The Sales Manager
Congratulations! You just landed a new job as a sales person for an exciting new industry and high growth opportunity. To assure your initial success, your new company immerses you into the new hire training curriculum. This involves sales boot camp, online training courses, deep dives on products, extensive role playing, forecasting philosophies, and even cultural awareness. And when your finally ready to hit the field your pumped, confident, ready to kick ass and take names! Which of course you do, because your newly acquired knowledge, combined with your talent and work ethic is a deadly combo for the competition and you thrive.
So, 2-3 years go by, you’ve ascended to the top of your peers, winning awards, recognition and a few nice commission checks along the way. Then you get the call. “Katie the West Region Manager Role just opened, we need a rock star like you to rebuild that team, you’re just the person we need!” So you interview, land the gig and move out West to your new and exciting first management opportunity.
The first day comes and the new team is so happy you’re here. They haven’t had a manager in 3 months and are desperate for leadership to pull them out of a dreaded death spiral. They don’t hesitate to drop all the gory details on your lap - sales are at an all-time low, competition smells blood in the water and are all over the customers, we’re chasing deals that never close and although recruiters keep calling, we’d like to stay here, but uncertain of their future.
Although Katie is a rock star sales person, being her first experience leading a sales team, she’s kinda freaking out. Here lies a very common problem that companies fail to recognize. Rock star sales skills and deep solutions knowledge don’t carry forward to the sales manager roles they are promoted into.
More often than not, these new sales managers begin their first leadership roles learning on the job. The business will not slow down and the pace will be frantic. Of course the best people will work through it, but will be chasing the business in reactive mode, extending their learning curve, while negatively impacting business until they can come up to speed.
So, if you’re finding yourself in a similar situation, or just interested in practical ideas you can implement immediately to build your team and ultimately revenues, read below to a Q & A session with one of the best leaders in the IT industry - Dennis Brien, Hitachi Insight Group – Western Division Vice President of Sales.
Q. Thanks for joining Dennis, if you had to hone in on a few key categories critical for sales leadership what would they be?
A. Dennis: Thanks for having me Mike. As I reflect on my current team and teams in the recent past it is clear that our success has been the result of having great people and putting them in a position to succeed. As a leader I think it is critical to understand the people on your team, what motivates and inspires them and then do your absolute best to get out the way and support them with the resources and investment required to exceed their objectives. Communication is foundational to the success of any leader. The ability to clearly communicate – which also means listening – is vital! I would also highlight recognition. Sales people want to be recognized for exceptional performance. It always amazes me what a little recognition will do to inspire a team. We recently began an all hands Quarterly recognition meeting to highlight our successes and the high performers.
Q. When recruiting for talented sales people, how do you distinguish between high potential and high risk?
A. Dennis: Recruiting is one the most important aspects of being in a leadership position. The level of talent on your team is what dictates your success. In fact, I would contend the only sustainable differentiator for a team is great people. To that end, a bad hire can be a real drain on a team or organization. It is inevitable to avoid a bad hire but a systematic vetting and interview process can minimize the likelihood of a bad hire. One the keys to getting the right people is being very clear about the role, the company, and your expectations. If there is alignment between the role and opportunity and the career trajectory of the candidate you have a great chance to secure high potential sales people. The last key point is cultural fit. Do not go against the grain of culture fit regardless of resume. Different perspective and experiences are great to broaden the team, but inspect for mindset, character and foundational beliefs to assure their DNA is a cultural match.
Q. If there is a threat of panic in the air, either a large deal going sideways, upset customer, etc.. What are tactics to best handle a difficult situation
A. Dennis: In our industry the solutions and sales process has become increasingly complex. It is imperative to collaborate and leverage the proper resources to increase your probability of success. I recently read that on average the number of people involved in a complex technical sales campaign has increased from 3 to 8 in the last few years. That essentially includes anyone that is engaged to close a deal. At the end of the day the more experience, perspective and ideas that can be considered the better the odds of success. Another simple rule is the 3 A’s: Anticipate, Analyze and Act. As a manager, you have experience that others don’t. If you see an issue bubbling up, jump on it right away, assess the situation, make a call and execute. You’d be amazed how seamless your business can run, by using your knowledge to prevent small issues become big problems, whether deal related, people, technical, etc.
Q. How do you get your team in front of the business and drive it, verses being reactive and chasing the number up till the end of the quarter
A. Dennis: I think for the most part this is a discipline that the best sales people understand and do naturally. The reality is if we have the right people they inherently push themselves harder than I could ever push them. Having said that a good leader will instill a process and set of expectations around building a pipeline and systematically driving the campaigns in a way that ensures deals close within the committed Quarter.
Q. Any final advice you’d like to impart on our readers?
A. Dennis: Thank you for the opportunity Mike. I would close by reminding leaders that recruiting is an unending pursuit. Whether they have an open requisition or a full staff they should always be looking for the next talent. Recruiting should be a fun and rewarding part of being a leader. It is easier to find great talent when you don’t necessarily need it!
Stay tuned for more insight on selling and leadership strategies from some of the world’s leading sales leaders at Hitachi.
Do you think you can sell? If there’s a topic of interest, let us know.