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A Sales Directors' Reality Check

I met an ex-colleague at a national conference. He had been a Sales Representative then Sales Manager and was now in his second year as a new Sales Director with his present employer.

He told me life was challenging right now. At the end of his first year profitable revenue was at record level but currently YTD revenue was down 11% versus the same period last year. Targets had grown a modest 4% for this year yet three months in, he suspected the field sales team had lost their mojo?

Apparently, following last year’s record success, his three regional sales managers had argued that ‘field-coaching’ and feedback was a waste of time for the top performing team players?

My friend asked what I thought? ‘For starters,’ I said, the RSM’s are not being helpful, but take a close look at the individual sales forecasts. ’Who has it under control and who has not? Forecast is a  critical window of future sales health. With such a slack attitude about coaching coming from RSM’s the likelihood of a delinquent flaky forecast is high. In the minds of the uninitiated, forecasting business is an inexact art form at the best of times. Perhaps easiest to fudge, simplest to dodge and the first to fall away when scrutinised. Regular under achievers disrespectfully call it the numbers game, when It is actually their life-blood! In capital sales (as this is), if you are without minimum three times your sales target in qualified forecasted accounts for the period in question, you are stuffed!' 

Following any record year, the new 12 months will always seem extra-daunting without a robust forecast in hand. I wasn’t talking about ‘sandbagging’ here, just decent territory management to see who is deadly serious about identifying sufficient new business opportunities ahead of time while taking care of closing immediate business!

Neglect the constant search for new business and you are dead in the water. To ignore it is a classic dereliction of personal and collective leadership. The RSM’s are flatly wrong. Even high performers require supportive coaching and monitoring to reinforce the right behaviour. It is the role of field managers to keep these things on track. Exclusive focus on closing business in one financial year without having identifyied sufficient qualified business opportunities for the ensuing year is a deadly sign of trouble ahead.

’You must have seen it coming for months!’, I said.

'Accept your team have already proved their ability to hit sales numbers albeit one year, so we are not talking major rebuild just yet. Besides, all salespeople are fragile. So when they go off the boil, they need a bit of love, attention and confidence boosting. Could it simply be their belief system is going down the pan? In leadership terms, one swallow does not make a summer anyway and words like forecast, ownership and accountability may be missing from the team self-talk. Again a collective issue.

Sales teams need to be surrounded by motivational RSM’s. Get a grip of your three lieutenants and make sure they know how to coach their team to look to the future and not back at the past. They are key! Good quality individual coaching with corrective feedback delivered positively is essential. Everyone stays heads up, knowing they are valued and exactly what they have to do to raise their game.

Positive feedback promotes progress, and removes blocks. It illuminates what team members do right without the nagging negatives, nitpick errors or tedious commentary on small slips.  Don’t fire them; fire them up and see who is with you and who is not.

Creating a culture of authentic encouragement is the best tactic. Retrieval plans should comprise short-term meaningful and measurable tasks, but they only work if they are their plans! Show them how to build, and own, their retrieval plan and implementation!’

We talked about the RSM’s. How they will benefit from becoming expert sales coaches and provide balanced positive feedback for all of their team and at every stage.

‘ You are the Sales Director‘ I said, ‘how much of this starts with you? Are you skipping the basics too? Perhaps stuck in the office too long, invisible to the team? Are you travelling as much as you did last year? How many customer visits coaching the sales people?

In short, what you need to do is reignite the winning impact you started creating last year. That effective culture is what your people should be doing automatically by now especially when no one is watching!

Show me a sales leader who is not in the field engaging customers and his or her people for at least 50% of their time, and I will show you a company on the slide’.

My ex-colleague’s eyes lit up as he reminded me of when we last worked together.
‘You used to say to me, positive feedback awakens the dead’, and ‘Alan Dawson can damage your rut!’  He admitted he should have remembered that and phoned me ages ago.
Everyone needs motivation, support and positive feedback, even people at the top! He had just re-discovered his mentor! I love seeing my ex-troops get on in life and I wouldn't bet against him!

Alan Dawson is an expert Sales Leadership Coach


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