Managing Frustrating Sales People

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Managing Frustrating Sales People
by Frank Lee

Salespeople, bless their hearts, can be the most frustrating people to manage.

There is so much individualism – and ego! They tend to readily exploit weaknesses or kind spots in sales managers. They are merciless when they sense they can get away with not doing what their sales managers request of them. Proper paperwork is a good example. So many of the attributes that make them good salespeople also make them management nightmares. This is true no matter what industry you examine.

The salesperson in the dealership has one additional endearing trait – an ego larger than the dealership. And this ego is, for the most part, unearned and undeserved. This does not stop him from regularly reminding his manager that he is the one who really brings in the bread and butter of this dealership.

“And don’t you forget it!”

Sales managers try everything to accommodate these super-egos, from cajoling to placating, begging and pleading. Sometimes they will even explode, always to regret it later. What they fail to understand, however, is that most salespeople want to please them. That’s true! Most salespeople actually would like to please their sales managers – if only they knew what their sales managers wanted and how they could please them. Many times the fault lies with the sales manager who has not made his expectations clear enough.

Then there are the modest producers. They consistently perform below expectations. They seem to consume more of the sales manager’s time. They just never seem to be able to get it right. They make the worst deals and are constantly complaining about the lack of sales in their territories. They blame others, including the sales manager, for their lackluster performance. They drive the sales manager nuts but he just cannot get rid of them. They bring in just enough to justify their presence in the dealership. And they have ‘potential’!

I have two observations on this. First, potential is for amateurs. Professionals bet on more substantial assets. Second, whenever a salesperson fails to deliver the goods, the first person to look to is the sales manager. Why?

If a salesperson lacks certain skills or talents, the sales manager should have identified these deficiencies and trained for them. If this has been done, then the salesperson should improve. If a salesperson lacks motivation or goals or is reluctant, the sales manger should have provided the training and coaching necessary to eliminate these wasteful habits. If he had done all this, he would not have salespeople who fail.

What if he did and still they fail? The sales manager should have released them from the team. If they are still on the team, they are dragging the other members down and the poor sales manager is allowing it to happen. This is why I always look to the sales manager first when there is a lack of performance in a sales team.

The harassed dealership sales manager has to deal with all of these people problems in addition to managing inventory and placating suppliers who are constantly reminding him about unpleasant things, like market share.

What can the sales manager do to alleviate the suffering inflicted on him by these frustrating souls? There is no easy answer. However, there is one thing all sales managers can and should do.

They should make certain that all of their sales people know and understand what is expected of them both in financial and behavioral terms. They should know how many sales, including dollar volume and margin, they must produce each month to be allowed to stay on the team. They should also know what behaviors are expected of them and in what quantities. For example, they should know how many cold calls they are expected to make each day and how many profiles they are expected to collect each week. There should be a minimum acceptable behavioral standard that applies to ALL sales people in the dealership.

These expectations should preferably be made clear at the interview stage – before the new sales person is hired. This prevents misunderstandings later. However, they can be implemented at any time providing the sales manager can sell the behaviors to the sales people and applies them to everyone.

This is something else sales managers should remember. They are also sales people. Their customers are the sales people they manage. They should use their selling skills to sell the right behaviors to their sales people. After all, is this not leading by example?

The above is a modified extract from Frank Lee’s new book in progress “Handbook for Agricultural Dealership Sales Managers”.