Best practices

Unit 4: Sales Management Best practices

Managing In All Directions

It’s no secret that sales is a challenging profession. Salespeople hold the responsibility of meeting both the demands of customers along with those of the companies they work for. After you advance to a position where you are managing salespeople, you not only retain those responsibilities but you take on more. If you have been in sales management for any length of time, you have probably found, as I have, that sales management is the most challenging, yet most rewarding job in the world.

As a salesperson, your biggest concern was probably around whether or not you met your personal goals. As a sales manager, you now have many more concerns on your mind. Your personal goals are supplemented with your team’s goals, each individual member’s goals, and the company’s goals. You are now tasked to evaluate where you should spend your time to reap the greatest return and whether you have the right people doing the right things.

New sales managers often think that they are only managing a sales team. What we all quickly learn is that sales managers must manage up as well as down, with demands coming from all directions. Sometimes it can feel like you are in a vice between the executive team and your sales team. The executive team expects forecasted results and the sales team often has many short-term, urgent needs. As a sales manager, you must figure out how to juggle these responsibilities to ensure all of your obligations are met. You will work hard and may not always get the credit you deserve. Now for the good news! There are plenty of people around to help you meet these challenges head on and ensure success. As a sales manager, you can find a mentor, ask for help, and leverage your available support network to validate that you are making the best management decisions. This is especially critical for those who are new to a sales management role.

Using Your Dashboard

The advent of CRM introduced many new data analysis features to a sales manager’s world. There’s good news and bad news to that. More data does not translate into better decisions. Of all new features, the most useful dashboards for sales managers are those that bring clarity and visibility to the sales funnel. Use the funnel as a guide for prioritizing time with customers and time with salespeople. This discipline will bring clarity to where your time as a sales manager can best be spent to drive results and improve forecast accuracy for you and the overall sales organization. We do not mean to say that there is no value in reports such as top customer billings, product reporting, lead conversion rates, or YTD performance to plan. But as a sales manager, always recognize the sales funnel as the most important reporting tool.

There’s Always Room for Mistakes

Even sales managers make mistakes. We know this because we have to help you avoid some of the common ones. We have put together a list of frequent mishaps made by sales managers. Save yourself some time and disappointment by doing your best to avoid these.

  • The number one blunder is that many new sales managers take too long to get out of their selling mode and into the mode of coaching and managing their salespeople. Your team is now your most important asset and your focus must shift from salesperson to leader.
  • Sales managers have a tendency to focus too much energy and time on bottom performers. It may seem natural to focus on the problems, but doing this alienates top and middle performers who are actually producing for the company. Too often, sales managers chase the squeaky wheel. Devote energy to the right group of performers, and encourage incremental growth.
  • Many sales managers assume that all salespeople are motivated by money. This is not the case. It is important to realize that different people are motivated by different things, and it is crucial to recognize these factors when you nurture your top performers. Each salesperson needs something different from you and the sales manager must be able to recognize these differences.
  • Many sales managers struggle in recruiting and hiring. Good sales leaders are always in a mode of recruiting and looking for talent. Those who struggle wait until they have openings to fill, which can lead to decisions driven by deadlines vs. quality.
  • Sales managers often fail to spend enough time building credibility with their team. Sales managers must work hard to earn the confidence of their team by displaying not just their competence as a salesperson, but their competence as a coach and leader. A strong team with a trusted leader will ultimately perform better.
  • A mishap that many new sales managers make is to change things before taking enough time to assess the landscape. Strengths and real issues that need to be fixed are often missed, which creates a plan of action that produces poor results and impacts your credibility as a leader.
  • Sales managers who come from the ranks of being a great salesperson often believe that their way is the best approach to a given situation. Size up the strengths of each person on your team and recognize that there are many effective ways to win business.

Your Many New Bosses

As a sales manager, there are plenty of stakeholders counting on you to provide them with support, information and time. Who is relying on you? Use this chart as a resource to remind you of your responsibilities and fill in the blanks with specific commitments you need to fulfil.

Excitement, Motivation and Thrill

By now, we’ve made clear the challenges in sales management. But I also believe, for so many reasons, that sales management is one of the most rewarding positions you can have in a career. Sales is the most critical function in any organization. Profitable revenue generation for companies produces jobs, bonuses for employees, product development, increased marketing efforts and improved morale for the organization. As a sales leader, you get to play a key role in making a tangible impact on not just your team, but the entire organization.

