Avoiding Sales Management Pitfalls That Slow Down Orders

Dec 3, 2019 | Sales Management

Why Are You So S-L-O-W?

Why are your sales so slow? I’m not referring to your order rate. I am talking about the activities and processes that have to be happening in Zero-Time in order for you to achieve your sales goals. One thing leads to another and if you are running in place in February, you’ll be running to catch up by March and hopelessly behind by June.

Here we are, still near the beginning of a new year, when hopes for the next twelve months should be running high. And your selling efforts feel like they are stuck in the thick mud. Just like they were last year. This is not the way to kick off what should be your most successful sales year ever.

Everyone has a reason or an excuse for slow selling. Believe me, we have all been in a situation where you question your sales manager about why it is taking so long to move a customer along in their buying cycle, and they don’t have an answer that makes sense. Or any answer at all.

I ask all my new clients to identify the reason, or reasons, why they are not growing, why their sales efforts are stuck in neutral. The responses I receive are typically all of a piece. As CEOs they can identify the symptoms but not the causes of the problem. But as CEOs and sales managers of SMBs you can’t be a doctor who can only diagnose the symptoms of the illness without prescribing a cure.

I group the symptoms of sales lethargy into the S-L-O-W acronym.

S is for Status Quo.

Too many companies are just coasting along. The CEOs are not really satisfied with their results but they are too worried about making any changes that could rock the boat and potentially jeopardize the sales they do manage to capture. Maintaining the status quo is not a way to thrive.

“Status Quo is ancient Greek for ‘slow death.'”

Folks, say hi to Milt again. (To learn more about Milt, check out my book, Zero-Time Selling, or this previous blog post. )


Actually, Milt, Status Quo is not Greek. It is Latin for “the current state of affairs.” But when an SMB’s sales are stuck, maintaining the status quo is the same as slowly dying.

“As I said.”

L is for Lack of Urgency.

In today’s economy you can’t expect the customer to operate on your schedule. The timeframe for every sales action has to be immediate. Customers do a lot of online research on your product before they ever call you and when they do they are single-mindedly looking for answers to their questions. The first seller with the complete answers wins.

O is for Outdated sales practices.

Unfortunately, many SMBs still operate their sales teams like it is 1912 not 2012. Their only concessions to the 21st century are a website and email.

“What would you call my pager?”

Google d-i-n-o-s-a-u-r.

Your customer and their buying behavior have been irrevocably altered by technology over the past 15-20 years. And if your sales practices and sales methods haven’t changed in concert with your customer then you can’t expect to effectively compete for their business against competitors who have evolved.

“Google N-E-A-N-D-E-R-T-H-A-L?”

W is for Weak sales management.

I don’t like to point fingers.

“But you will.”

SLOW starts at the top.

Even a highly self-motivated sales person will find it hard to succeed in company where the status quo rules, where everyone’s motor revs at a slower idle and where the sales systems and processes were obsolete before the turn of the century. A successful sales culture begins and ends with management. The CEO and sales management have to commit to change and urgency.

3 Steps To Change

Now, as you move further from the old sales year and deeper into the new sales year, now is the time to evaluate what you can do to shake things up, to change the routines your sales team have followed year after year. Break some of your bad old habits and reach a level of sales success that you haven’t achieved before.

Here are THREE tips you can put to use today.  These are not permanent fixes. Or suggestions for how to comprehensively revamp your sales efforts. There are just small ideas you can put to use TODAY that can begin to make a difference and break you out of the SLOW mold. It doesn’t matter which one you choose. Just choose one of the following steps and put it into play.

Make One Change Today.

Take a close look at your sales routines; your sales processes. Tell each of your salespeople to choose just one customer facing activity and change it. Now. Don’t just pay lip service to change. Do something about it. This is not a change that requires a committee to plan and implement. I’m advocating something much more simple than that. Just choose one aspect of your day-to-day sales activity and change it. Simple.

Create a Metric.

