As Henry Ford says, “Nothing happens if no one sells anything”, the managers of external sales teams play a crucial role in the success or otherwise of their people and company they work for.
In 1992 at the age of 22 I finished university; I am not sure which of those, or perhaps it was both, that lead me to thinking I knew everything though it only took me a couple of days in sales to realise that I knew nothing.
Luckily for me I went to a three-day sales training course which changed my life; I remember thinking at the time how critical interpersonal skills are and how they could be both learned and applied with immediate effect.
I recall the sales trainer saying, “there is a dearth of good sales people in Australia.” It was like he planted a seed in my brain and it became my life long journey to work out why, it has taken a few years, but I reckon I have it nailed:
- Recruit – We’ll look at someone and say “I’ve got a vacancy, he / she looks like a sales person, talks like a sales person, lets give them a job”. I appreciate it is not quite that simplistic but thorough processes including multiple face to face interviews, profiling and reference checks are available to all though are rarely used with any discipline. Additionally, I have worked in organisations where HR have got in the way and sabotaged the hire using “process” as an excuse for their ineffectiveness – please.
- Induct – Most induction programs go like this…. “here are your keys, here is a phone and customer list now off you go and sell.” Often this is called the sink or swim mentality but for me this is like throwing a brick to someone who is drowning. I did this many years ago and ruined some great possible careers in sales and it still sits with me poorly – at best this is incompetence and laziness and at worst it is demonstrating a total lack of empathy and disrespecting people’s careers.
- Train– Richard Branson said a few years back, “Train people so they can leave, lead them so they don’t want to.” Too many companies don’t train their people and the ones that do are most often ticking a box, spending what is in their budget regardless of the relevance or sending them on some generic cost-effective workshop (read ‘cheap’).
- Coach – An apprentice electrician has a foreman looking over his shoulder saying don’t touch the red and the blue wire because you will go “bang”. Likewise a graduate accountant has a finance manager looking over their shoulder. A sales person goes from prospect to prospect hoping that someone will speak to them and be interested in what they have to offer. No cosy desk, no fridge to put your lunch in, no support from someone in the next cubicle when you have had a tough conversation; they just have to get on with their next call. Good coaching is fundamental to sustained success in any profession, it is even more important for external sales people but too often overlooked.
A few years back as I reflected on this puzzle which took many years to complete, I came to the realisation that all of these things were under my control as General / Sales Manager.
As Sales Managers, we can’t half do this, and three quarters do that – it’s an “all in” game. It is our responsibility to respect the careers of those we attract and motivate to stay in professional sales, it is a no brainer that we and the companies we work for have the most to gain.