When we think of the sales management position, we typically assume this person has numerous salespeople reporting to him/her. This is not always the case. The question you need to ask yourself is when do you need an employee with “Sales Manager” on his or her business card? How many salespeople do you need before it makes sense to have a sales manager?

I have seen it work in companies with as few as two salespeople, one of whom is the sales manager (SM). That doesn’t imply that the SM follows the lone salesperson around with no sales productivity of their own. In fact, you can’t go wrong if you follow what I call the “Sales 20% rule.” It works like this: each sales person reporting to a sales manager eliminates 20% of the SM’s personal selling requirements.

The SM with one salesperson, for instance, would still carry 80% of his or her personal selling goals. When the sales team grows to four, the SM would maintain 20% of his or her personal sales goal. This gives the SM time to devote to each subordinate while making a selling contribution that covers his or her costs. This also provides an easier path of transition for both the SM and the company.

This transition can be difficult assuming the salesperson being promoted was performing at a high level. It becomes difficult for the new sales managers to replace this gratification and get glory through the performance of their subordinates. The duties and functions of sales managers vary widely based on the size of the sales team, direction of the company, and internal policies.

Sales Meetings

The SM, in all cases, should hold regular sales meetings. The meeting should include the review of each salesperson’s call list and sales projections. It should also be a training session. Regarding training, I prefer role playing. Every week assign each salesperson to present one segment of the selling presentation. Phone selling, cold call, first call, and final presentations should be covered with feedback from the other sales personnel and finally, by the SM. Mistakes should be made on the practice field rather than the playing field.

Coaching

This is another important role of the SM. This differs from training because when coaching, the SM accompanies the salesperson on live sales calls. The call presentation can be split between the salesperson and SM or given totally by the salesperson. A curb-side evaluation should be given by the SM immediately following each call.

The sales manager’s responsibility, in part, is to help each salesperson attain their sales goals. Most sales managers are good closers and frequently take an active role in closing the sale during coaching.

There is a fine line between assisting/training and doing the salesperson’s job for them. During the learning curve, this is an appropriate procedure; however, over the years, I have practically sold a salesperson’s entire sales goal. The danger here is when the SM does this, it makes it difficult to issue criticism and very difficult if a situation arises that requires termination of the salesperson.

The best way to guard against this, is to make sure everyone on the team understands that the SM has the authority to take a percentage of the sale when assistance becomes excessive.

Personnel Problems

Another key function of the SM is to identify sales personnel problems. I prefer to tie a problem to specific steps in the selling cycle. By reviewing sales call reports, patterns will manifest. If there is a low volume of first-call appointments, salespeople need help with phone selling. The same holds true if they’re not getting beyond the first call. When a salesperson gives an inordinate amount of final presentations with a low closing rate, the SM must discern if it’s due to calling on the wrong type of prospect, sloppy or incomplete presentation materials, or simply caving when time to close.

A professional sales manager will not allow any salesperson to fail time after time without intervening early and often. General managers should be prompt in recognizing the positive efforts of the sales manager. While salesperson activity is very measurable, it’s more difficult with the SM. When a salesperson hits one out of the park there’s much celebration and praise for the event. Make sure the SM is sharing in the victory that came as a result of an ongoing process of training, coaching, and team building. If not, don’t be surprised when the sales manager asks to return to sales. 

Earl King is the founder of King Productions International, a commercial HVAC
contracting sales consulting firm based in Texas. He speaks to associations and HVAC trade groups, and consults with commercial contractors across the country, in addition to writing this column for Contracting Business.com. E-mail Earl with any questions or comments at: profithvac@aol.com or call him at 515/321-2426.