We work in a business where success means that both parties win in the end. The beauty of being a good sales manager is that you get the added benefit of helping a salesperson help the client and all three parties prevail. Sales management is a career full of excitement, motivation and thrill. There is nothing better than hitting your numbers, helping your team cross the finish line, and at the same time helping individuals prosper, win, develop, grow, enhance their skills, and contribute to the greatness of the sales profession.

Very few professionals can look back at the end of the day, the end of the month, or the end of the quarter and see clear, tangible results in front of them. When you achieve success in sales, there’s no fuzziness about it. You know when you win and you know when you lose.

There is no grey area in between.


Process Excellence:

Inject Science into the Art of Selling

Standards and process permeate nearly every functional area in business, from accounting, finance and operations to IT, human resources and now, even marketing. And for good reason. Processes and standards enable management to control the controllable so they can focus attention and resources on the more difficult issues that stagnate sales and revenue and disappoint shareholders. Standard process drives predictability, consistency and efficiency, and when properly integrated across the organization, radically improves sales performance.

Despite the tremendous benefits that standards and process can deliver, sales organizations have been much slower than other disciplines to move down this path. Imagine how much better sales managers could manage if they had consistent, objective criteria to evaluate the status of opportunities and accounts in each sales rep’s funnel. Or, imagine how much more efficiently account teams could collaborate on large deals if they used a common language. And how much better a CEO would sleep at night if he knew his sales force had a consistent, professional approach to interacting with customers! An improvement in these factors helps drive revenue predictability, reduces cost of sales and increases sales force productivity—all critical business objectives. Our research clearly shows that “Winning Sales Organizations” take a much more scientific approach to selling and sales management than others. While there will always be a certain art to selling, it’s an increasingly sophisticated business world.

“Winning Sales Organizations” prove that sales process excellence creates a significant competitive advantage. However, the transition from “art” to “science” is not easy. It requires a sound foundation, strong commitment and precise coordination for widespread cultural adoption. That’s the challenge.

Foundation and Elements of Sales Process Adoption

The following framework, which we’ve developed over time, won’t entirely eliminate the hard work involved in successfully implementing new processes. But it’s been proven to help streamline the effort. Our sales process adoption model offers strong parallels to the Six Sigma™ quality-control methodology adopted by many of the world’s leading enterprises and consists of five key elements built upon an all-important foundation. With this model in mind, the change adoption process for a sales organization would have the following elements, each of which is essential for successful company-wide integration.

Sales Process Adoption

The Foundation: Executive Sponsorship, Organizational Commitment, and a Clear Plan

When we say “executive sponsorship,” we don’t just mean getting sales management’s buy-in for the change initiative—although, of course, that’s critical. In the best situation, solid commitment and support must come from the entire C-level leadership team in order to create a successful sales culture. Our research indicates that when it comes to understanding what drives sales and revenue growth, there’s typically a huge disconnect between a company’s C-level executives, sales leaders and salespeople. Top executives may be out of touch with customer needs, current marketplace challenges and just how competitive their services and solutions actually are at any given moment.

At the same time, overhauling sales processes often causes a ripple effect that extends well beyond the sales organization and into finance, operations, customer service and IT. You’re making changes that may substantially alter the way your company does business. Getting executive sponsorship for process implementation, then, requires convincing your company’s leadership that change is necessary, that your initiative is aligned with company strategy and that the entire organization stands to benefit from its successful implementation. For the CEO, the benefit might translate to “success” in hitting growth targets. For the CFO, “success” may mean better meeting financial expectations and reducing sales-cycle volatility.

