Career Q·MAG

The Curse of the Sales Manager: The Missing Sales Team

The Curse of the Sales Manager 2/3:
This little series is based upon a real experience I had in my professional career as HR Director in a multinational company. It’s ok to be astonished at first, but then please go and make sure it won’t happen likewise in your own company.
1. The Lost Sales Manager
2. The Missing Sales Team
3. You Get What You Pay For

When looking the role profile of a Sales Manager, one of her/his responsibilities will surely be “to support recruiting activities and actively assemble talented people into the sales organisation” with the corresponding KPI “number of sales agents upon business plan.”

And that’s it? If you use the PDCA (Plan Do Check Act) Cycle, it becomes obvious immediately that you’re still in the “Plan” phase of the process. It’s important, but it’s only the very first beginning of the process. Because once the concepts are developed, it’s time to transform them into actionable tasks, and this is actually the necessary step to bring your business vision down to earth. Many companies can provide very decently written job descriptions, but only a few really take it seriously and consistently implement them in recruiting and talent management afterwards. For all the others, just imagine what happens when everyone creates their own interpretation and applies them according to their individual business focus (or without any focus at all), how much effort is being made pointlessly, and how much time and energy is being wasted in the organisation.

Does this situation seem familiar to you? Then it’s now is the right moment to sit down together with your sales manager and develop a shared vision of her/his main responsibilities, rendering him accountable using measurable KPIs and rendering the goals tangible by giving specific examples for activities that will lead to success using actionable verbs.

To “support” for example is not an actionable verb: there’s no responsibility for the outcome, in fact no specific outcome is even defined. So what needs to happen to see this KPI achieved? Or, even worse, how to explain in the bonus season that this KPI was not fulfilled? 

In this trap I’ve seen a lot of companies, big and small alike: non-actionable verbs like “support, ensure, oversee…” everywhere in the Job Descriptions. Of course your vision of the activities connected will nearly never happen: because the sales manager’s (convenient) interpretation might just be a little different from yours.

That doesn’t necessarily mean people defend themselves by playing a game of words. Step into the shoes of your sales manager, maybe it’s her/his first time of being a business leader in life, maybe even without having been trained for the role or having been told how to fill it: it’s highly probable she/he simply has no clue what “support” or “ensure” in this context really means, and so the best effort is made to make sure she/he’s supportive. The same might be true even for “senior” or “experienced” managers: when asked if they supported the hiring process, the answer I heard often was “of course I do!” Translation: I will never create obstacles or make things complicated in hiring new people, as long as others get the job done.

This is probably not exactly what you had in mind when you wrote the objective “to support recruiting activities and actively assemble talented people into the sales organisation” into the Job Description – so you might need to provide a translation for your sales manager: this will serve not only to align your vision with hers/his, but also allow for a more structured and convenient supervision in the future. I guess you already suspect what needs to be done – to develop actionable tasks that lead to the Job Descriptions objectives together with you sales manager, for example:

“support recruiting activities…” 

  • write job description of Sales Agent 
  • plan the timeline for interviewing and orientation training 
  • hold a meeting with the recruiter to explain the requirements and timeline

“ensure the number of sales agents upon business plan”

  • from Q2, 4 new sales agents be on board at every beginning of the quarter 
  • 50% of the newcomers pass the probation period
  • … 

For each task, together you define a timeline and the outcome in written form – because only if you write it down it will be remembered and might really happen. At the same time you should define review sessions in regular intervals to support and control the progress: this is the only way you can influence the outcome of an important strategic project in your area of responsibility – so make time for it and don’t wing it. 

At the same time it’s a great opportunity to identify your sales manager’s need for support to deliver the needed results – like a dedicated training for hiring interviews for example. But not only: it also allows for assessing her/his soft skills, knowledge, and responsibilities. If done well, it will result in a smarter and more cost-effective investment into her/his future career, beneficial for the sales manager as well as for the organisation.

I hear you: “but this costs too much energy, and I would rather do it all by myself in half the time.” Of course you’re right on that – you have the experience, the knowledge and the skills for that. But of course you’re also wrong on that. Because it is simply not your job anymore. 

Just imagine you would be a teacher and you would write the final exams for every single one of your students – how would your performance be rated then? Quite easy – a total failure. Of course: because it’s the teacher’s job to prepare the students, so that they themselves can ace the test, not to write the test for them. One day maybe a few of these students will become teachers – and then we all hope that they not only know how to ace a test, but how to prepare others for being successful in it, too. Exactly the same is true for a leader: it’s not your task to do the job by yourself, but to enable your subordinates to get the job done autonomously.

This is the only way for your business to grow. Always remember where you came from: you were facing a challenge, and this became the bottleneck in your business. Only by growing into a new position, developing a new mindset and new skills, you could advance in your career: the same is true for the managers you promoted or hired – and many of them will need your support to grow beyond their expert role. It is a big investment of your time, but once set up it will become a great time-saver because it will allow you to delegate efficiently in the future, making room for strategic projects. The other lesson of this little story is to plan smartly: to define well-defined objectives and to break them down into actionable tasks is the very foundation of management. But only when you start delegating these tasks in an engaging and motivating way, real results will start to appear: and that’s the core of leadership. 

Hong Liu

By Hong Liu

Hong is an experienced HR expert for challenging business situations: if you want to create an environment attractive to top-level talent in leadership or build up an efficient HR administration, she’s the perfect choice. For more than 10 years she’s created stunning results in multinational corporations, like successfully integrating two company cultures post-merger, or building up a new plant’s staff from 0 to 450 in two years, or creating an Asia-wide management development program for more than 120 junior talents.