Some people seem to think that selling is easy, that it’s a skill you are born with. They think that salespeople just “get lucky” or find themselves in “the right place at the right time”. I beg to differ. I think that luck is the product of hard graft, and “being in the right place at the right time” is usually intentional. The salespeople who succeed on a regular basis usually do so through a relentless stream of customer meetings, pitches, negotiations and contracts. Sales, as they say, is a “contact sport”.
Being a manager of salespeople requires a different set of skills. Sales managers are often successful salespeople who evolved into management roles. They have to place strategic “bets” on what will work and where. They also have to manage the roller coaster of emotions experienced in a sales cycle whilst answering to their management, setting expectations and forecasting accurately. These managers have to walk a minefield of data in the process.
So does that mean that sales managers have to be data gurus? Well not necessarily, but it certainly helps.
I was chatting with a sales leader at a global wealth management company, who described the complexity within her business. To start with, the company operates in over 20 countries. 200 sales managers support over 3,000 salespeople across 22 regions, in eight time zones, speaking 17 languages while selling through five different channels to market. That’s a lot of different combinations.
To make it more interesting they sell over 100 products and those products are subject to different regulatory rules in each market. They have different pricing in each region, and those prices have to be adjusted for currency fluctuations every day. And not everybody gets the same rate - those are variable too.
To meet compliance the salespeople have to be regularly trained on the products and the rules of engagement on a regular basis. Failure to keep up with training can lead to fines and probably lower sales as a result.
Managing a sales team in this environment requires some serious insight, insight beyond the scope of spreadsheets. Many sales managers complain that all they want to do is be able to answer simple questions:
- Where should I put my extra headcount?
- Who is going to miss their target?
- Which products should we be marketing and where?
- Who should I call next, and what should I tell them?
Often, a simple answer to a simple question requires some serious effort. They need to look at the sales results in the context of financial performance, to examine the performance scores of individuals and compare them to their peers. They need to understand who is up to date with compliance and which marketing campaigns have been effective.
That sounds like an awful lot of work to me. What people really need is some way of doing all of that in just one place. That should allow them to look at any part of the business and see what factors are effecting it and how those factors impact performance. It would be useful if they could do it on their iPads between customer visits and reviews as well. That depth of information would free up precious time and allow them to focus on their core activities.
While that all sounds a bit too good to be true, it can be made a reality. The key is figuring out how to break down the complexity and look at the business as a whole - not in silos. It’s about finding ways to get that information out to the people who need it: quickly enough for them to act upon it.
Life in sales certainly isn’t easy and luck is a scarce resource. What is certain is the need to be agile with information. Responding faster to customers leads to higher sales.