We all assume that the way to become a great sales manager, or any manager, for that matter, is by holding your people accountable. Accountability is what managers live and die for—but is it really? As a salesperson, is your entire professional life meant to be based on keeping the sales manager informed of everything you are doing? If this is the case, then where exactly does the customer come into the picture?
I once worked in an organization where all of the front-line managers were accountable to the president. As the sales manager, this meant working on a three-month rolling forecast all day on Mondays. I spent the day talking to all seven of my salespeople to make sure their three-month rolling forecast was complete and as accurate as possible (try that with PCB design layout sales!). I had three design salespeople and four bareboard salespeople, and I had to review their forecasts individually. Then, every Monday afternoon at 4:30 on the dot, I would go into the president’s office and painstakingly review every account so that the president would feel like he was in control and holding me accountable at all times.
Sounds like a lot of fun, right? No! It was a complete waste of time. Seven salespeople and I, the sales manager, dedicated an entire day (a full 20% of the week) to keeping the president happy and informed. Yikes! This went on for two years until he finally left the company, and I felt the weight of those accountability chains lifted off of me.
This particular kind of accountability leads to the most wasteful and ineffective kind of management. I’m going to let you in on a little secret of management (listen closely now because this is going to be the most important thing you have ever read about management). A manager’s primary job is to unencumber the staff by setting them free to do their jobs in the most effective way possible. Managers should remove all the barriers that keep salespeople from doing a great job, and they should encourage the salespeople to be the best that they can be at all times. How? By making sure they have all the tools necessary to do their job to their maximum ability.
Now, don’t get me wrong. The salespeople I work with will tell you I am great with accountability in terms of a forecast and weekly reports, but that’s it. I believe that whether you are working for someone else or for yourself, these two things are critical to your own success: You need to set goals through a forecast, and you need to measure how you are doing against those goals. You can’t play a game without a scoreboard. Forecasting and reporting are the two cornerstones of any successful salesperson or for anyone else as well. The rest of the time, you want your salespeople out there selling. You want them to be in front of customers, helping them to make the right decisions, which means buying your products and services.
A great manager knows that every person on the team is different and that they all have specific hot buttons that will drive them to success and inspire them to exceed their own limitations. Sales managers should find those hot buttons and push them as needed. In particular, sales managers deal with egos, and sometimes they are fragile. People decide to go into sales because they are competitive and like to achieve and be challenged.
In a way, great salespeople are like great athletes, and they have to be treated as such. If you have accumulated a great sales team (another attribute of a great sales manager), you have to treat them as such. How many nickel-and-dime management techniques do you think Phil Jackson used with his championship Chicago Bulls? Do you really think he micromanaged Michael Jordan or Dennis Rodman? No. Jackson had some of the greatest players in the world on his team, and he knew that his job was only to keep them inspired to the point of getting the best performance out of them at all times. That is exactly what we have to do with our salespeople—build a great team through inspiration!
It’s only common sense.
Dan Beaulieu is president of D.B. Management Group.