Every aspect of your sales process is measurable. Do you have metrics for each step of your selling process? Are you measuring how long it takes to respond to your sales leads? Or how long it takes you to write a quote and deliver it to a prospect or customer? Choose a single aspect of one sales process and assign a metric to it. Then measure it today and again tomorrow.

Be Accountable.

Tell someone about the change you made or the metric you’re tracking. Tell a colleague that you have undertaken to make a change in your sales routine. Tell your boss which part of your sales process you have begun to measure and what the goal is. When you tell someone else that you are making a change they will be interested to learn if it is helping you. As a result they will ask you how it is going. And you will need to have an answer for them. Being accountable for change is a big motivator.

If You’re Not Coaching, What Are You Doing?

What’s Your #1 Priority?

If you’re a sales manager and your number one priority each and every day is something other than coaching the individuals on your sales team to improve their sales productivity then what are you doing? Whatever it is, put it on hold and take care of your priorities.

The term coaching is in vogue these days. Much has been written about the importance of sales managers becoming coaches for their team. Studies have been cited that claim that it is the single most important thing you can do. A commonly cited statistic is that a 19% improvement in sales productivity is to be expected with effective coaching. To which my response is an old-fashioned “Duh.”

The fact is that coaching is nothing more than disciplined sales management. There is no distinction between the two. I attended a conference recently where consultants talked about how they were hired to coach front line sales reps in companies with sales managers in place. The claim was that sales managers had too many other responsibilities and no time to coach their direct reports. I don’t buy it.

If you’re a CEO, there should only be two reasons why a 3rd party consultant should be providing coaching to your frontline sales team:

  • Your sales managers are inexperienced and don’t know how to effectively coach. That is okay. New sales managers need to be trained. They don’t arrive in their first sales management assignment fully formed and ready to effectively function as a manager any more than newborn babies are born ready to memorize and recite Shakespeare. But, if this is the case, then train your sales managers. If can’t do it yourself, then hire that consultant to coach your manager, but never your sales team. Teach your managers how to be effective sales coaches. And, if they are unable to do that then…
  • Your sales managers are in the wrong job. You need to find someone new who is capable of performing the hard work that comes with being an effective sales manager.

What should a sales manager do to be an effective coach?

A. Make certain that each member of your team fully understands the playbook.

In this instance the playbook means the sales team is thoroughly trained to know the answers to the “what” and “how” questions. What are they selling and how are they selling it? Sales reps need training in the sales processes you use as much as in the products you sell.

B. Work with each member of your the team to develop an individualized sales plan.

The sales plan is simply composed of the objectives, strategies and tactics that the individual sales rep is going to employ to achieve their assigned goals. People gravitate towards sales as a career because it gives them a sense of being in control of their own destiny. But they aren’t going to find their destiny without a road map. The effective coach makes sure their reps understand what each day, week and month holds in store.

C. Set expectations not only by your words, but also by your actions.

This is not about achieving the number but about the process and what it takes to mold someone into a high-functioning, self-sufficient salesperson. Sales is a craft. Learning how to successfully do it is an apprenticeship. The most successful salespeople I know learned their trade by watching their managers at work and integrating the skills and techniques they observed into their own daily selling routines. An effective coach has to be able to demonstrate the skills they are teaching.

D. Get down into the nitty-gritty.

This means conducting regular detailed reviews of every deal your reps are working, supplying the strategic and tactical coaching to move deals along, as well as providing the wisdom, guidance and counsel a rep needs to motivate them to persevere when the going gets tough. It means understanding the details of your teams’ deal so you can provide day-to-day guidance to ensure that opportunities are continuing to move forward.

E. Develop a strong level of trust with your team members.

How does that trust get established? By being openly invested in each rep’s success to the same degree that they are. This is a tough standard for sales managers to meet. But the great sales managers are all able to make it happen. Read interviews with players from great sports teams that have won championships and the common attribute they cite for their success is the high-level of trust that the teammates had in each other. In short, they had each other’s back. Have your team’s back.

