I recently had the opportunity to interview one of our business coaches, Michael Andersen, about effective sales management. Michael is a nation-wide leading sales and sales-management coach who has a lot of value to share. Here is our conversation.
An ineffective pattern
Jim: Michael, you have focused your career on sales effectiveness. Talk to us about the types of issues that you see most frequently when working with clients.
Michael: Organizations tend to have a very similar pattern for how they’ve grown their sales. At some point, it started as the owner. The owner was passionate about the business, passionate about what they were selling, and they had all of the weight of the organization on their shoulders. And of course, they started by using their network to sell and build up the organization.
Eventually, the organization grew to a point where that was no longer sufficient. As a result, they had to add a few salespeople to help. And then these salespeople were able to manage their accounts and bring in sales.
Then at some point, the owner decided that it was time to have a sales manager instead of the owner continuing to act as the sales manager. And so they took one of their best salespeople and promoted them into the role of sales manager. The owner figured that the best salesperson would naturally be the best choice to manage the other sales staff.
Organizations go through this process time and time again. And along the way, we tend to see various issues pop up.
Obstacles to effective sales management
One of the most significant issues is when the owner moves from being the only salesperson to having salespeople, they assume the salespeople can sell the way they do. And unfortunately, as I explain to owners that are in that position, if these salespeople were as passionate, as knowledgeable, and had all the same connections that you do, they would have their own version of your business, and they would be competing with you.
And so the first thing that the owner needs to learn is that those salespeople that are working for them have to sell in a different way than the owner did himself or herself.
The next big issue that comes along is when they hire a sales manager. As I stated before, they typically promote their best salesperson to a manager. It may seem obvious, but management is a lot different than selling. Management is about providing support and accountability to a team and structuring, organizing, mentoring, and helping to make that team a cohesive, productive team that produces predictable sales.
None of the characteristics of effective sales management I just listed are highly connected to being a great salesperson.
Jim: Do you have an example of this or a story you could share with us that speaks to this issue?
Michael: The best story to tell is probably my own. I remember when I was running my technology firm, and I was working with a sales team of about five people. One of the things that you protect is your referrals or references. You try to keep from having your best customers inundated by calls asking if you are doing a good job for them. You want to limit those calls for references as much as you can out of respect for your client’s time.
So my way of managing that was to tell my sales team that if they needed a reference, they had to come to me to ask for that reference. And then I would arrange it for them.
But I was sitting at my desk one day, and for the second time that day, one of the other salespeople came into my office and said, “We have an opportunity that we’re working on, and they’ve asked for references.”
At that moment, it occurred to me that over the last month or two, I’d probably been doling out several references each week to the sales team. I started to think back to the time when I was personally selling. I could count on one hand the number of times that I had to give a reference. And I thought to myself, “Why do we keep having all these requests for references?”
So I did a little investigation to try to figure that out.
And that’s when I realized that salespeople have to sell something other than themselves.
When I was selling, I was the one that had the technology background. I was the one who understood how programming works. I was the one who had the expertise and had personally experienced the case studies and stories that made up our history as a company. So when I was sitting in front of customers, selling them was very convincing, very confident. And it was clear that I knew what I was talking about.
But now our salespeople were trying to relate those things to potential customers, and they were coming across as a third party. It wasn’t coming across as believable. As a result, we were getting all of these requests for references that we had rarely gotten before.
Reevaluating the sales process
That’s when I stepped back and had to take a look at the sales process. I realized that the sales process that I had established for them was the exact process that had worked for me. But in order for that to work, they had to walk in as a known expert. And they had to have confidence in the past projects that we had worked on.
That’s when I realized we needed to create some new sales tools and redevelop our sales process. Once we did that, the reference requests went back to normal.
We were then holding the salespeople in the right spots in the sales process. They were confident. And they were creating and transferring that confidence and enthusiasm. This was much more effective than trying to mimic the way I had done it and not doing a very good job.
Jim: Have you seen that to be systemic across the clients you’ve worked with? A skilled salesperson who has a passion for growing their own business assumes that they can duplicate themself. And then they’re confused when it doesn’t work.
Michael: Unfortunately, many people have grown up believing that selling is an art. They are what I call “unconsciously competent” in how they sell. They think that they sell because of their force of character or because of how they relate to people. And there is no question that those things are part of it.
But too many have not recognized that there are also best practices in sales. They need to follow processes. And so, they treat their salespeople more like artists who they send out to perform. Then at the end of the day, they ask about results. And if after several days, nobody bought their art, they say, “Well, I guess we need to replace you because you’re not a very good artist.”
Processes enable effective sales management
I’ve been to Las Vegas several times, and there are street artists who use paint to paint various drawings, pictures, and paintings. And it’s fascinating. If you stand and watch them for a while, there’s a very specific process that they’re executing. Each artist has a different style, and they put a different twist on what they’re painting. And that’s what makes it unique.
But at the same time, there’s a process that they follow that allows them to create their art hundreds of times in front of audiences and have viewers captivated and interested in buying their art pieces.
The same thing is true in sales. Too many have grown up with an innate ability to get somebody to do something, and they forget that there are best practices, there are processes that they need to translate to their sales team. They don’t look for what would make the best sales team and how they could coach that sales team to do better. They don’t set up their sales teams for success.