Sales Performance International (SPI) is a global leader in helping companies market and sell high-value solutions.
In his role as the director of business development at SPI, Tim Sullivan works with clients to find and capture the best practices of the world’s top performing sales professionals and teams. He is a co-author of one of the best selling sales books of recent years – “The Solution Selling Fieldbook”. Tim is based in the SPI offices in Charlotte, North Carolina.
I’ve had a number of conversations with Tim recently when we discussed things sales and selling. During one of these discussions I asked Tim to share his experience working with successful sales managers – and what are the key things managers can do to help their teams excel.
Tim, you regard sales managers – line managers – as critical in effective selling. Why?
First of all, sales managers today are the lynch pin, the whole keystone if you will in this bridge of sales process and sales as an art form. They’re the ones that can bring all of this together. And in fact, when we implement solution selling and sales process for our customers, our first and primary focus is on the first line sales managers. Because if they can’t take ownership of that process and support and sustain that with their direct sales people or working with customers, then it’s very, very difficult to get the kind of incremental improvement and return on a sustainable basis that we talked about today.
I understand that you place a high importance on the value of process in the sales function. Other than this, what factors do you see as being indicative of best practice in sales management?
I think there are three things that managers need to do today that are a little bit different than it was even a few years ago. First and foremost, sales managers today need to take a hard look at the numbers. To a certain extent, they need to be very rigorous in their analysis of sales pipelines, what’s happening in opportunities and what the skill gaps are in their sales people. This requires an analytical bent which some mangers are ill equipped for. Especially if they were high performing sales people before they went into management. Many of these high flying salespeople – who we refer to as “eagles” – often act intuitively when performing their sales role. Whilst this approach may assist them in practicing the art of sales – it’s not what they need to be a good manager.
So what can we do about this? How do you make it possible for an intuitive seller that we promote to manager to have that analytical capability? Simply – you give them a standard to compare against. Again, that’s the reason why sales process is so great for managers, because now they can look at those verifiable outcomes and opportunities. They can look at how it rolls up the entire pipeline and then have some objective criteria for determining how they can analyse the appropriate gaps, either in overall performance or in individual opportunities or in individual sales person.
So first and foremost, provide managers with the tools, the processes and the standards to be able to do that kind of analysis objectively and be able to use that as a basis for improving their sales team.
And – if I recall correctly – a second important item is coaching?
Absolutely, sales managers today need to really know how to coach. And I will tell you that coaching in the ‘90s was basically going out with sales reps and helping be a super closer, or showing sales people how they did it, and providing worldly advice. That doesn’t work well today. Coaching today means having a standard by which we all agree upon is a level of kind of behavioural excellence that we want to see in sales people and being able to compare the behaviour and performance that’s going on and get sales people to understand where the gaps are and then map out a plan for improvement even for the best performers. Because not everybody is great at every aspect of selling all the time. It is both an art form and a science. So knowing how to coach is less about what the manager would do and more about knowing how the sales person compares to that standard of excellence.
Again, a good reason for having a defined sales process. And again, that’s very difficult for managers that, we tend to promote those eagles that are top performers into those management positions. And asking those people to objectively measure and then objectively test is very, very difficult.
And where does leadership fit here?
I think the third thing that managers need to have I think is a little bit different than what we’ve seen in the past is that they need to have leadership skills. And leadership skills are best exemplified by their ability to take these kinds of initiatives, wrap themselves around it, take ownership of it, make it right for their organizations and their people, and give their people the resources that they need to be successful. And I would say that a lot of times, what we see with managers, especially first line managers, is often they’ll resist these kinds of initiatives because it’s different than the way they’ve done things in the past. Well, the world is different today. The economic environment is different today. It’s different in different parts of the world. You’re selling different things to more educated customers. So the patterns of behaviour that made you successful as a sales person are certainly going to be different than they are today. Not totally different, but there’s going to be enough for a significant difference.
And in summary, Tim?
I think a lot of managers we work with today tend to cling to old behaviours and not take that leadership stance. So, these three things – an analytical capability, an ability to objectively coach and develop people, and then the leadership ability to be able to understand what’s happening dynamically in the marketplace and with your customers, and bring the right resources to bear. These are the three aspects of the great sales managers today.
Find out more about Tim Sullivan and SPI here:
Thanks for reading this post – Paul Sparks, Sales Effectiveness Australasia.
“Taking you beyond sales training and keeping you informed about the latest ideas, trends, innovation, research & best practice in professional selling and sales management”
If you would like to connect with Paul Sparks please email paulsparks [at] saleseffectiveness.com.au