Why the Sales Manager Has the Hardest Job in Corporate Life

by Marty Nicholas

Last week I discussed how many organisations have lost sight of the core purpose of the sales manager’s role – to help each individual salesperson in their team hit the number. As I explained, sales managers are often responsible for a variety of low-value tasks that prevent them from serving this core purpose. However this isn’t the only challenge they face! In this post I’ll discuss why today’s sales manager has genuinely earnt the right to say they have ‘The Hardest Job in Corporate Life’.

What makes the sales manager’s job so hard?
 
In addition to the myriad of non-sales tasks now generally accepted as part of their role, sales managers face two key challenges in the pursuit of their core purpose.

 
  1. Targets are fixed, but everything else is dynamic!

While sales targets remain firmly fixed, sales managers must continually adapt to a number of rapidly changing dynamics that make their role significantly challenging. These include:  

  • Customers – whose needs are variable, requiring the sales manager’s team to be able to respond flexibly
     
  • Corporate strategy – which constantly evolves and places an expectation on the sales manager to ensure the team adapts
     
  • Competitors – who often behave irrationally in the pursuit of market share and in their effort to thwart the growth aspirations of the sales manager’s organisation
     
  • Team composition and motivation – which is subject to many variables. The ideal of having a team of high performing salespeople who get up every day highly motivated is far from the experienced reality. More often than not, capability gaps, attrition, fluctuations in individual motivation and team dynamics pose highly variable challenges that the sales manager must manage.
     
  • Performance – a sales manager will never have a beautifully linear tracking to their target. There are always peaks and troughs in selling activity and performance, which means it’s a constant challenge to ride the peaks and flatten the troughs.
     
  • Environment – with the rise of digital driving unprecedented changes in buying dynamics, sales managers face the significant challenge of evolving the sales function to deliver results in the ‘new’ customer environment.
 
  1. Extracting value from the centre

For today’s sales managers, it’s not served up to them like it used to be. As I explained in last week’s post, widespread organisational cost-cutting has eliminated many of the decentralised enabling functions that once supported the sales manager. Today, sales managers are working in an ecosystem where they often have to fight to get what they need. They’re often asked to do more with less and need to genuinely work hard to get the organisation working for them and their team. As such, navigating organisational dynamics is now a critical part of the sales manager’s role. To get things done, today’s sales manager must be more plugged in to the organisation and its capabilities than ever before.
 
How can sales managers effectively respond to these challenges?
 
This is the critical question facing today’s sales managers, eliciting two options. They can either become highly responsive to the demands of this dynamic environment. Or conversely, they can try and wrestle back control by implementing ways of working that maximise focus and minimise distractions amidst this uncertainty. If you accept the premise that the sales manager’s core purpose is to maximise the probability that each individual salesperson hits their target, then sales managers simply can’t afford to be highly responsive. They need to reclaim control and seek to exert influence wherever and however they can.
 
Empowering sales managers to take control
 
Focusing sales managers on the key behaviours and management disciplines which matter is a key step towards empowering them to take control of their world. Based on our benchmarking of over 75,000 salespeople and 11,000 sales managers, we’ve identified four core sales management disciplines proven to increase the probability of more salespeople hitting the number. These include:

  • Coaching and performance improvement – getting the most out of each salesperson by taking a highly individualised approach to managing performance and framing coaching conversations
     
  • Process adherence and pipeline integrity – embodying and advocating buy-in to the sales process and creating a ‘simple and enabling’ process experience for salespeople
     
  • Sales management rhythm – running a consistent, effective and efficient set of forums which adapt to refocus the team on the highest and best use of their time
     
  • Teaming and quality standards – managing to the rule on quality standards and creating a collaborative team environment which drives engagement and discretionary effort.


Standardise in order to individualise
 
While the aforementioned four disciplines are proven to correlate with enhanced salesperson performance, it’s how sales managers bring these disciplines together which unlocks a true multiplier effect on their effectiveness. Sales managers need to manage to the rule, not the exception. Having common teaming and quality standards, a consistent and effective sales management rhythm, and ensuring salespeople get behind sales processes are all universal expectations sales managers ignore at their peril. When sales managers standardise along these lines, it helps create the capacity, internal disciplines and expectations that enable them to focus on total individualisation of coaching – the most powerful way sales managers can impact long-term sales performance.
 
If you would like to learn more about the four core disciplines that differentiate high-performing sales managers from the core, download our ‘Focusing Sales Manager Development’ whitepaper.