The Problem with Your Game
If you hired a golf pro, what would you think if he said,
“The problem with your game is that the ball does not go into the hole early enough and often enough!”
As ridiculous as the golf coach’s advice is – and let me ask this very gently – is it the sort of advice many sales managers give?
Sales management is often focused on revenue, or lack thereof. Revenue is an outcome. Just as a golf ball in the cup is an outcome.
While it seems obvious, you cannot manage outcomes. When you do, you are not leading, but reacting. You are talking about things that have already happened and can’t be influenced.
Pointing out that someone has failed to achieve an outcome is not effective sales management.
It is an attack on the self-esteem.
Effective Sales Management is Proactive
A good golf coach focuses on the elements of performance that create the outcomes. A sales coach must do the same, focusing on filling the pipeline with high-quality opportunities. High-quality opportunities are created by thorough diagnosis. Salespeople who are skilled diagnostician find themselves co-creating solutions with customers, not pitching. They co-build and co-execute mutual action plans with customers, rather than pressuring for the close.
Why Does Sales Management Focus on Opportunities in the Late Phase?
It is more natural to place heroic effort on deals that are on the verge of closing.
The CEO calls for an update to the forecast. Under pressure to deliver the number, sales leaders ask their salespeople to call their customers to apply pressure, plead and offer discounts.
In the eyes of the customer, these efforts reduce the stature of your solution and your team.
The Proactive Sales Leader
Proactive sales leaders understand that effective sales management requires getting involved in the formative stages, while the outcome can still be influenced.
Leading by example, they help their teams understand that salespeople add value when they help a client see things differently.
The proactive sales leader helps her team refine their strategy before they approach large opportunities, because she knows a little thought prior to action saves time in the long run.
She helps them adjust their message for executive conversations, because she knows that executives will pass her people off to the person they sound most like.
She shows them how to move from technical arguments to effective business cases, because she understands that technical wins do not translate to revenue otherwise.
She helps them execute a tough negotiation with grace, because she knows how slowly you build value and how quickly you can give it away in a negotiation.
She has the absolute conviction that the right behaviors will create positive outcomes, because she is a practitioner who walks the walk.
She knows that only a leader, who focuses on the early stage of the sales process, can prevent wasting time on the wrong opportunities, poorly qualified projects that will stall, premature presentations that extend sales cycles and maverick discounting to overcome lack of real urgency.
A Proactive Sales Leadership Cadence
The proactive sales leader understands that stress does not result from tough sales management. Stress results from inconsistent sales management.
Effective sales management is a regular, disciplined cadence, that is focused on activities in the early phase of the sales cycle.
But, ask most sales leaders and they will say, “I don’t have enough time.”
You can spend time in prevention or in reaction. The more time spent up front, the fewer messes to clean up.
In the end, effectiveness as a sales leader is primarily a function of how one uses their time.