBR can help you start your home business or small business and give you the management tools and resources to succeed by making a business plan or marketing plan with expert input. All of that without getting an MBA, going through training or school. Start increasing your profits, improving your cash flow and building the business your entrepreneurial aspirations demand.