Running a Sales Force: Lead V. Manage

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“Leadership without management is chaos, but management without leadership is a slow death.”  ¾Unknown

During sales management training and coaching sessions the concepts of leadership and management are frequently discussed. In addition to discussing the famous quote above, these sessions often include conversations about the concept of “leading people and managing processes” as well.

Considering the differences between leadership and management and the impact each has on team productivity and morale, when have you found it most appropriate to use each approach, and how? 

Time to Sell?

Add a post! A mid-sized New England company that considered itself highly “sales-driven” recently discovered their sales people spent less than three-hours per day interacting with customers or prospects. They also discovered that nearly 25% of the average sales representative’s time was spent on company-required paper work.


While this might seem surprising, research indicates that these results are typical across all industry lines. For example, in The New Rules of Sales Enablement  , Jeff Ernst, author and VP of Marketing at Kadient, states that, 65% of the average sales rep’s time is spent not selling. 


In their handbook, Chasing the Waste out of Sales, process improvement experts at Conway Management Company indicate that, “In reality, the largest waste in most commercial and industrial organizations is lost gross margin that results from sales not made, sub-optimal pricing and excessive costs effecting the sales and marketing process.”


Clearly, as business owners or sales managers, one thing we can all do to boost profits, productivity as well as longevity in our sales ranks is to get our sales people working on the right things – this will require some effort, as we must first study the work being done to determine where, in fact, their time is being spent. We cannot improve the process based on assumptions.


Likely next steps might include:

  • Identify the categories of work on which the sales force is spending its time; share the data and seek input on how sales people can increase the amount of time spent on the key activities – i.e., meeting with or speaking with customers and / or prospects
  • Help sales people formulate the best territory management or routing plans
  • Provide appropriate administrative support
  • Set standards for call volume and frequency, and make sure the sales management team pays attention
  • Streamline order-input processes

Selling is tough enough, even in a good economy. It can only become more difficult if we fail to keep the sales force “selling.”


Possibly Jack Falvey, founder of  ,  summed it up nicely when he wrote, “Want more sales? Make more calls!” 

Bridging the Communication Gap

Miscommunication can be a costly occurrence.

Defined simply by Merriam Webster as failure to communicate clearly, the causes of miscommunication can vary significantly – lack of forethought or preparation, poor verbal skills or intentional deceit on the part of the sender; lack of comprehension, poor listening skills or distraction on the part of the receiver.

In a 2005 article, author and conflict resolution expert Tristan Loo suggests that miscommunication is also the primary contributing factor to conflict.

“Miscommunication opens up the triangle of other factors that inevitably leads to conflict,” he says.

He goes on to explain that people tend to fear the worst outcome. In miscommunication the mind will fill in missing information with its own creative insight, which is often fear-based. Our minds naturally seek logical explanations to events as well. Absent those explanations, our minds frequently switch to a fear-based mode in which we satisfy our need for answers with that of assumption. Once we lock-into our assumptions the tendency is to believe them as truth, thus resulting in conflict.

The Solution – Trial Closing
In the selling world, a great deal is lost to misunderstanding and conflict. Buyers tend to buy from people they like and trust – but miscommunication, as noted above, breeds uncertainty, conflict and distrust.

To bridge the gap, Loo suggests people adopt an open mind with respect to alternative possibilities. To facilitate this, increased use of clarifying questions by all parties during need assessments, business meetings, conversations and presentations is the key.

Since it is an accepted principle that the primary sender of communication must take the responsibility for the quality of the communication, then the person who is selling, promoting or persuading should be the one to initiate these clarifying questions which, when properly used, will confirm both understanding and receptivity.


If you were asked to complete the sentence fragment in this article’s title with only one word, which word would you choose?

In other words, fill in the blank: Buyers Are _______________.

Based on our poll, a number of popular choices include – “Buyers are scarce.” “Buyers are savvy.” “Buyers are cautious.” “Buyers are beautiful,” and “Buyers are gold.”  [Click here to see top 10 answers]

However, in the midst of a casual conversation among acquaintances, a veteran sales person recently stated an option I had neither considered nor heard before. 

“Buyers are liars,” he said!

When asked to explain his view, he went on to say that “Buyers are liars because they don’t tell you what they’re looking for… what they really want; or, they tell you what they want and then go and buy something different from someone else.”

