Management by Osmosis


Sales managers are an interesting breed, effective sales managers are a rare breed. Managing a sales team is entirely different than managing other groups; their role requires them to have not only above average management skills, but also above average ability to manage the overall sales process. However, in many organizations, the weak link in the sales chain is the front line management.

Yet when most organizations look to fill openings in sales management, they generally look within, that is promoting someone that is already selling for the organization in question. Further it is usually someone from the region where the opening exists. And who do they go to, usually to one of their top performers (assuming that the individual is willing to take the position, and most are).

The logic seems to be: Jane has done consistently well, achieved quota for the last four or five years; she is personable, gets along with the clients and everyone else in the office, it's a great fit. Completely forgetting (or ignoring) the key and desirable attributes of a Sales Manager, you know the ones they drew up with HR and an outside facilitator at an "off-site" last year, the one that would bring about a change in the way they will hire managers moving forward.

Remember attributes and dimensions like:LeadershipCommunicationInfluenceRelational CreativityInterpersonal SkillStrategic ThinkingForecastingRecruiting ProwessConflict ResolutionProactive PlanningGoal SettingCoaching (Their whole team, A, B and C players)Ability to conduct meaningful meetings"All good things, but I need to hit my numbers, and I can't waste time, Jane is good, and I can work with her" Says the sales Director. (Cause he just doesn't have anything else to do.).

Many feel that bringing someone from the outside "may disrupt the culture" and the pay off may be too long. Jane has the product knowledge, familiarity with the staff and other departments, and of course, the "corporate culture". So for a number of intuitive reasons they short list internal candidates, and usually go with one "they all like". For entirely the wrong reason, external candidates are often overlooked.

And that's how we end up with Management by Osmosis.

It manifests itself in two ways, first in the way managers are transitioned from the being sales reps to managers. Second, is in the desired effect on their staff.

Once Jane steps in to her new role, and is brought up to speed by the Director or VP of sales, she is whisked off to the company's Management Training Program, where she meets her peers from other departments, various HR personnel, VP of marketing, during her three days of exhaustive training about:Proper Interviewing Skills/Equal Opportunity - 2 hoursHarassment Policies - half dayPerformance Management - 2 hoursProcess and Benefits of 360's - 2 hoursSMART - 2 hoursMotivation - 2 hours Multicultural Sensitivity - 1 hourMission Statement Analysis - 1 hourProtocols and Process (of all sorts) - half daySome team building exercises to close, a certificate, and a cocktail. All good things, but not much specifically aimed at sales management; little focus on the list of attributes and dimensions. In some cases there are some programs aimed at developing these skills, usually left to the discretion of the senior executives in sales. In most cases, it was felt that Jane would learn the skills from the same senior executives: hence, by osmosis. During field visits, where between pipeline and account reviews, development would of course occur. Why, just think of all the development that takes place on the way to and after client calls. You know, when they take the visiting sales Director to their best client; or the client that is almost closed, but where the Director can make a difference, (read grant a greater discount or other concessions).

It is true that some of this osmosis does happen to a degree, the problem is it lacks structure and a means of measurement. Success is ultimately measured only by the numbers delivered, not much focus on methodology and sustainability. We have all seen cases where a region makes its numbers, but mostly in spite of the skills of the manager as a leader, coach, etc. And while everyone above and below Jane acknowledges the issues, you can't argue with the numbers. Only after some A people leave, and C people fail to advance, and the numbers fall apart do questions start. Then the realization that Jane needs to develop some specific sales management skills, and finally someone asks, "What happened to those dimensions and attributes we drew up, didn't she get the training?"

The other side of Management by Osmosis takes place in the development efforts of Jane for her newly acquired staff. I recently trained a newly appointed sales manager, he told me his Director told him: "if I could sprinkle a little bit of you into everyone in the region, that would be great." The Director told me his plan was simple, to be successful, all that had to happen was for him to do what he always did, the other reps would watch, learn and end up like him. By spending time with them in the field, they would adopt his habits and skills, and would all achieve the same results, by osmosis!

He was not given any training on how to properly develop members of the team; how to set up metrics or score cards (other than the resulting revenue); how to motivate and coach his A reps versus C members; how to set goals and plan meetings; what to look for in new recruits (look for people who are like you, he was told); how to effectively communicate with members of the team and other departments, you get the picture. Not to mention the fact that he was selected over another rep in the office, and had little help in how to deal with the bruised ego the decision created.

While we are very much in favor of promoting internal candidates, rewarding success, and creating loyalty and incentive, it is important that it is done right. Training is crucial, while most organizations are ready to spend time and money for ongoing training for front line reps, there seems to be reluctance on spending money for managers. When we present our Manager and Coaching programs, organizations seem to point to internal programs (as outlined above), and other reasons for not moving forward.

We often point out that the ROI on training managers is greater than on dollars spent on C players, and have a longer and more sustainable impact on sales success and growth. But in most instances they seem more willing to just train the reps, all of them A, B and C reps (more on this concept in future issues). At times even saying that they feel their managers are challenged in a number of areas, but they first want to work on improving their reps, then deal with the managers once the numbers are better. Unfortunately, the reality is that unless you address all parts of the issue, you will likely not get the long term results and benefits your sales organization could consistently deliver.

For more information about our Manager training and Coaching programs, please contact us at info@sellbetter. ca.

Tibor Shanto, is a Principal with Renbor Sales Solutions Inc., with over 20 years of sales experience, from telemarketing to leading a global sales team focused on providing top end solutions. He worked with and helped to improve performance for sales professionals in a wide variety of fields, from financial services to on-line B2B specialists.


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