Ultimately, the precise reason your company’s leadership team buys into the effort almost doesn’t matter—what’s important is that their support is genuine, complete and visible all the way to the topmost position. We strongly recommend securing the following commitments to build a solid foundation for a major process change:

  • A respected executive sponsor, and in the best-case scenario, one who will go beyond sponsorship to coach, mentor and motivate those responsible for implementing and executing the new process.
  • A vision that’s crisp, clear and easy to communicate. It should concisely spell out where your organization is today, where you want to be, and what you need to do to reach those goals.
  • A transition team to manage the day-to-day details of the change effort and a coaching plan to keep sales leadership and management on task and on message.
  • A set of milestones that, like those used for any other project, allow you to assess your progress by asking some hard questions at key points along the way. You can figure out what’s working that should be replicated across the entire organization—and what’s not working that should be refined, revised or scrapped entirely.
  • A disciplined review process to assess progress and to address unforeseen problems, questions and risks immediately as they arise; you can then adjust your course as needed to make sure the entire effort stays on track. Finally, as you build your foundation and prepare your implementation team and plan, keep in mind that while it’s best to begin integrating the principles of a new process into daily life as quickly as possible, it may take a while—perhaps years—for the change to fully take hold.

Elements of Sales Process Adoption

Element #1: Process Training – At the center of successful sales process implementation is process training. Everyone across the organization using or supporting the new or revised process must be thoroughly trained in the new sales method. The more heavily the employee uses the process, the more intensive the training. For example, we’ve found that sales managers and sales reps almost always require live, instructor-led training to ensure that they understand not only the thinking behind the process, but how to apply it to their jobs and how they do business. The process must be a practical exercise, not just a theoretical one. However, someone in finance might only need an overview of the sales process delivered through an e-learning module. New employees should receive the appropriate sales process training as soon as they come aboard; the existing team should receive occasional refresher courses and the opportunity to upgrade their knowledge as needed. At the same time, it’s important to realize that training alone isn’t enough to guarantee effective implementation and real improvement.

Element #2: Process Mastery – Any successful implementation of a new program requires developing “process masters”—cadres of insiders who value the process, understand it completely and are committed to making it a core part of they way they do business. Six Sigma™, for example, relies on “Black Belts” who teach the process and “Green Belts” who manage it on a daily basis.

Similarly, Miller Heiman has programs to “train trainers” and to “train coaches” in our core sales processes. Developing internal coaches and trainers helps drive adoption and reinforcement, fully integrates the new processes and supports the sales team in using them correctly and for maximum benefit.

We have found the best “process masters” (sometimes called subject-matter experts) to be highly respected sales managers. These are people that have been in the trenches and have the credibility with sales reps, who will be the recipients of their coaching. High performing and high potential sales reps should also be considered, especially if they excel in coaching and mentoring others. Key to the success of change adoption is the development of those internally who are both business and sales process experts. For practical reasons, your choice of process masters should also consider geography, product line and management roles. In any case, the ones chosen should display enthusiasm and emotional commitment before and during implementation, and they should be able to serve as “go-to” resources after implementation is complete. You may consider systemic ways of establishing and evaluating such expertise, such as specific training and certification for process masters.

Element #3: Process Measurement – No improvement initiative can realize its full potential—without setting well-established goals and without tracking progress toward these goals in a disciplined manner. Consider how industries using Six Sigma™ take baseline measurements of defect rates and track on-going improvement. Process measurement should take place at the individual level and the organizational level. There are some very effective assessment tools which evaluate how effectively a salesperson is applying the process in his daily routine. For example, our Sales Excellence Assessment SM requires the salesperson to evaluate his perceived effectiveness on a number of dimensions of the sales process. Then, the sales manager rates that salesperson using the same criteria. The results of the assessment show not only how well the salesperson is executing the process, but also highlights disconnects with the sales manager. This information creates a credible foundation for dialog and coaching necessary for effective process implementation.

At the organizational level, both internal and external benchmarks should be used. We find many organizations benchmarking performance internally, tracking how well they are progressing against plan or other historic predictors of success. However, although using external benchmarks is a relatively new concept in sales, it gives the sales organization even more valid criteria with which to gauge success. Although success can be defined in many different ways, the success factors should create line-of-sight between the objectives of the process change and the overall business objectives. The key is in the next step: using—and, as necessary, refining—those metrics to determine how well your sales team is doing as it moves toward the process and business goals.

Element #4: Process Enablement – Sales leaders say that when the word “process” comes up in their organizations, salespeople sometimes cringe because they don’t understand how the process will help them sell more and sell faster. And sales managers may worry that introducing a new process will add complexity, prolong the sales cycle and adversely affect the team’s performance. In truth, any successful change initiative includes tools designed to streamline the process and integrate it with existing systems, removing barriers to adoption and minimizing overall disruption. In Six Sigma™, that’s accomplished by using Total Quality Management and Process Control Systems, which gather and process information in real time so problems can be detected early on and corrected as quickly and painlessly as possible.