Despite the rep’s experiences with those he perceives as less-than-forthcoming buyers, the simple fact is that “buyers” are not responsible for defining their needs. In fact, it is the “seller’s” responsibility to assess each potential buyer’s needs.

People are often unaware of all available options and, in many cases, have not properly assessed their own needs. The reasons for this vary – it could be a simple matter of convenience – as opposed to reading the “small print” – or that the product or service being considered is complex, as in the case of medicine, medical treatment or legal advice. Without the help of those “selling” these solutions, it is highly unlikely that a consumer would be capable of properly assessing his or her options and making a prudent choice.

Nearly every product or service has relevant features, benefits or nuances that need to be presented by an educated source (seller) in order for the buyer to make a truly informed decision. In fact, a good rule of thumb for any sales professional who aspires to truly differentiate themselves while best serving customers is to never assume the customer has a sufficient amount of information to make the best decision.

But please note the use of the word “relevant” in the above paragraph! The first step for every seller is to assess and confirm needs before presenting features, benefits or solutions.

“You can never trust that buyers have enough information,” one real estate professional said. “As a prudent seller you must assess and educate.”

We couldn’t agree more!

Performance Management: Avoiding the “Rear View Mirror”

A strategically balanced performance management plan is a key component of effective sales management.
The most successful approach not only enables sales managers to identify opportunities for team improvement based on analyzing past activities and results, but to also identify preemptive action steps and strategies that can impact future results.

Balancing the Rear View Mirror
Managers who place all or too much focus on analyzing past performance analytics and then initiating improvement plans after-the-fact miss the opportunity to salvage what otherwise might be a sub-standard month, quarter or trimester.

Circumstances and competitive offerings within the marketplace are constantly changing. While the practice of reviewing past performance and using the data as part of a performance improvement plan is necessary, this “rear-view-mirror” approach can be costly in terms of lost opportunities if it encompasses ones entire sales management approach.

While there are different ways to accomplish a more balanced approach or sales management system, here’s a well-tested example consisting of five key components:

  1. Team meetings – for teambuilding and team motivation; best if scheduled regularly on a “same time same channel” basis. Must be well-planned with a group-level agenda</li><li>Individual strategy sessions – also scheduled regularly; based on your sales process and model, the same topics should be discussed each time, such as territory management plan, key-account plan, pipeline, activity plan, etc.

  2. Field support and team selling – regularly scheduled with each Rep; an ideal opportunity to lead by example, build relationships with key customers (key in times of transition!), stay current on market conditions and gather data or input for your team and individual meeting agendas

  3. Proactive “impromptu” interaction – similar to Hewlett Packard’s well-known practice of MBWA (Management by Walking Around); can be done in a variety of ways, such as email, voice mail, telephone, face-to-face (at the water cooler…) depending upon your logisitc structure. These interactions must be made in a spirit of being “interested” or “supportive” rather than “I’m checking up on you…”

  4. Proactive to-do list – on which each Rep has a slot every week, and the manager has a proactive reason to interact with each Rep based on issues of the day, plans made during strategy sessions or team selling days, etc.

  5. Finally, an organizational system – either electronic or in three-ring-binder style for field-based managers – must be created and maintained in order to implement this system.

Leadership: Management’s Virtue

Just as honesty, humility, patience, and kindness are virtues, so too is leadership.

Many have defined it, others have eloquently described it, and much has been written about it, but only a few have exemplified it. And while most would agree that “leadership” is a major component of management, true leadership is rare.

The following collection of quotes and excerpts paints a picture of leadership as described by the well and not-so-well known.

“Every damn thing is your own fault,” Ernest Hemingway said. “If you’re any good.”

Hemingway spoke these words after attempting, in vain, to shoot a lion. He was responding to gun-bearers and local tribesmen who were offering excuses as to why his shot had missed its target.

As the safari leader, Hemingway’s point was that excuses don’t really matter – it serves no purpose to blame others. A strong leader offers solutions, not excuses. By assuming responsibility rather than assigning blame, the effective leader sets a strong example and inspires others to behave in kind.

This excerpt from a Nightingale – Conant Management Report makes a similar point: “Another simple concept is that people reflect what you show them. If they see you as being indifferent, they will treat you indifferently. If they see you as expecting the worst, they will behave at their worst.”

