Managing salespeople

Having spent close to 40 years working with, training and managing salespeople (and being one myself), I think I’ve earned the right to make a few observations about them. Here’s what I believe…

  • Not everyone is cut out to be a salesperson
  • Not every salesperson will succeed
  • Recruiting salespeople isn’t easy
  • Managing them can be very frustrating
  • Despite what they tell you, they hate cold-calling
  • Despite what they tell you, they’re replaceable
  • They hate filling out reports
  • They can, and often do, break your heart.

However, when all is said and done, if trained and managed correctly, they can be your greatest asset.

Why does someone become a salesperson? Frankly, it’s often because they couldn’t find anything else to do. Most careers have an entry path; try just becoming a dentist or a carpenter without doing some training first.

Yes, most salespeople enter the business because someone has told them, “You have the gift of the gab. You should try selling.” So, by fronting up for an interview and, because they can fog up a mirror, they get hired.

They’re given a pack of brochures, some business cards and a territory map and they’re off! Yes, this person whom you barely know is now charged with the financial future of your business. They are responsible for increasing your revenue, bringing new customers into the fold and managing your current customers.

You tell them you expect 20 calls per week; set them a target, maybe offer a bonus for achieving it and every day you watch and hope that something will happen.

Three months later, you’re facing the fact that they’re failing to produce the results you expected… lots of activity, many promises but not enough revenue.

What happens now?

Let’s take a timeout here and ask some questions…

  • What are they actually doing all day?
  • What are they actually saying to your prospects and customers?
  • How are you tracking your return on their wage?

You don’t know?

It’s interesting, isn’t it, that something like 80% of Companies that employ salespeople have no formal inductions or training process for them. What’s more, they have no way of testing their competency either before or during the recruitment process.

They just expect that this new recruit knows what to do, knows what to say and will just make sales.

Let me ask you this; what would you do if you bought a fork lift truck that didn’t lift, an accountant who left you with an unexpected tax liability, a lawyer who didn’t protect your trademark or a receptionist that couldn’t take a message?

Yet you hold on to salespeople who don’t meet targets, who give you false hope and cause you nightmares.


Here’s what I think has happened…

You’ve hired a technician to sell technical products on the basis that they understand the product and therefore they can sell it. Technical people can make good salespeople provided they’re trained. They’re used to systems and process, so unless you’ve given them one, they will spend all day talking technical without involving their prospect in the emotional “reasons why” they should buy.

Maybe you’ve hired someone from a competitor, thinking their database will come along, too. What you didn’t know was that the competitor fed them leads so they always went in warm, not cold. They have an automated follow up system that meant the salesperson was simply the face of a bigger system. They were expendable with the competitor as their revenue wasn’t solely dependant on that person.

Perhaps you’ve promoted your best salesperson to the role of sales manager and now they are responsible for hiring, training and managing a team. Oh, by the way, what training did this formerly brilliant soloist have in order to become the conductor, or did you just make the appointment as a reward? And now, because this person has the title “manager” on their card, they start to do what managers do; expect someone else to do the work and so they stop selling. Now you have two passengers.

Here’s why it happened…

You’ve built this thing from scratch. You started by doing business with friends or maybe clients from your old company. You’ve developed a network or contacts and generated referrals, building your own reputation along the way. The bottom line is that the business has prospered because of you. Now you’re handing the reigns over to an employee. Someone who doesn’t have their home, their life savings and their dreams invested in the success of the business, someone who just wants a job.

You forgot that you had no training either. You just had to make it happen.

Your new employee hasn’t been trained either and, when they look to you for leadership, for a system, for a proven process, you can’t provide it. Is it unreasonable to consider that they are being set up for failure?

You became one of the 80%. You forgot to provide an induction, training, supervision, encouragement, leadership and coaching. You were so busy you forgot to tell them the reason why.

Who is really responsible for them failing to achieve, for not filling out reports, for painting a more than rosy picture?

Ah, ha, now we’re getting there.

Every task within your organisation needs a process, a system and some basic accountability. That includes your salespeople. Michael Gerber, author of the E-Myth program states in his book, The E-Myth for Contractors; “The manager’s job is to invent the systems through which the owner’s vision is consistently and faithfully manifested at the operating level of the business.”

If you were the first manager your business employed, did you invent these systems for your sales and marketing process? And if you are a sales manager in someone else’s business, what systems have you either invented or inherited that deliver the required outcome?

When it’s not working, look first to the system to find out what’s wrong, and when the fault is in the system, correct it. When there’s no system, you can only point at the people and when you point a finger at someone else, always remember that there are three fingers pointing back at you…

(c) James Yuille