If you’ve never made cold calls, it’s hard to appreciate just how pervasive the myths around sales reps are. Regardless of what you’re selling, most prospects on the receiving end of calls initially treat you with suspicion and disrespect.
The real problem is these stereotypes often aren’t only external. Established methods of sales management reinforce the stereotypes by putting emphasis on sheer volume of activity without consideration for the thoughtfulness or efficiency of the work being done.
That approach doesn’t work anymore. You can’t be successful in sales by just picking up a phone. To be successful, you have to conduct research before each call, tailor your message to each prospect you want to reach, and then follow up with multiple calls and emails to actually deliver the message.
This style doesn’t mesh well with managers whose only feedback is to “keep hitting the phones.” That’s one of the reasons there’s such a skills shortage in sales — the people who are smart enough to succeed are turned off by reading off a script, being micromanaged, and being put in a pressure cooker by their managers. Additionally, as this WSJ article points out, the youngest generation of workers, having lived through the financial crisis and recession, is more risk averse. They are reluctant to enter a work environment where success boils down to a number.
Truly effective sales leaders, and the ones that are going to attract the right type of sales talent, understand there is much more to the rep/manager relationship than monitoring numbers. As the role of a sales rep becomes more dynamic, more complex, and more consultative, it’s important that the role of a sales leader evolves with it.
A study by EcSell Institute conducted a survey of over 600 sales reps to uncover the key behaviors in sales leaders that promote feelings of trust, leading to an overall healthier sales culture and increased productivity. The chart below highlights the six key behavioral trends revealed in the study.
All of these behaviors require a common approach to management, and that is a focus on motivating your reps by empowering them to succeed on their own–not micromanaging. To change the stereotype of overbearing bosses in sales, and eliminate the talent gap, the right way to manage the new generation of sales reps is to avoid managing them at all. Here’s what that might look like.
Here’s a newly ramped sales rep at your company, we’ll call him Ted. Ted is independent, intelligent, and very competent at his job. He’s a go-getter, and is always looking for ways to improve his performance. He was in a grindhouse at his last sales job, so he hates being micromanaged, and he hates the phrase, “Get your dial counts up” even more.
Sue is Ted’s manager. She’s been a manager for a while now, and really knows her stuff. Instead of cajoling her reps to up their activity levels and close more business, she takes a very data-driven, hands-off approach.
Her philosophy is to hire bright, independent people, train them well, and then leave them alone. She tells all her new reps the same thing, “Here are the 5 KPIs you will be measured on. Once you are ramped, it’s up to you to monitor your performance in these areas, and keep them above the minimum threshold. I’m here to help when you need me — otherwise, you’re free to get the job done as you see fit.”
Read More About Sales Coaching
Ted goes through the week making calls, sending emails, conducting demos, and closing deals. He records everything in his CRM, and monitors his progress through a series of dashboards that reflect his KPIs.
At the end of every week, they meet to review Ted’s pipeline, and Ted mentions that response rates on his emails are dropping, and that a lot of his opportunities are dying in the evaluation stage, after he conducts his initial demo.
This information, volunteered by Ted, gives Sue the ability to act as a coach and mentor, rather than a traditional manager. She uses her expertise to help Ted write a new email template for reps, and fine-tune his demo to appeal to each of the specific personas they’re after.
Sue can continue to monitor Ted’s progress through the data, and check in with him if she sees any of his KPIs begin to falter. This way, Ted doesn’t have anyone breathing down his neck, and Sue is free to focus her time solely on coaching and enabling, rather than counting dials and emails.
Although sales managers aren’t obsolete, their jobs should focus a lot less on “managing” and a lot more on coaching and enabling.