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How to Effectively Manage Your Sales Team

How to Effectively Manage Your Sales Team

By Lee B. Salz

During my work with clients, I’m often asked to interview their sales people as part of my sales team due diligence. One of the questions that I always ask is their desired management style from the company. The response I hear most frequently? “I want to be treated as if I were running my own business.” On the surface, this should be music to the executive team’s ears. The truth of the matter is, it is actually cause for alarm.

When sales people say they want to be treated as business operators, they mean it. Yet, their perception of running a business is not consistent with reality. They are saying they want complete autonomy to do whatever they want to do, whenever they want to do it. The French expression laissez-faire describes what they really desire … hands-off management. And that’s not how successful businesses operate.

Anyone who has ever operated a business knows that running a business does not include the right to follow the path of the wind. If you operate a publicly-traded company, you have responsibility to the chairman, the board of directors, and the shareholders. If you run a privately-held company, you have accountability to the bank or partners. In both instances, you also have responsibility to the employees. This doesn’t quite sound like laissez faire and running a successful business are compatible.

That said, you should treat your sales people as business operators … real business operators. After all, your company is funding their business. Your sales people have an obligation to present their plan to make that business profitable. In essence, you are the primary investor in their business.

The first step toward treating your sales people as business operators is to ask them to provide you with a business plan that shows how they will make their business successful. The plan should not be the second-coming of War and Peace, but should be thorough enough to give the investors comfort in the plans for success.

If you provide the sales team with nothing more than the instruction to write a business plan, they will waste a lot of time trying to figure out what you want, and will still miss the mark. The best approach is to create a sales business plan template using the questions the investors have about their business strategy. The overall plan should “map back” to the revenue target you have set for the sales people. If you are asking them to generate a million dollars in revenue, the plans should clearly show how they are going to achieve that target.

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