Why sales managers need to work on the business, not just in the business

Playing “catch up” is a common challenge for organisations of all sizes. Whether you have enjoyed a period of rapid growth and prosperity, or encountered some unexpected obstacles or losses, with little warning, businesses can discover that their decision-making and activity has become very reactive. Too much time is spent putting out spot fires and reacting to situations, while too little time is spent on proactive and strategic activities.

The very real and legitimate day-to-day business pressures result in many (if not most) decisions being made on an ad-hoc basis, with each one disconnected from the next. The end result can be inefficiencies, unproductive sales teams, poor business performance or simply widespread frustration – leaders are reacting to the markets instead of acting with forethought and vision. If left unchecked, this can become a way of life with disastrous consequences.

By contrast, high performing organisations (both small and large) anchor all tactical activity, decision-making and effort to carefully considered and clearly understood strategic objectives which have been underpinned by the discipline of business planning, a capability necessary for all people at managerial level. For clarity, the Encarta Dictionary defines planning as “a method of doing something that is worked out in advance”. With this in mind, what business can afford not to?

With the move to a globalised business world, decisions once made with only the local market in mind now need to take in many more variables and more complex arrangements. With this shift in market complexity we are seeing the need for sales managers of all levels to possess more strategic thinking and business planning capabilities if they are to lead and guide their sales teams to business success in the short- and long-term.

However, the reality is that most sales managers, particularly at the state and regional level are not trained or equipped for strategic thinking and business planning. From our observations in the field and, in particular, our work in job profiling, too many sales managers are leaning towards tactical skills and behaviours rather than the strategic. They are often more comfortable working in the field sorting out products, deals and customer issues alongside their sales teams rather than stepping back and looking at the bigger picture. This suggests that the sales managers are spending more time working in the business, rather than on the business.

The business world has fundamentally changed and with it has come the need for more sophisticated thinking and action, especially in sales. Whether at a state, national or global level it makes perfect sense for our sales managers to be competent in these core capabilities for today and the future.

Dalrymple, Cron and DeCarlo, authors of Sales Management, state that the core competencies for the 21st sales manager are now:

1. Strategic Action: Understanding the industry; Understanding the organisation; Taking strategic actions.
2. Coaching: Providing verbal feedback; Role modelling; Trust building.
3. Team Building: Designing teams; Creating a supportive environment; Managing team dynamics.
4. Self-Management: Fostering integrity and ethical conduct; Managing and balancing personal drive; Developing self-awareness.
5. Global Perspective: Cultural knowledge and sensitivity; Global selling program.
6. Technology: Understanding new technology; Implementing sales force automation; Implementing customer relationship management (CRM).

How do your sales managers measure up?

What’s clear is that the 21st Century sales manager role at all levels requires an ability to plan, organise and monitor activity, projects and resources to deliver business outcomes and to support the business strategy.

With respect to the future training of all sales managers, we find we are encouraging the inclusion of business planning and strategic thinking as part of their training agenda, which will teach them how to plan for success both as a business manager and a sales manager.

Remember, everybody lives by selling something.

Sue Barrett practices as a coach, advisor, speaker, facilitator, consultant and writer and works across all market segments with her skilful team at BARRETT. Sue and her team take the guess work out of selling and help people from many different careers become aware of their sales capabilities and enable them to take the steps to becoming effective and productive when it comes to selling, sales coaching or sales leadership.To hone your sales skills or learn how to sell go to www.barrett.com.au.

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