One thing every sales manager should have

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Wednesday, May 23, 2018

I’ve frequently described the sales leadership job—whether the title is chief sales officer, sales manager, or anything in between—as the most vulnerable job on the org chart.  Even though there are dozens of factors that lead to sales success and failure, the sales leader is the one person that rides the roller coaster throughout the entire process. In fact, I’ve often stated that being a sales leader is like being an NFL head coach. 

Due to the volatility of the sales leadership role, and the unpredictable ups and downs, succeeding over the long term can be very difficult. Responding to impulsive reactions of leadership, obsessing about competition, and dealing with ongoing turnover can make one feel as though they’re running in quicksand. In all this turmoil, a sales leader can go from the penthouse on Wednesday to the outhouse on Thursday—it’s that quick.  However, there is a solution. I’ve found that there is something that can help stabilize all sales leaders and help them move through quarter after quarter with happiness and long-term success.

The one thing every sales leader must have is a sales philosophy. Just like a politician has their views, and a basketball coach has their methodology, a sales leader needs to have their program to which they subscribe. Whether the market is expanding or contracting, a sales leader with a philosophy will be able to adjust and make decisions on top of a solid foundation rather than a house of cards. When executive leadership is screaming for decisive action, a sales leader with a defined philosophy can have their response without venturing far from the strategy. If a situation doesn’t work out for a sales leader, then they can take their philosophy with them and find an ideal new position. Living with a defined sales philosophy is like moving through life with a $500k savings account—there is always a soft landing. 

So, what does all this mean? What is a sales philosophy? Below are five items to consider in creating a sales philosophy. Most sales leaders reading this will realize that they already have a program, but it hasn’t been written down or formalized as their philosophy.  As soon as possible, take a half-day and formalize a philosophy (maybe after the CEO asks you why sales only grew by 30 percent last year when the competition has been bragging on LinkedIn about 60 percent growth). Write it down by simply answering the following questions. I intentionally haven’t included advice on any of the topics because this exercise is personal.  Although it sounds crazy, the wrong answers are better than no answers.

1.    Sales Staffing. What is your recruiting and hiring philosophy? Do you hire on experience or talent? Do you use recruiters? If so, which recruiters? How do you interview? Do you use personality tests or gut feel? How do you perform due diligence? 

2.    Sales Compensation. Do you subscribe to a high base salary and low variable compensation, or low base salary and high variable? Do you reward aggressively on specialty sales like new accounts, RMR, etc.? Do you like short-term spiffs? How about accelerators? If you use accelerators, are they based on annual or short-term performance? 

3.    Sales Model. Do you have a hunter-farmer or hybrid model? Do you like an inside sales staff that generates appointments? How about sales support like estimators, business development executives, or sales engineers? Do you focus on networking, inbound marketing, and social selling? 

4.    Meetings and Reporting. How deep do you track activity? How frequent do you meet?  Do you meet only as a team, or also one-on-one? Do you use a CRM? If so, how much reporting do you need? 

5.    Field Work and Coaching. Do you get in the field with your team in a proactive and routine manner, or only when requested? Do you have a sales training program in which you invest and expect your team to participate? Are you interested in personal and professional development of your team, or do you believe that professional growth is a personal choice?

All sales leaders should run through these questions to understand where they stand and define their philosophy. Once a sales philosophy is documented, a level of confidence and stability will develop. The quick sand will harden, the impulsive reactions of the boss will dissipate in the background, and logic will calm the waters. Once this calmness arrives, then real production and success will happen. 

Chris Peterson is president of the Vector Firm, a leader in helping security companies improve their sales and digital marketing performance.