The responsibilities of first line Sales Managers in a sales organization are many. Although the buyer/seller engagement gets most of the attention, the second most important relationship in sales is between the seller and his or her manager. Do the Sales Management behaviors you have in place put you in the back or front position in line? Are you proactively leading from the front of the line, or trying to push your team from the back? Which position would be the most advantageous for you and your team?
In many organizations, first-line managers take pride in the fact that they are “behind” their team; available whenever they are needed to come in and close a deal, anxious to discuss what went wrong after a loss, and anxious to inquire, “How’s it going?”, to show interest, at any given time during the sales cycle. These are examples of pushing from the back of the line. Being at the front of the line is more beneficial to Managers and their direct reports. Consider these 4 Must-Dos to make sure your first-line managers lead from the front of the line.
1. Manage Expectations – This concept is the polar opposite of figuring out what went wrong after losing a sale. Clearly defined sales process expectations are valuable in winning a sale. Ken Blanchard, author of the “One Minute Manager” makes the following statement: “As a manager, I’ve found that people are amazingly good at meeting my expectations, but only when they understand exactly what those expectations are”. Determine and set clear expectations for your team at every stage of the sales cycle and they are more likely to plan ahead to achieve a more productive sales engagement, increasing the probability of a win.
2. Review and Plan – This is where accountability comes in. A verbal summary of a conversation between a sales representative and a prospect, is only subjective, without customer validation. Require a consistent follow up to each sales call which includes a brief written summary of the conversations participated in and clear “next steps” agreed to, indicating a progression forward. This meeting summary will serve as a validation to the prospect and to the manager of the prospect/seller engagement. The prospect’s opinion is the most important validation that “everything is going great”….or not. Schedule weekly performance assessments with each member of your team to encourage skill attainment and to address skill deficits.
3. Coach and Confirm – Once skill deficits are uncovered, use the following tips for managers in leading a coaching session:
- Be honest, open, respectful
- Give feedback in private (praise in public)
- Review expectations
- Be specific about deficit components
- Ask for their perspective on deficit and possible causes
- Ask for their ideas for skill fulfillment
- Be prepared with some suggestions
- Determine clear next steps and follow-up
4. Reinforce – Make sure your selling behavior is something worth emulating for all of those in line behind you. Remember the child’s game of “Follow-the-Leader”? Management behavior will reinforce habits that are good or bad. It’s a typical human behavior that hasn’t changed over the years. As you lead, they will follow. Are your managers on the right path?
Get behind your sales team by doing an “about-face” and leading from the front of the line. Manage expectations, review and plan, coach and confirm, and then reinforce. If you have been at the back of the line pushing your reps along, it is never too late to do an “about-face” and start leading!