Sales management skill No. 1

Supervision leads the procession of skills needed to direct and manage your team


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Supervision is the first of four major skill sets that effective sales managers must possess, along with coaching, training and mentoring – which will be covered in subsequent articles. 

Supervision leads the procession of sales management skills because, as supervisor, you direct and manage the activities of your team from the position of authority, experience and foresight. In essence, your vision is clearer and should therefore be respected and followed. As an effective leader, your salespeople look to you for support and direction. 

Sales managers have great responsibility and often frighteningly little control over results. As the supervisor of each salesperson, you’re the one who’s accountable for the results generated by your team. Whether or not you’re part of upper management, whatever goals they set now belong to you. You must rely on your sales team to achieve those goals and you will be held responsible for the performance – good and bad – of your team members.

Effective sales supervision begins with having the best team, which includes hiring the best sales candidates and eliminating bad performers. Effective supervisors help every salesperson maximize their performance both individually and in collaboration with their co-workers. As their supervisor, you’re the individual they directly report to, and ideally, the manager with whom they have the closest relationship. 

So what is it that really distinguishes the role of supervisor from the other managerial leadership roles of coach, trainer and mentor? It has to do with the formal authority that the supervisor holds over the supervised. 

Being the boss positions you at a hierarchal level that, at a minimum, requires respect so that team cohesion can take hold and corporate goals can be met. “Supervising” is really all about business. Your supervisor-employee relationship with each salesperson will obviously vary with the individual. However, remaining objective and treating everyone on the team fairly, according to accepted company standards, will serve everyone’s best interests. 

As the sales supervisor, you will largely determine and enforce the rules for such vital tasks as setting activity goals, using the CRM, accurate call reporting, forecasting and data collection. Therefore, it’s your job to analyze results against forecasts, possibly needing to confront anyone on the team whose numbers aren’t on track.

How you formally approach and handle these challenging situations is what effective sales supervision is all about. The effective supervisor focuses on the work, not the person doing it.

Being a great booster and advocate for sales managers, it’s tough for me to fess up that supervising salespeople is one of the hardest management jobs there is. As mentioned before, you are responsible for your team’s results, and one of the worst things about sales is that you cannot manage results. But you CAN manage behaviors. 

Management focus should be on the specific behaviors that can be traced back from actual sales made. For example, we have found that one of the most important sales performance indicators is how many appointments are made with new prospects. In most organizations, every sale can be tied to a first conversation someone had with a company representative.

As a sales supervisor, you need to manage your own behaviors around those supervisory activities that drive your team toward results-oriented work. Here’s a list of what professionally trained sales managers do routinely that separate them from the pack:

• They organize their time strictly around high-priority and goal-oriented activities.

• They keep sales meetings on point and on time.

• They document plans and measure progress of individuals and the entire team.

• They hold people accountable for the activities to which they have committed.

Of course, the human side of managing salespeople involves another set of skills that are probably just as important as the numbers-driven, analytical side.

Wearing the supervisor hat is a big responsibility. A really great supervisor earns the respect of everyone on his or her team, regardless of personal feelings or chemistry. When your people understand that you must accept responsibility for their results, they won’t want to be the one pulling the whole team down.

Using a metrics-based, behavior-driven approach to supervision helps you hold everyone accountable to objective and measurable activity standards. 

Kevin Hallenbeck, principal of Sandler Training – Manchester, can be reached at 603-232-1520 or through bestsalespeople.com.

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