My first sales manager was Ray. Ray was the most no-nonsense manager I have ever encountered. (My hiring interview with Ray lasted 2 minutes and he said all of 12 words. But that is a story for another day.) It was primarily through his coaching that how I first learned how to sell (and be a sales manager.) Everyday we sat down and reviewed each of the deals I was working on. He taught me how important it was to not waste a minute, hour or a day if I was stuck on a deal and needed advice to see what I needed to do next. I remember coming into the office one morning when I was in the midst of a month-long sales slump and Ray was standing by his desk with his jacket on and car keys to his big red Oldsmobile jangling in his hand. “C’mon,” he said. Let’s go make some calls.” We’d spend the morning talking to prospects. Sometimes I’d take the lead and sometimes Ray would take the lead. But I would always come back from those calls smarter about selling and motivated to knock it out of the park.

Being an effective coach means nurturing the success of the people who work for you. At the end of the day, that is the highest success a sales manager can achieve. If you’re a sales manager, and you’re not coaching, what the heck are you doing?

5 Common Missteps of Sales Managers

A sales manager at the helm of a sales team has the responsibility not only to manage the definition and implementation of effective sales processes but must also provide the leadership and coaching his or her sales team requires to effectively utilize the sales processes to achieve and exceed their goals. This blend of strategic and tactical skills is not easy to achieve. Sales Managers often are more comfortable with one aspect of their sales process leaving them to neglect others. That is human nature.

Being aware of the five classic pitfalls nearly all sales managers experience at one time or another will help you avoid unnecessary setbacks and smooth your path to sales growth.

1. Protecting the Status Quo

As important as a sales process is, a slavish adherence to the status quo is the first step on the road to failure. Generally, as a sales team is developing, a great deal of attention is focused on creating the structure for sales activity and sales growth. Managers make the mistake of assuming that once their sales process is in place that they can solely focus their efforts on tactical sales management. The problem is that elements of your sales process may not be a perfect match for your target market or for the individuals you have on your sales team. As a sales manager you must pay constant attention to your sales process to ensure that it is always supporting and not impeding, your sales efforts and take immediate steps to revitalize it when it has become outdated or stale.

2. Losing the Urgency

A second pitfall sales managers have to confront is losing their sense of urgency. This is not to say they become complacent. Rather they don’t act and manage with the requisite responsiveness. Prospects and customers have questions and want answers in Zero-Time in order to make informed purchase decisions in the shortest time possible. Neglecting to reinforce this urgency within your sales process and your sales team will inevitably lead to a decrease in responsiveness and, ultimately, orders. In sales, everything is urgent or needs to be. As a sales manager, if you aren’t maintaining this attitude of immediacy in all that you do, you risk failure.

3. Failing to Measure

Neglecting to establish metrics for key processes and overlooking the necessity of regularly measuring how the processes are performing is a common oversight that negatively affects sales productivity. A sales process is not an abstract concept but a discrete set of required steps to achieve a certain goal within a certain period of time. As a sales manager you must continuously measure the outcomes of your core sales processes and take the necessary steps to refine them and make them even more productive.

4. Providing Incomplete Training

Sales managers often fall into the habit of providing limited training for their sales team. They focus on isolated skills and product training to the exclusion of integrated sales training that teaches how to deploy their skills and knowledge within their sales processes to win customer orders. Sales people have to be trained on their processes as deeply as on their sales skills and product knowledge. Ignoring this training is akin to putting 11 football players on the playing field and telling them to just improvise plays and do whatever they please.

5. Swimming with Minnows

Too many sales managers keep chronically underperforming sales people onboard well past their expiration date. You don’t want to keep swimming with minnows when you need to be cruising with orcas to make your numbers. If you have salespeople who aren’t suited to sell your product or service then every minute you keep them is a minute too long. It is a myth that good salespeople can sell anything. To ensure the growth of your company, salespeople must have experience and skills that will enable them to be completely responsive to the information requirements of their prospects in Zero-Time. If they don’t, they must go. Period.

It has never been easy to be a sales manager. However, if you can avoid these common missteps then you, your team, and your company will all benefit.

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