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What Can Sales Managers Really Manage?

Guest Author

There are many characteristics you look for in a strong sales manager. Experience, leadership and focus are all-important, but let's face it, they count for nothing if the sales team aren't hitting their number. Sales is a sport, you can do everything right across the 4 quarters, but you're ultimately judged on the final score!

This obsession with the final score is the harsh reality at the top of any business. Sales leaders are judged on results such as quota attainment, revenue growth and market share. These numbers provide insight into the overall health of the company and performance against the competition—and are always reported after the fact.

Whilst it makes sense to measure by results, it's not right to manage by them. This may seem very obvious, but as described in one of my favorite business books Cracking the Sales Management Code, sales management in many organizations often equates measuring sales performance with managing it. The book cleverly pulls the two apart and illustrates how to manage the activities that lead to the desired business outcomes.

This difference is best described by looking at Lagging and Leading sales indicators. Lagging indicators are the business results listed above. As already stated, they are measured after the fact and include boardroom figures related to sales, growth and market share.

Leading indicators on the other hand are much more tangible, and focus on actions a sales rep must carry out in a given sales process. They include measures such as the number of prospecting emails sent, sales calls made, meetings booked, opportunities created, proposals generated and deals closed. They need to be granular.

Back to the book Cracking the Sales Management Code. One of the most memorable lines is "You can't manage what you can't measure." A sales manager is not able to directly manage the percentage of quota each of their reps achieve, however they can manage the number of sales calls they make in a day, or the number of prospecting emails they send out.

But this is not just about pushing up the number of calls made or emails sent out. It's about having the insight in place to understand, at a granular level, what is working and what is not.

Let's say if sales reps who send more emails are able to generate more pipeline than those focused simply on cold calling, there's insightful justification to shift the team's approach to email prospecting. Similarly, if sales reps who attended a new product training course are able to close more deals, let's send everyone on that training course! Very simple examples, but you get the point.

When looking at what Sales Managers can really manage, I highly recommend the book Cracking the Sales Management Code. It provides actionable advice in helping shift the focus from final outcome to the inputs that will drive success. But remember, this is not just about reporting measures. It's about obtaining the insight to align sales processes, incentives and culture to an action-orientated way of thinking.

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