In sales, Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems are often associated with sales process implementation. However, there have been many instances where CRM systems are very unpopular with salespeople because they perceive them as data repositories that don’t streamline the process or add value to the sales effort. Fortunately tools are now available, such as Miller Heiman’s Sales Access ManagerSM (, that bridge the sales process with the CRM system and add significant value to the salesperson.

The appropriate tools—combined with the all-important milestones included in the foundation—will help salespeople recognize that the new process ultimately makes their jobs easier, not harder. It should be clear to them also that as they embrace and utilize the new systems, they will become both more efficient and more effective, and their jobs will become more rewarding as well.

Element #5: Process Reinforcement – In any business process implementation, ongoing reinforcement is a critical—and often overlooked—component for success, especially as many such initiatives may span long periods of time. Reinforcement involves adjusting your culture—not just in the sales organization, but throughout the company. Keep the key principles in front of your people at all times to make sure the change becomes and stays part of how everyone does business every day. Promote the new process implementation throughout your organization, and, in particular, communicate its successes. Make sure you bring new sales hires up to speed on the process as quickly as possible. Provide all team members with the chance to refresh their knowledge and further their mastery through additional learning opportunities. It may mean offering training to people who support the sales process even if they’re not directly involved in selling. And, revisit the process itself regularly by returning to the milestones, adjusting the process as needed and communicating the changes throughout the organization as quickly as possible.

Bringing It All Together

While all the elements of the foundation are important, remember that the success of any initiative ultimately rests on the foundation of executive sponsorship and commitment. And keep in mind that, whatever the level of sales management, each role is equally important. Our research tells us that when employees are trying to decide whether a change-management initiative is a good idea, they frequently look first to their bosses to see what they think. If you believe in the process you’re promoting, you must demonstrate it by example. To quote Harvard Business School Professor John Kotter: “Nothing undermines change more than behavior by important individuals that is inconsistent with their words.” And, we’re confident that those with the commitment and belief in a process that injects science into the art of selling will become a “Winning Sales Organization” and will substantially outperform their peers.


Sales Management Best Practices

Welcome to sales management. If you haven’t found out yet, you’ll soon learn that much of what may have made you a great salesperson – independent spirit, the ability to close a deal no matter what and perhaps a tendency to prioritize individual goals over the team’s goals – will not make you a great sales manager. To a big extent, selling and managing selling are two different disciplines with two different required skill-sets.

The purpose of this article is to provide first-time sales managers with a set of best practices they can learn right away and implement during the first 30 to 60 days on the job. Bear in mind, these best practices are just a start. Over the years, Miller Heiman has been researching what keeps the world’s most successful sales organizations (known as Winning Sales Organizations or WSOs) on top, year after year. What we’ve learned is that organizations that consistently make the list do not rely on charm, luck or sales magic. Rather, they rely on a set of proven methodologies. These methodologies can be learned and, more importantly, replicated across any sales organization. If you have already passed your sixty-day mark, it’s not too late to benefit from these best practices.

Covering these bases can be beneficial at any point in your career.

First, let’s get beyond title and explore the role of sales manager: there are three elements – leadership, management and coaching. They shouldn’t be confused with one another. Leadership is about having a vision, describing it and directing people toward it. Management is about administering and organizing, not about creating. And coaching is an activity – not a title; anyone can be a coach – that involves helping others achieve a goal. Considering those broad definitions, do you believe salespeople actually want to be managed? It’s highly doubtful – especially if you’re managing people who have more product or industry experience than you. That is why collaboration is so important. As a sales manager, you can bring a genuine process to the table. You can leverage your team’s industry and product expertise. As a sales manager, you’re going to bring process to sales. You’ll have to get buy-in from your team because for you to be successful, they will have to participate in the process.

