Sales managers have one of the toughest roles in business.
Being a sales rep is hard enough. The selling process has become dramatically more difficult and demanding. Sales teams need more active engagement and skills training to get results. Generating viable leads takes bigger marketing budgets than it did even five or ten years ago.
But sales managers get the added burden of not just motivating reps to produce sales, but also working with C-level management on developing a long-term sales strategy.
And like it or not, they often get blamed on both sides when the sales team isn’t performing.
No matter how you slice it, every sales process essentially comes down to two things:
- Strategic planning.
- Effort and execution.
Most corporate CxOs are only involved in tactics and strategy, things like target markets, road maps, and company alignment. As far as the “effort and accountability” stuff goes, they leave up to the managers.
Most front-line sales reps, on the other hand, don’t worry about long-term strategy; it’s all about closing what’s in front of them. They’re not evaluated on whether they’re targeting the right market to begin with, just how hard they work.
It’s the sales managers and directors who have the distinct privilege of being held accountable for both.
When sales productivity dips, the C-suite’s first reaction isn’t to blame themselves (“Man, how did I mess up our strategy over the last two quarters?”). They’re heading straight for the sales VP’s office to get the story. “Why didn’t you tell me this was happening? Why don’t you have a better grip on our market?”).
When 7 out of 10 reps aren’t meeting quarterly sales goals, it’s somehow magically the sales VP’s job to figure out why the team seems disinterested, and why can’t they fix it.
(As a side note, some might say that a poor product is a big reason for lack of sales, but an under-performing product is already contained by strategy. If your product isn’t “totally baked,” you’ve got to strategize how to sell it to your existing target base, find another market that’s willing to live with the features you already have, or you’ve got to get the production team up to speed. In any case, it’s still contained in strategic development.)
That being said, it is important for upper-level sales managers to be aware of their role. And though it’s not always fair, sales VPs and directors can make a huge difference when they effectively act as a go-between for front-line sales and developing strategy. Not dedicating enough time to either side of the spectrum potentially leads to friction and poor performance.
Just remember, the next time you see your sales VP, give him or her a hug. They probably need it.