It’s The Manager Stupid

I learned a long time ago is that sales success has less to do with the individuals in the sales team than it has to do with the person managing the sales team. Whenever I’ve asked senior management ‘what’s the difference between that high performing team and that low performing team’ the short answer has always been ‘the difference is the manager’. It’s the same in football – when you change the manager you change the luck of the team (apart from NUFC!). Yet when the sales team fails it’s usually the poor performing individuals who are sacked. In football it’s the manager.

Surely football and sales management are totally different activities and can’t be compared? Yes and no. In football it’s common to have management of the club separate from coaching of the team. The former focuses on the business, the latter focuses on the development of talent. Both reply upon each other. The business has to be well run in order to support the development of talent. However, without development of the talent, the business will attract fewer paying customers (apart from NUFC where simply pinning shirts on a washing line would still attract 50,000+).

In Sales what we do is to is expect sales managers to be all things to all people and what I see time after time is the net effect of which is that sales managers under pressure resort to measures which often contribute toward failure without realising they’re doing it. Many withdraw into focusing on administrative tasks spending more and more time looking at spreadsheets for the answer to falling sales. Some take over the sales tasks themselves. Some blame the sales team and begin replacing them only to find out that the replacements are often no more successful than previous incumbents.

In football the coach keeps on developing the talent, focusing on the game plan, with the certain knowledge that it will eventually come right. That not to say that owners of football clubs don’t lose patience and look for a replacement coach. And what I have found is that the formula used by football coaches is replicated in all other sports and in other professions such as music, dance, and drama. Coaches in these professions all have game plans. They might be called scripts, librettos, or choreography, but they all fulfil the same function – this is how we will perform. The coach’s job is to get people to produce their best performance based upon their roles within the game plan.

The coaches in these professions also understand the difference between responsibility and accountability. The coach is accountable for the performance of the team, but each individual member of the team is personally responsible for their own execution of the game plan.

What I learned twenty years ago, and it’s still true today, is that there are three critically important elements to sales success:

  1. The key to success is the sales manager
  2. The key activity of sales management must be coaching and developing the talent of the sales team (get rid of any other activities that stops this happening 80% of the time)
  3. The key activities of the sales team must be clearly and comprehensively spelt out in the game plan, especially the physical skills (including words, expressions, emphasis etc) which have to be performed in front of customers.

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