A Sales Management Checklist
Author: Dr. Scott Downey, Director and Professor
I have written before about how management is a well-researched process that involves analysis, planning, execution and measurement. I have also pointed out how my discussions with sales managers often result in fairly dismal responses of basic measurement of the sales process (i.e. not knowing how much a sales call costs or being able to compare a good salesperson in a difficult territory with a bad salesperson in an easy territory). There are many reasons for sales managers not understanding the role: true sales management, as distinct from supervision or account management, still remains relatively new in our industry; operations management remains an important activity in many ag sales organizations; the context of selling as a marketing function is only now being defined; and, finally, the consolidation at the farm gate and among retailers has occurred very quickly.
As we begin planning for our 2021 Sales Management and Leadership program, I thought it might be worthwhile to share a checklist of some best practices for sales managers.
Connecting to Marketing Strategy
In many agribusinesses, marketing strategy has either been focused on products or advertising. While both are important marketing components, the integration of these components with pricing, distribution, non-product value creation and other promotional tools has been limited, in my observation. Although all of these topics receive some attention, their integration and how they connect to customer segments is often lacking, which makes it hard for sales managers to know how to manage effectively.
To connect successfully with marketing strategy, sales managers must have a clear understanding of:
- The prioritization and unique marketing mix approaches geared toward each targeted segment.
- How value is created beyond products and what future innovations are required for each targeted segment.
- How their organization’s value differs from that of its competitors in the minds of customers in each targeted segment.
- The sales coverage, organizational structure and skills needed to coordinate promotion and value delivery uniquely for each segment of targeted customers.
- How to coordinate sales as an activity that serves segments at the company level and individual customers at the field level.
In agriculture, coordinating sales activities in the field generally means coordinating specific geographies. The analysis, planning, execution and monitoring of these activities within each geography usually means sales managers compare performance against goals and past seasons. However, it’s also important to frequently update the analysis of potential in the marketplace by acre/head and incorporate competitive pressures along with decisions made regarding how to connect to the organization’s marketing strategy.
Effective territory management should include:
- Understanding individual market potential by segment and acre/head within the territory, including cross-sell potential.
- Understanding competitor marketing strategy (market coverage and penetration, value, pricing, messaging and positioning with target segments).
- Aligning resources with value and service decisions at the marketing level in order to accomplish goals for obtaining potential in the face of competition.
Achieving Sales Targets Through People
When I ask managers what exactly they manage, their first response is usually people. When we discuss what gets measured, analyzed, planned and executed, the list is often pretty short … revenue. This isn’t a negative; the whole point of a sales effort is revenue, and there’s nothing and no one to manage if there isn’t any revenue. The real problem with this being the only or primary subject of management is that it is VERY simplistic. Revenue generation — a sale — is the conclusion of a process. Often (and hopefully), it’s a recurring outcome within a relationship.
Achieving sales targets means that managers are responsible for what this process looks like and how it is implemented by salespeople, with each salesperson bringing their own unique strengths to the process. In the old days, it was thought that a salesperson’s ability was innate. Sales managers were promoted from the ranks of successful salespeople, and then they “coached” their people to do what they had done to be successful earlier in their careers. Today, we know that successful sales leadership is different than supervision and coaching. The job of a sales manager is to know what activities lead to sales and service strategies with targeted segments. Then, they must help salespeople to use their own strengths to reach goals, not turn them into Mini-Me.
Sales managers must be proficient at:
- Objectively assessing the strengths and abilities of individual sellers.
- Defining what sales tasks are required in order to accomplish value objectives with targeted segments and identifying quality metrics for those tasks.
- This step includes: prioritizing opportunities, targeting and differentiating service and coverage across segments or relationships, identifying the sales call mix (using the right type of sales call at the right time), and managing the pipeline.
- Creating a culture of self-improvement in which salespeople measure and analyze their own performance rather than doing things because the boss is watching.
- Analyzing and removing barriers to revenue generation relating to market factors and personal development of sellers.
Effective sales management is difficult when few managers in agribusiness have the luxury of solely focusing on this role. Often, sales managers are technical leads, maintain large accounts and manage pricing, inventory and procurement in addition to managing people and processes designed to generate revenue.
Accomplishing this checklist requires managers to be humble and listen actively, to use more leadership than supervision and to empower and provide ongoing attention to issues discussed in training. Managers must pay attention to salespeople almost as if they were customers themselves, because the job today takes a great deal more thinking, measurement, analysis and planning in addition to execution.
Beyond the Blog
Learn more from Dr. Scott Downey in the online Sales Management and Leadership professional development program May 26-27, 2021! You’ll have the opportunity to assess your people development skills and gain tools for becoming a more effective coach for your team, all in a travel-free, safe way. Through a combination of live sessions, small group work and pre-recorded videos, you’ll also learn about the five keys to leading effective developmental conversations, practice handling situations such as retaining good salespeople, and learn to use assets your team already possesses to their greatest potential.
When we consider how farmers view different information sources, salespeople tend to think of themselves as the most valuable source of information. For farmers themselves, salespeople actually fall fairly far down the list. Why does this gap exist? One likely reason is trust. While untrustworthy salespeople don’t last long in agriculture, there’s a big difference between trust and trustworthiness. There is also a difference between believing we are trusted and the degree to which that trust exists.
One of the cool things I get to do in my role as a professor today in sales and marketing is work with sales organizations all over the world. Hearing some of the challenges these organizations face nearly daily gives me, I think, a unique perspective on trends. When I see repeated issues arise, it prompts me to identify tools researchers in the area of sales and marketing have explored that may be relevant to what is happening in the real world, but this isn’t always the case. Sometimes academia follows the real world rather than leading it, but research about sales in one industry often applies to what happens in others. The trends I’m observing right now may fall into that category.
Financial goals have been gaining increased visibility throughout all aspects of the agribusiness value chain for some time now. While our world is full of tight margins and dynamic marketplaces, this importance will only continue to climb, also making it increasingly important for non-financial managers to understand how their decisions impact their company’s bottom line moving forward.