If you have been a successful salesperson – at your present company or elsewhere – you have figured out how to identify opportunities, manage relationships, get internal resources, how to get referrals, etc. If you do nothing else in the first 30-60 days, if you do nothing but replicate what you know works in those core customer-focused elements, you will have done more than most. But let’s go a step further. Take a Good Look at your Team Early on, during your first 30 days on the job, take a look at your team. While it may be tempting to put it off while extinguishing whatever fires you’ve inherited, do not procrastinate assessing your team. Find out what is working for individual members and replicate it across the entire team. This could come from your own background as a top salesperson on the team (or on another team); it could be from your own top salespeople. There are some great assessment tools available. Look for great service from the provider, ask about how tests are validated and make sure the assessments are EEOC-compliant. The results of the tests may encourage you to move people around, but it’s not about firing them. Think of assessment tools as a way to help understand your people better. Behavioral assessments should be a part of the process, not the whole process.

Take Key Inventories

During those first 30 days, look at the sales system holistically. Who is on your team? What are their individual strengths and weaknesses? Who are your coaches? Keep in mind that anyone may be a coach as it’s not dependent on title or status.


Next, take a look at your customers. Know who they are– not just their names, but why they buy from you. Who are they? What do they do? Why do they purchase from you instead of your competition? Here’s a great tip: Call your key customers and ask them why they buy from you! You might be really surprised when you begin to think less about how your team sells, and more about how your customers buy.

Consider establishing a “personal board of directors” – people you can go to – within and outside of your company, and your industry, to help solve problems creatively and think outside the box. This is by no means the end-all and be-all of your sales management role, but in the first 30 days, your team inventory should help you identify gaps in your sales system.

Within that 30-day period, think about metrics of sales effectiveness. Ask yourself what you should measure– close ratios, average deal size, etc. Decide what you need to know in order to measure success, and include what your boss needs to know – but what do you need to know to measure success? There are plenty of ways to measure your sales effectiveness other than revenue.

Find a few and stick by them.

Establish a communication plan with your team in those key 30 days. Consider every possible way to communicate – face-to-face conversations, telephone, email, PDA, intranet, etc. – and ask yourself what role each can play in your team’s communications. And don’t do this alone. Rather, set an early example of open communication by asking around. Ask your people how they prefer to send and receive messages. Try to accommodate. It’s better to over-communicate than under-communicate. Once you have a good sense of how your team best communicates, make a plan that outlines how important messages will be handled.

Forecasting and More

Now that you’ve got a good sense of who is on your team, of why your customers buy from you, and an intact communication plan, it’s time to get a handle on your funnel management and forecasting. You have to find a way to get accurate forecasting of what your team will produce. There are many ways – and they need not involve high-tech solutions. You can keep manual records or use a simple spreadsheet. You can outsource the function or you can buy sophisticated tools. The point is: you must have a way to forecast sales. Every business is different. It may be quite simple or it may be a complex, expensive exercise. Either way, it’s a must! During your second 30 days on the job – once you’ve learned all you can about your team and your customers– you will begin to see how you can better align customer needs with internal resources. Having identified the highest impact gaps in your sales system, you will know how to use the resources at hand to close the gaps.

You might find you’ll need to go outside the team to close those gaps. Every organization is different. With preparation and knowledge, you should be able to determine what yours needs most in order to create opportunities, maintain a customer-focused approach (why do they buy from us?) and manage customer relationships more effectively than ever.

At the Six-Month Mark

Your six-month anniversary is a good time to take stock. Make a big list of what is working and not working. Solicit your team for feedback. If something isn’t working, change it, then convey the change.

Take an opportunity to re-evaluate your communication plan. Look at the ways you communicate and consider each one. Get a read on what communication works best in your culture and which, if any, never seem to work. Rely on feedback from your team and from management for the answers. Ask yourself: Am I leading, managing, or coaching? We tend not to spend enough time asking ourselves if we’re helping people do a good job. Given what you know now about your team and your customers, ask yourself how you can capitalize on best practices – yours and others – and leverage it across the group. Are you coaching and helping people gain the competencies they need to close sales? Or are you stepping in and helping them close sales? In other words, at the six month mark, ask yourself if you are leading, rather than just being an advanced salesperson.

The bottom line for new sales managers: If you start with the basics – replicating your own best practices, assessing your team, getting to know your customers, communicating in ways that reach everyone, and applying proven methodologies to the sales process, you’ll find the sales process is one of discipline, knowledge and creative thinking – behaviors you can replicate for better and better results.

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