Managers who sell or sales people who manage?

Bill Osmond, Phoenix’s MD, looks at one of the most common challenges faced by newly appointed managers.

You join a sales team, gain some basic sales skills, start hitting your targets, develop a good level of popularity amongst your peers and managers, build strong working relationships with your client base and you suddenly find yourself, just eight months into your role, as the next team leader or sales manager. This, of course, is great news! You have worked hard, developed your sales skills and have achieved success. As a popular member of the team you have developed good relationships across the department and have naturally had thoughts about the next step in your career.

When the opportunity arises you apply for the role. You acquit yourself well in the interview and get the job of sales manager. Now you have entered the world of management. You now have responsibility for the results of the team – not just your own. Your status within the department has changed. It is likely that your team won’t be very large and it is also likely that the team will be made up of some friends - maybe even one of them might have gone for the same management role. This is just one of the potential complications facing you in your new role. Added to the mix is the fact that although you have been promoted to be the manager of the team, you have still been given a sales target. The modern sales manager tends to have to juggle two jobs, one - manage the team and two - hit a steep sales target. This is a major complication!

The logic of promoting the best sales person, with good working relationships both internally and externally, to the role of sales manager is obvious enough. The main problem is that many of the skills needed to achieve the objectives of an out and out sales person with their own target are not the same as those needed to ensure that a sales team hits its targets. The addition of giving them a sales target as well causes yet more confusion. Am I a sales person who does a bit of managing or a manager who does a bit of selling? The sales manager has to make a decision about this as early as possible and agree this decision with their own line manager or director. I meet many sales managers who are trying to fit in managing around selling. This is often caused by having to manage an under-resourced team and is therefore filling in gaps. It does not stop there either - too many managers fill in gaps around existing members of the team, claiming that they have to sell otherwise the team won’t hit its target. There never appears too much thought put into how they can develop and improve the performance of the existing members of the team, therefore creating a vicious circle. Team member under performs - sales manager over sells to help reach the target - sales manager has no time to help develop the performance of the individual - therefore said individual continues to underperform - manager continues to have to sell, sell, sell!!

It is incredibly hard for a newly promoted sales manager to develop into the role without any effective support. They must be allowed to concentrate on managing and whilst I recognise the need for sales managers to help with the sales drive and use their skills to hit targets, this must be a part of their role and not the majority of it. They must be given the chance to build their confidence and deal with some of the complications and problems that they are bound to encounter early on in their career. How do they manage those who used to be their peers and probably their friends? How do they manage those who went for the same job and missed out on promotion? How do they gain a good understanding of the personalities within their team and therefore how do they motivate these individuals? These types of issues and problems crop up so often on workshops that I run. They represent the very practical nature of sales management. Before they start learning about strategy and planning, they must learn how to effectively manage their teams. All too often, good sales people are thrown into the world of management underprepared. They are poorly trained for the role that they now have and the skills that helped them sell will simply not help them manage.

Several recent encounters with newly promoted managers have underlined this to me. They are really struggling to find their feet as managers and this has a negative effect on their team’s performance. They can’t be blamed for inheriting their own manager’s tactics and approach, it is the only exposure they have had to any sort of management technique. The biggest problem I have observed is how inexperienced managers get frustrated with underperforming staff and not supportive. They seem to judge the individual’s performance against the memory of their own. “if it was me, I would have”, “I would never have just sat there”, “I would have done x,y & z...”. These statements may be true but they also maybe rather clouded by the past. The point being, sales managers always seem to forget what it is like to be a less able sales person. They keep reminding them of how badly they are doing, without even knowing they are doing so. They keep telling their sales team how far off the target they are, which demoralises the team members who are struggling even further. They don’t want to hear how far off the target they are – (they know how far off the target they are) - What they need is actually help in reaching the target!

Newly promoted sales managers require training in the skills needed to develop, motivate and support their sales teams which will give them the confidence to make the transition from sales person to sales manager. They also need “license” to actually manage and this has to come from their own line manager. Ultimately, it’s about being a manager who sells, not a sales person who does a bit of managing.