Sales managers are a rare breed. Most organizations employ one sales manager for every six to 10 sales reps. Making it to the sales management ranks indicates you occupy a spot that roughly 90% of your peers have not. Congratulations.
The job is challenging. The most successful sales managers demonstrate a knack for hacking other disciplines. Successful sales managers combine the skills of economists, data analysts, psychologists, sociologists and entrepreneurs.
They also benefit from hijacking a few best practices from marketers. Here are some thought-starters for hacking your counterparts in marketing.
- Use data. Don’t rely on your gut for everything. Throw out the “that’s the way we’ve always done it” stories and use data to get a clearer lens on your territories. Marketers find insights in the data because they look for it. So can sales managers. Put on your science hat and ask some questions about your territories: How well did a particular message fly with each audience? What response did a particular segment of customers have with the new spec sheets?
- Use segments. No one wants to be treated like a widget, so don’t send every customer the same content, the same formats and the same products. Customers who prefer lengthy descriptions with tons of data should get detailed specs while customers who prefer top-of-the-waves summaries and visual guides should get bullet points and lots of images. Give everyone a chance to win at being your best customer. Doing so leverages idiosyncratic fit, a concept defined by Ran Kivetz and Itamar Simonson at Stanford. It describes how recipients of information respond more positively when they feel like it’s perfectly suited for them.
- Use stories. The best advertising and marketing campaigns are story-based. The reason we like to hear “nine out of 10 dentists recommend X” is that it tells a story about how the product is endorsed by specialists. It’s a form of social proof, a powerful tool extolled by Robert Cialdini, the author of the best-selling book “Influence.” Get your customers to share their stories on your behalf. Marketers call this user-generated content — you call it success.
- Use images. A picture is worth a thousand words. Oftentimes, a sales message is more effective with the right image. If the picture of the new part or product you’re selling isn’t sexy, amp up your story with an image of what it can do and how well it will serve your customer’s needs. This approach appeals to the fact that more than 30% of our brain’s resources are dedicated to vision. Make it beautiful.
- Test, test, test! Marketers are constantly trying out new messages, new images, new media and new sequences to identify the most effective ways to engage customers. Try it. Applying some scientific rigor to the way you work with your reps and your customers will garner better processes and better results.
The best marketers convert users from anonymous prospects to actual people with whom they can build relationships. As a sales leader, your job is to help your sales reps do the same. Are the tools you’re arming your reps with more of the “how we’ve always done it” stuff or are your breaking molds and trying new things?
In “Moneyball,” author Michael Lewis revealed how the game of baseball was revolutionized by hacking analytical methods used in other industries. Your business could benefit from the same. Bring a fresh lens to your sales management approach and let your creativity shine. It might not put you in the hall of fame, but it will almost certainly improve your processes and your results.
Tim Houlihan is chief behavioral strategist at BehaviorAlchemy, LLC, blending applied behavioral science with experience and knowledge. He is also the co-founder of the podcast Behavioral Grooves.
Online Bonus: In “4 more hacks for managing differently,” I provide additional ideas for profiting by breaking away from the way you’ve always done things. Check it out at SalesandMarketing.com/lift.