When salespeople start thinking more strategically, they can take control of their destinies and become their own sales managers.
The best salespeople don't need sales managers barking orders on who to call or how to sell. They are self-motivated masters of their own domains, and don't need — or want — bosses telling them what to do. Ace salespeople know how to manage their time and are the in-house experts on the sales strategies that work best with their accounts. In essence, they function as their own sales managers. This article will explore what it takes for you to become your own sales manager.
Let's start with the basics. You must first sort our your priorities — both personal and organizational — so you can maximize your priorities. Setting personal and business priorities is important for salespeople because they must understand what they want to achieve in their personal lives and what their companies want them to accomplish, and then make sure these priorities are in harmony. If significant differences exist between personal priorities and what the company expects of you, either you or your firm will not be satisfied with the arrangement.
Define your values and goals in the following facets of your life: spiritual, mental, family, physical, career, social and financial. Then analyze what your company expects of you by asking yourself the following questions:
What is the mission of the sales force in my firm? What are we all about?
What components of the product mix am I being asked to sell, and what is the relative importance of each?
What market segments are we going after, and what is their relative priority?
How will my performance be measured? How frequently? On what criteria?
What constitutes “good selling behavior” in terms of the input variables (tasks and activities)?
What is the marketing program for each market segment in terms of the product, distribution, promotion and pricing strategies?
Are these organizational goals and priorities consistent with my personal values and goals?
Time in Short Supply
It's important to make this analysis because in today's business climate you are going to be asked to do more with less. You will get fewer resources and less support but be asked to sell more at increased profit margins. The kicker is that your most valuable resource — selling time — is in short supply and becoming even more expensive. In order to lend some perspective to this dilemma, let's go over some statistics that are probably familiar to you.
How many calls do you have in your inventory next year? Work through this exercise to see how many actual selling days you have. By subtracting weekends, vacations, holidays and personal days, you will get your total selling days. This example shows some typical time allotments.
365 days in the year, minus the following:
|Total days not available for selling||145|
|Actual selling days left in the year||220|
Realistically, you must also take into account lost selling time due to company meetings, travel, trade shows, training and customer unavailability. Factor in these additional time commitments and you will find that your total potential selling days are probably between 150 and 180 days.
Now figure out how many sales calls you average in a typical day. Most distributor salespeople can make four or five sales per day, but this may vary depending on your market, size of territory and product mix. Now multiply your available selling days by your average calls-per-day. You will probably come up with a sales-call inventory for next year of between 700 and 1,000 calls. Not all of these calls are productive, which increases the time squeeze even more.
Now that you know what you expect of yourself, what your company expects of you, and how much time you actually have to do your job, you can start planning your sales approach. These days, customers expect more of distributor salespeople, and just supplying an electrical contractor with products for construction projects or keeping an industrial customer's tool cribs filled isn't enough anymore.
Customers need your help in operating their businesses more profitably. That means you must approach your business relationships with them more strategically. Today's salesperson must help customers increase market share, introduce new products and manage resources more efficiently.
In the past, a “tactical” approach worked, where salespeople just focused on selling products that get neatly tucked away on the shelf. In contrast, strategic salespeople sell products and services that have a direct impact on a customer's bottom line. Strategic sellers understand the total nature of an account's business. This knowledge is used not simply to sell products — but to help a customer grow his business as well.
These strategic sellers function as consultants and managers for their accounts. They develop joint-marketing plans and selling strategies and assist in training the account's salespeople to be more competent on their products. They are as concerned about the health and well-being of the account in total as well as their share of the account's business.
I know of a salesperson for a building-products distributor who convinced the CEO of a larger retailer that his company should be in a new business — a business the salesperson believed was a natural for him. The strategic seller convinced the CEO to expand into this market niche by showing him the potential in his market for the new product line and the weak nature of the existing competition. He also convinced the retailer that the market segment for this new line was very consistent with his current target market segments. The seller was not pushing his products per se, but was actually showing the account a new and compatible market opportunity. One year later, the new business was doing well over $15 million in sales. It's a win-win situation for the distributor and the retailer. The retailer grew his business, and the distributor salesperson has an additional account to call on.
Another distributor salesperson who calls on this same CEO uses a different but equally effective strategic selling approach for an existing product line in the retailer's product mix. She is the primary source of competitive intelligence. She pushes her products but also shows the retailer how he can push her product line to the street. She does her homework on what the account's competitors are doing, and identifies where they are strong, weak or vulnerable. Most importantly, she assists the account in developing selling strategies and using cooperative advertising dollars and other support programs. She is also willing to bundle the programs of several vendors to increase the critical mass. All-in-all, she truly is a consultant to the account.
In contrast, a tactical seller is typically concerned with “moving boxes.” He only sees his role as that of increasing an account's purchase of products. On one hand, these sales are critical to the seller. But to be truly effective, they must also represent the correct decision for the account. This seller tends to be involved excessively and passively in servicing the account. Although many of your customers appreciate you working for them without being on the payroll, they need much more from you.
Cleaning up the inventory on the shelves, filling-out returned goods authorizations, or setting up point-of-purchase displays are all necessary tasks, but are they going to grow the account? Servicing your accounts in this fashion is necessary, but is it a good use of their scarcest resource: selling time? Tactical sellers tend to be overwhelmed with these tasks to the detriment of their true value-added to the account and to their territory.
If you want to become a strategic seller, start by auditing your territory. This analysis must be done at the segment level and not at the account level. In other words, find the growth segments in your territory, the primary competitors, the market potential and the market share of each competitor. You must also determine which external factors are positively or negatively impacting business and the relative strengths and weaknesses of the primary competitors in each segment.
As mentioned earlier in the article, you must think like a sales manager, or even a business owner. Ask yourself: If you were starting a business in your territory, what would it look like and how would you get investors to put money into it? When you start answering these questions, you are transforming your account base into a business that does a much better job of serving the needs of your existing and future customers than does a salesperson with a more tactical approach. You will be well on your way to thinking and acting like your own sales manager.
The author is president of Monoky Associates, Toledo, Ohio, a consulting firm that helps clients develop marketing, selling and sales/distribution management strategies that create and maintain profitable company/customer relationships. He has given seminars on these topics to numerous distribution groups over the years and is an adjunct professor of marketing at the University of Michigan Business School. Monoky is also is the author of “Be Your Own Sales Manager: Strategies and Tactics for Managing Your Accounts, Your Territory and Yourself.” You can reach him by phone at (419) 536-7637 or by e-mail: John@monoky.com.