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Proactive Sales Management

Take the Initiative.

Many material handling sales managers have a nagging feeling that the job is somehow different than it used to be. The things that used to work just don’t work anymore—or at least not as well.

In today’s world, the job of sales manager can be very reactive. Just show up in the morning, open your e-mail, check your voicemail, and your day is pretty full right there just responding to the issues. But is that really the right thing to do?

Aren’t there things that you need to do to get different results? Think about it this way. If you are totally happy with the results you are getting, then don’t change a thing. But if you want different results from your sales team (and most of us do), then you have to do different things.

Generally, the different things that you need to do fall into one of these categories:

  • Start (Some things that you are not doing now)
  • Stop (Some things that you are doing now but do not add value)
  • Do More (Things you are doing well—just not often enough)
  • Do Better (Things you are doing often enough—just not well enough).

Take a minute to see if you can list at least one item for each of these categories.

One way to take control of your sales team (and your future) is to look at all the sales management tools available and make a few decisions: Am I using the tool now? How am I using it? Am I getting the results I want? If I am not using it, should I be? How should I use it?

The following are some tools available to sales management.

Sales Strategy
The essence of a sales strategy is the ability to crisply answer the following questions:

  • What do we want to sell?
  • Who do we want to sell to?
  • What does a good order look like?
  • How clear are you on the answers to these questions?
  • How clear are your salespeople?

If they cannot answer these questions, then they do not know where to spend their time. And when people do not know what to do, they often do the things they have always done.

Sales Planning
The next step in effective sales management is a good sales plan. This means that every salesperson has goals or quotas (and they reflect the answers to the questions above). Do your salespeople have goals? Do they know what they are? Is there a reward if they get there? A consequence if they do not?

Sales Process
There is an artistic component to sales. There are some “natural born” salespeople. But most salespeople can improve if they follow a process. Have you defined a process (not a script) that you expect your people to follow?

Account Profiles
Superior customer knowledge leads to superior sales. Does your organization have a method of capturing information about key customers? Do your salespeople use it? Do you manage it?

As a manager, you not only want your salespeople to plan their weeks, but you want to see what they plan to do—prior to their actually trying to do it. In this way, you can change the plan if it is not the right one. And what if the salespeople regularly cannot do what they plan to do? Do you know their plans? Do you review them and provide feedback?

Joint Calls
The only way for a sales manager to know what happens is to go into the field (or sit next to an inside salesperson) and observe. This is not the same as making calls for them. If you want to know what they do when you are not there, you have to let them make the calls. Do you have a planned schedule of joint calls? Do you take notes and use them to provide regular, constructive feedback on what you see?

Sales Meetings
Technology being what it is today, there is no excuse for not having at least a monthly sales meeting. Do you have regular meetings? Do you have published agendas? Do you involve the salespeople in the meetings?

Opportunity Management
The most important area of sales reporting is opportunity management. Simple formats exist that allow you to quickly see if any new opportunities were found, if they meet your definition of “good” and the status. Do you have a system in place that tells you the answers to these questions?

Target Account Lists
Salespeople should know who they are supposed to call on and have some understanding of how much time they should spend with their key customers—multiple times per week, once a week, twice a month, once a month. Do your salespeople have target account lists (customers and prospects)? Have you discussed call frequency?

Formal Job Reviews/Development Plans
On an annual basis, you need to formally review your salespeople. Further, you need to provide them with a specific plan that will help them to improve. Do you do formal job reviews? Could you produce the written development plan for your sales team?

Your compensation plan should pay for what you want. Does it? For example, if you want 20 percent of your sales to come from new accounts and you pay the same commission for new accounts as existing accounts, are you really paying for new accounts? Or if you really want to sell some new products or services this year—and the pay is the same for new and existing—are you really paying for what you want? Do you have a compensation plan that pays for what you want?

How Do You Stack Up?
Your score should be somewhere between 0 and 100. A grade of 60 is a (very low) D and a 100 is perfect.

Take command of any area where you could improve your score. Do any of the items listed above fall into the four categories listed at the beginning: Start, Stop, Do More, or Do Better? What can you do right now to take the initiative?

Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association
Joe Ellers Meet the Author
Joe Ellers is a consultant, speaker and author based in Clemson, South Carolina, and on the Web at www.joeellers.com. This article was excerpted from his book The Sales Manager’s Handbook.

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