Shifts in the business-to-business buying process have transformed selling as we know it. In the past, salespeople had a fair amount of control. They were given a territory, a pricing structure, a margin target and a set of products and services they could offer, and then sent off into the wild blue yonder. They were responsible for managing their territory and producing results. Sales management provided oversight, facilitated requests back to corporate to ensure that orders were expedited, and generally stayed out of the way, unless additional support was needed to help underperformers. That’s how things used to be. Now, the role of sellers – and therefore sales managers – is much different.
The “State of Sales Productivity 2015” study by Docurated found that only one-third of a sales reps’ day is actually spent selling, while 31 percent of their time is spent searching for or creating content, and 20 percent is spent on reporting, administrative and CRM-related tasks. Nowadays, 82 percent of sales reps feel challenged by the amount of data and the time it takes to research a prospect, according to a study by IKO System.
If you want to thrive in this new era of sales, it is now up to you as a sales manager to view territories, customers and products as if assessing a financial portfolio that you are responsible for investing. The people involved, the marketing dollars spent and the efforts expended are all for you to decide. It is your responsibility to make your investments wisely.
Since the time and attention of your salespeople are part of that investment, it is your responsibility to own their calendar, their workflow and where they spend their time. You may be of the old mindset that this is micromanagement, but in today’s marketplace, the investment belongs to the company, not the sales rep. This means your role as sales manager must adapt if you want to succeed in life after the death of selling as we know it. Your new responsibilities as a sales manager include the following:
Selecting targets – There’s an adage that salespeople talk to whoever will talk to them. In the new world of selling, your responsibility is to make certain that they are talking to the decision makers who can approve large opportunities that will come to fruition in the near future. Working with sales leadership, you must establish a filter that helps to define the most likely candidates for higher-opportunity sales efforts.
Defining priorities –Help your sales force prioritize what opportunities they pursue and how much time and effort they spend on each opportunity. Good sales managers keep key opportunities that are real and relevant to the current circumstances in the crosshairs of their salespeople.
Defining time guidelines – Set and enforce guidelines for how sellers spend their time. They no longer can just meander about a territory or go on a sweep of their current account base with the intention of “checking in and finding out what’s going on.” Rather, they must undertake a strategic and surgical approach to going after identified targets in a prescribed way.
Monitoring compliance – You are responsible for providing data that allows you and other leaders in the organization to monitor what is happening in the marketplace regarding customers, competitors and surrounding regulations and technology shifts. Consistency in the execution of a sales process gives data to the organization that clarifies what works and what does not. We’re not talking about activity management and monitoring for its own sake. Your focus should be working toward compliance in the sales process to protect the integrity of the data captured so everyone has relevant data for good decision making.
Navigating the terrain – Your sales process lays out a map for action, but a map is just a two-dimensional representation of a sequential process. Good sales management also addresses the third dimension – assessing the terrain of what is going on in the marketplace based on the data you’re getting (including variant data) from the sales process. There will be occasions when you will need to send out a scouting team of select salespeople to find out new information. Then it’s up to you to analyze what they bring back and use that information to better navigate the terrain.
Securing resources – There will be occasions when competing priorities of other departments impede progress on landing a big account. It’s your responsibility to make certain that significant sales opportunities are visible to leadership and to secure from less-than-enthusiastic parties inside your organization the resources needed for a successful sales process.
Knowing when (and when not) to expedite – It’s your job to expedite what needs to be expedited—and to know when not to. If you try to expedite every opportunity, soon no one will respond. Salespeople are often viewed as that proverbial “boy who cried wolf.” For the sake of the organization and for the sake of your reputation and that of your salespeople, you’ll need to be the gatekeeper on when an opportunity needs to be expedited, and when everyone should simply follow the normal sales process.
Tom Searcy is CEO & founder of Hunt Big Sales, a sales strategy consultant. He is the author of several books, including “Life After the Death of Selling: How to Thrive in the New Era of Sales,” which will be published later this year.