Responding to a survey question “What business discipline would you like to learn more about?” the number one response of business people was Sales Management. The respondents were the usual mix of upper and lower managers in large and small companies representing most corporate functions.
Why the interest in sales management? Part of the answer is that some of the respondents are sales managers who want to become more effective, while others see sales management as part of their career path. Many of the general management group wanted to learn how to lead and manage sales managers.
A quick search on Amazon yields over 75,000 titles confirming there is a lot of interest in learning how to be a better sales manager.
The Four Critical Roles of a Sales Manager
Sales managers face some unique challenges.
First of all, the type of people they manage. Salespeople are by nature outgoing, socially driven egocentrics. These characteristics translate into employees that are individualists who are most concerned with their own personal production. In today’ business environment where building “teams” is all the rage, the salesman is perhaps the most difficult convert.
Second, the sales manager is often half-field based and half-corporate, resulting in a less than complete exposure to overall corporate functions.
What exactly is the role of a sales manager in today’s business environment? While the answer varies by industry, here are four roles of sales managers in almost all businesses:
- Deliver expected results on time and on budget.
- Represent the needs of the sales department back to the company.
- Identify and solve problems.
- Train and develop personnel.
Let’s review each of these in more detail.
Deliver Expected Results
The ability to meet commitments in any organization is important, and that is especially true for the sales manager.
Here are just a few of the areas where a sales manager is expected to deliver results:
- To the company, sales managers are responsible for delivering volume, at specific prices (or profit levels), on certain timing, and they are responsible for the reports that general management uses to make decisions.
- To their employees, sales managers are responsible for delivering needed training and development, support with customers, and accurate, timely information with which to sell.
- To the customers, sales managers are responsible for delivering fair and equitable offers across all customers, and insuring the sales force deals with them in good faith.
Represent the Sales Department
The sales manager supplies a critical communication link between the field sales organization and the corporate sales office. Like a filter, the sales manager controls what goes up the organization and what goes down. This role is especially important in large, multi-layered organizations.
The reason is more management layers result in more information sent to and requested from sales. It is not unusual for manufacturing, product supply, marketing, and even finance departments to want input from sales.
In smaller organization these departments may see sales people as a matter of course, but in the large organizations spread out across the U.S. or the world, that rarely happens. The sales manager ends up acting as a filter for requests for information – otherwise, the sales force will spend most of their time filling out reports instead of selling.
The sales manager also controls field visits. Headquarter people often want live sales input. While this is valuable, it can become a productivity problem for the sales force. The sales manager needs to control the number of visits, make sure there is a real need for live contact, that the right people are involved, and that the timing is not disruptive to the sales force.
The sales manager also filters information from field sales directed back to corporate. Sales people are not a bashful lot. They have a lot of ideas for products, promotions, etc. They are the closest link to the customer, so they are in tune with the market. From all these ideas are some real gems that will increase efficiency, reduce costs, lead to significant product improvements, or even whole new lines of products. As this information filters up to the sales manager, he or she provides additional perspective and should support ideas that are worth a trial.
Identify and Solve Problems
The ability to identify and solve problem is a skill required of any successful manager. While there are many potential problem areas that would involve the sales manager, here are a few of the most common:
- Problems from corporate; issues with sales volume, budgets, or manufacturing capacity.
- Problems from field sales; personnel, product availability, product not meeting specifications, or competitive problems like pricing, product lineup, etc.
- Problems from customers; issues of product not meeting order specifications, not delivered on time, or priced incorrectly.
Knowing where the problems come from is just the beginning. The real skill is projecting what problems are likely to arise in the future, and create solutions ahead of time.
Train and Develop Personnel
Perhaps the most important role of a sales manager is to train and develop personnel. Like parents raising children, training and developing good employees is the legacy we leave behind long after we are gone.
In the case of a corporation, the legacy of well-trained employees is what insures the future success of the company. Richard Deupree (retired chairman of Procter & Gamble) once said, “If you leave us our money, our buildings, and our brands but take away our people, the company will fail. But if you take away our money, our buildings, and our brands, but leave us all of our people, we can rebuild the whole thing in a decade.”
One Final Thought
Psalm 37 provides some excellent advice for us as we face the daily challenge of being good employees, spouses, and parents: “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this. Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes. But the meek will inherit the land and enjoy great peace.” (Psalms 37:4, 5, 7, 11 NIV).
Delight in what the Lord brings into your life. All things work together for good for those who love the Lord. Remember that God is in control, not you. Commit your life, including your work, to Him. If you will wait on the Lord and trust in him, you will have peace in your heart and less stress in your life.
Finally, stay focused on the Lord. Through all the trials and tribulations of life, do not be tempted to cut corners or compromise your integrity. Do not be envious of deceitful men who prosper, they will all reap what they have sown.
If you would like a broader discussion on this topic, download the free 11-page whitepaper, “The Four Critical Roles of a Sales Manager.” It includes:
- A broader discussion of the four critical roles of a sales manager.
- 5-skill sets/attributes you need to have to be an effective sales manager.
- Meeting Notes. A guide to help you conduct a meeting with your staff to establish yourself as the leader and set expectations.
- Executive Summary of action keys for the sales manager.
- Cases in real life. A newly appointed sales manager tries to establish himself and build a team.
- Executive Spotlight. An interview with an executive about God’s impact on him and his business.
- Some great inspirational Bible quotes about courage, tact, wisdom, strength, and determination.
Join the Conversation
As always questions and comments are welcome. Which of these roles is most important in your organization (regardless of whether it is as a sales manager), and why?
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Category: Skill Development | Human Resource Development