December 1, 2021
My cofounder Rasmus sent me a link to an Harvard Business Review article recently, Sales Managers Must Manage. I didn’t think too much of it at first. Another interesting article in the steady stream of information we pass back and forth to each other. But I was in for a surprise.
I started to read it and realized why he had passed it along (that wasn’t the surprise). I was nodding along in agreement as I read lines like:
Most managers find, perhaps subconsciously, that they are managing by doing. They are excelling in the very skills that earned most of them their jobs as managers, i.e., solving nonmanaging … problems
In an era of high-growth expectations, it is only natural that high performing individuals end up in management roles, poorly prepared. This is a problem I've experienced personally and definitely see it in our customers and their sales teams. Good management is quite different from individual excellence.
As I continued to read the piece, I had two thoughts:
These problems feel familiar and current. However . . .
The language seemed dated. I can’t believe HBR would publish an article written this way
And so I checked the date.
I had just read a 57 year old article describing a problem we still see every day. I was left asking myself questions. Why is it that managers are ill prepared for the role they take on? Can we find a new way to help our sales leaders work so that they don’t fall back on solving problems directly?
I call this the “I can do it myself” trap. It is something we’ve been honing in on at Ressemble.
Drawn from our friend in 1964 and our own research working with and interviewing hundreds of sales leaders, we have three recommendations to avoid this trap, for new and old sales leaders alike:
1. Provide explicit structure and expectations for customer interactions.
So many high performers excel because of instinct. They don’t consciously think through their solutions. When they see their team member facing a tough situation, they fall back to solving it themselves because they haven’t explicitly defined what they’ve done to succeed in the past. Why is this a problem? It assumes that the leader will always be there to solve it, which simply can’t scale.
2. Weave instruction and counseling into everyday life.
Our author from 1964 complains about sales leaders outsourcing training. “Leaving the job entirely to corporate staff or to an outside consultant is not going to produce the desired results.” Why? Because managers don’t reinforce the concepts to ensure a change takes hold. Without doing so, the impact of a one-time training course quickly fades.
More important than a (boring) training session are consistent, small moments of teaching and guidance to create habits. This is what our 1964 author might call “counseling,” which brings us to our final recommendation.
3. A focus on the qualitative in tandem with the quantitative.
Our friend in 1964 wrote “not enough companies have analyzed the specific needs of the sales manager and designed their reports to help him manage.”
In our 1964 article, the author nicely describes the activities expected from a manager:
One one hand, there is some good news on this front. Since 1964, the IT revolution has made it a lot easier for the leader to execute these activities. The advent of the CRM has made it possible to ‘measure’ and ‘evaluate’, enforce ‘policies’ and ‘schedules’. CRMs quantify and document your pipeline and the behavior therein. That’s the good news.
But the CRM only did part of the job. It never really got around to the sales leadership elements of counseling, training, and correcting, cited above.
The qualitative elements of the management job.
And as such, management styles developed that emphasized deep involvement of the manager into the deals of their team. “Sitting in on calls”. Weekly pipeline reviews. Daily rundowns. One-on-ones. The tendency to justify the “hands dirty” manager as foreseen by the article continued.
The effective sales leaders need to understand their team’s customers without direct involvement in every deal. That means understanding the qualitative story about each customer in order to counsel, without direct involvement in every interaction.
These are all recommendations you can incorporate into your day-to-day management style with a little bit of effort, and avoid the trap of doing too much and managing too little.
But at Ressemble, we decided to take it one step further. We’re building a modern sales leadership platform to address these problems. The platform focuses on telling the story of each deal and then delivering real-time coaching to reps, based on that story. It is a leadership platform built for the current times, solving an age-old problem in sales. The result is our customers identify the winnable deals in their pipeline and grow their business.
Are you ready to try a new way? Request access to Ressemble today.