Unknown sources often shed light on the path to success, and at times, the answers to difficult questions are found in the least likely places. Consider the following words from sources unknown and how these thoughts might apply to being an effective leader (or manager):

“Praise does wonders for the sense of hearing.”

“The closest anyone comes to perfection is on a job application form.”

“People have a way of becoming what you encourage them to be, not what you nag them to be.”

Of course, more respected and familiar sources have had their say about leadership as well.

Harvard Professor Rosabeth Ross Kanter: “The art of mastering change […] the ability to mobilize others’ efforts in new directions.”

Wharton School Dean Tom Gerrity: “The ability to inspire and develop others… to bring forth their fullest potential and highest capabilities.”

Strong leadership involves identifying goals, setting a direction, and having an understanding of, and an interest in, the people who are to be led – and having the ability to inspire people into action.

If a leader is in fact one who is able to inspire and persuade, then he or she must also be one who inspires or instills a positive attitude in the hearts of his/her followers. Consider the point made, and the question posed, by author and speaker Jack Falvey in this excerpt from : “All great leaders are great sales people. Many in sales management think that they have been called to command. In reality, they have merely been called to a higher level of sales. Having the power of the podium doesn’t mean that people are listening to you. Use that power to give people good reason to listen to you and the message of value that you have to deliver will have a great chance of breaking through.

“Great leaders sell ideas. ‘Friends, Romans, countrymen…’ is a great ‘Why listen?’ line [with which] Shakespeare’s Mark Anthony sold an angry mob… Winston Churchill sold [a country] the idea of fighting to the death, which is a tough sell in any territory. But he did it with appeals to history, duty, and honor. He also said that he personally would not head for Canada but rather would stay and take a few of the enemy with him to the hereafter – a partnering agreement!

“Either way, the model that we use… is the same as those who have sold millions on following them have used throughout history. They were great communicators with a message that resonated with the people. They had a solution. They had ideas. They sold trust. That is what we do.

“All great leaders are great sales people. Name ten. Now, when your [sales] people list their top ten, will you be one of them?”

A strong leader sets a standard by example, and recognizes that the true authority to lead comes from those who are inspired to follow.

Leadership is bringing out the best that others have to offer. It is letting others know that you respect them and have confidence in them; it is encouraging them to try, and it is helping them to achieve new and higher levels of success and fulfillment; leadership is making it possible for others to see their way in the pursuit of happiness.

Leadership is a virtue.

What do you think…?

Closing vs. Trial Closing

Closing the sale is a skill we’re asked about frequently – and one surrounded by a great deal of mystery.  One area of confusion that can, when demystified, result in a healthy increase in closing rates, is the difference between “closing” and “trial closing.”

Closing is the act of seeking a decision, usually through the use of a direct question.
“Can we move forward?”
“Would you like to place an order today?”
Trial closing, on the other hand, is not about directly seeking a decision, but is a method of seeking an opinion – in other words, a way of testing receptivity.
“Does that sound good to you?”
“What do you think so far?”
Trial closing is an extremely important (and often omitted) component of the selling process, because it gives the seller some insight into the relative interest level of the prospective buyer before closing questions are asked. 
When a seller receives positive, enthusiastic responses to trial closing questions, then he or she knows the buyer sees value in their offer or proposal and will be inclined to move forward with the sale.
Conversely, if trial closing questions are answered negatively or with little or no enthusiasm, then the prudent seller knows that something has gone off-track; needs were not properly assessed, some form of miscommunication has taken place, etc.
In this latter instance, the best track is to go back to assessing and clarifying needs, interests and priorities, and then testing the waters again with additional trial closing questions.
It’s important to realize that the selling process is seldom thrown completely off-track when trial closing questions yield negative responses. In fact, the negative responses give the seller an opportunity to correct errors that were obviously made during earlier steps, and increases closing rates in the end.

What do you think…?

Closing the Sale

What happens when a sales person fails to “ask for the order” or at least include some type of call to action in the selling process?

We have asked many people this question over the years, and the answers tend to be very similar – the customer or prospect is likely to think:

  1. The sales person doesn’t really want the business

  2. The sales person is not confident

  3. The sales person’s organization can not provide a good solution

More importantly, regardless of how people have answered the question, all of the answers we received were involved a negative impression of the sales person…

What do you think?

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