Performance Consulting

Sales Force Management – Part I

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Businessman Stepping on Banana PeelHow many times have you tried implementing changes in sales force practices in your organisation and faced resistance from the team? Have you observed the team’s performance going down when you implemented a change?

Read on.

I have sold products & services for a major portion of my career. As a sales executive I used to think that time spent on reporting is an absolute waste. I still remember those days when I used to push myself to fill a daily call report. I thought if achieving targets was important for the organisation, then that’s what they should be focusing on and not these useless reports. I also used to believe that if I achieve my numbers, what I write in the reports means nothing to my managers.

Years passed and I became a sales team manager. You would know, it is a different ball game altogether. I started seeing the situation from a different perspective. First I wanted to see correlation of efforts and the results. When I realised that the efforts and the outcome are not proportionate, I wanted to evaluate the team members’ capability. The outcome of these evaluations influenced me to train the team and provide on-the-job support. This is when the tough time started.

I thought I was being innovative, unlike the other managers. To my shock, the team’s performance started dipping. With all my efforts I was expecting the confidence levels of the team members to go up, but that’s not what I experienced. I reviewed my team members on their performance and came across with some startling discoveries

  • The team was happy with what we were doing (hurrahhhhhhh).
  • They committed to stand up and deliver.
  • They also expressed that they need more on-the-job support from me. I read this as their confidence levels going south.

I was thoroughly confused with my findings. If the team is happy, then why did their performance go down? There came the review with my manager. I went with a complete report summary; my findings; and all my questions. The first thing the manager did was to keep all the reports aside and asked me why I couldn’t meet my target. I didn’t have an answer. The following was the feedback I received from my manager

  • I was not hands-on.
  • I was too soft with the team. He extrapolated this to the team’s cohesiveness.
  • I needed to track my team’s progress every two hours.
  • The employee attrition in the frontline sales force is very high. Hence I shouldn’t be wasting time on their training and development.

The manager who reviewed me was a successful person in the region. I decided to implement his feedback and changed my approach. The outcome was again, completely confusing.

  • The team achieved its target in the second month of implementing the new approach.
  • The team’s performance went down in the third month.
  • Team members didn’t show interest in filling daily call reports. When I pushed them, they started resisting.
  • Team members avoided team meetings as much as possible.

After years of sales management, training, coaching and consulting experience, when I look back at the situation, the insights I get are amazing

  • It is the manager’s responsibility to train and coach the team members. A manager who can identify potential and recruit; manage knowledge of the team members; and provide on-the-job support to build skills of the team members will command respect.
  • If the managers are not capable of building new habits, they can’t be your change agents. Without managers as change agents, the possibility of managing even a minor change will be a humongous task.
  • Any new change you try will negatively impact the team’s performance for a brief period and then improve.  The leaders must be able to predict this; empathise with the team; and provide reassurance.
  • If you review only the numbers, you may see spike in performance for a brief period, but your team is going to burn out quickly. Managers and leaders should be able to review team’s target achievement along with their efforts and capabilities.
  • There is nothing wrong with micro and macro management. It is just that either of these can’t be the default management approach. It completely depends on the team member’s readiness in performing a particular task.
  • Command and control will not work with knowledge workforce. They are paid for thinking and they are capable of thinking. You define their goals and allow them to do their own thinking. If there is any value you want to add as a manager, help them think better.
  • The daily call report should be designed in a way that it becomes a tool to improve sales force performance.
  • If you don’t have a monitoring mechanism on efforts, and capabilities of the team, you can’t even assign right targets. If the employees feel that the targets are unrealistic, they may not resist anything that you want to change, because they have already given-up and will have no inclination to play any role in the change process.

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Manoharan Rathinam

About

A Thought Leader at Prashna and a nature enthusiast at heart, Mano has invested nine years in to Sales & Marketing Management and over nine years in the Human Resource function. His raison d'être can be summed up in one statement – to make people see their hidden potential. While he isn't nurturing and working towards accomplishing this dream, you'd probably find him scuba-diving or paragliding some place.

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