Seth Godin is an author I follow and admire, and I’ve read many of the 20 books he’s written. His newest book, The Practice – Shipping Creative Work1, is largely about creativity and writing. However, as a fairly prolific writer on the topic of sales management and selling, I resonated with a concept that Seth shared in his book which in my view, explains how and why sales leaders and front-line sales managers are effective (or not) in their role. I believe that what makes you successful in sales management is not about you but about how you make your team successful.
So, what does Godin discuss that justifies my statement about why making your team successful is not about you? In the book, he describes the idea of Genre, which in short, is about your perception of how you fit into a given category of work or life. Godin uses the example analogy of a Thai restaurant, which conjures up a very specific impression of a category of restaurant — the types of food you would expect to eat, what it would taste like or look like and the kind of experience you would have while eating there.
This same analogy of Genre applies to our work as sales leaders. For over 50 years, the Genre of Sales Management has been perceived as ultimately being about one objective: making your “Number.” (I’ve chosen to capitalize it because I really believe it is a thing.) And all the things that go into that, like an extensive focus on sales pipeline; strategizing about how to close deals as fast as possible; creating a state of crisis and urgency to close every opportunity; being hyper-focused on forecasting; and short-cutting business processes to reach quota. This is what many of us believe being a sales manager is all about.
For many sales leaders, missing these ques Godin says, would be like, “going to a Thai restaurant and discovering the only thing on the menu is pizza.” Here is the sales manager challenge with Genre. Most CEO’s, CFO’s, COO’s and other senior executives have an entirely different perception about what sales managers should manage beyond just the idea that the only thing that matters is the Number. Yes, the Number matters: every business has revenue targets. But other things matter too, like being predictable in how you execute business processes, providing the right information to be accountable, managing with a level of discipline and rigor and most important, valuing the Human Capital assets you manage to help the team succeed.
It’s easy to understand why this gap exists. Sales managers are first and foremost salespeople, most of them very good salespeople. No one becomes a sales manager without first being a good salesperson. Most people acknowledge that it’s challenging to transition into a sales management role because in reality, you are changing your Genre. But what happens in practice is that sales management for many managers is simply an extension of what they did as salespeople. And for a salesperson, nothing is more important than hitting your Number. That is why you were hired as a salesperson.
As a sales manager, however, you might perceive your job as making your Number times the number of team members you have, but that is not how the executive team sees it. The role is additive, and that means you must now make your Number AND help all of your team members do whatever it takes to be successful while you stand on the sideline cheering. They are the players, and you are the coach.
So, management’s expectation is that you must both win (make the Number) and optimize the performance of each team member. Most C-level executives were trained that way because they have more business management experience than selling experience. There is simply more to sales management than making the Number – it’s the practice of measuring, monitoring and guiding salespeople to improve their ability to sell so that each person maximizes their value to the business. Many sales managers make their Number, only to lose their job when they don’t quite fit executive management’s definition of the Sales Management Genre. The most successful sales managers are those who focus first on making their team members successful. This is what executive management expects.
In his book, Godin points out that to be successful as a creative person, you must “dare to be peculiar.” This doesn’t mean weird or out of touch with reality. For sales managers, not every manager is willing to break out of the mold of traditional selling-based management to be more than a salesperson who manages, but instead become a coach to a team of players who all must perform and win to be successful. Being peculiar means ridding yourself of the stereotype that sales management is a top-down activity that you must control.
Good sales managers support, analyze, assess, communicate, collaborate and coach their teams to improve. To be more disciplined about inputting updates into CRM. To avoid shortcutting the process. To put enough opportunities in the pipeline so the pressure to hit a month or quarter becomes minimal. Only a small number of managers will truly subscribe to this, just like only a small number of athletes ever make it into professional sports and fewer still become great coaches.
As Godin says, there are sure to be a lot of you who will read this and will be critical. You don’t want to change because after all, you ARE making your number, and it works; at least until management discovers it doesn’t. If you are critical of what I’m saying, he says, then you are just saying it’s not for you, and that’s fine with me. However, if the idea of improving the way you manage your team appeals to you, please reach out. Our team has some ideas, a process and set of tools to become a better sales manager and meet management’s human capital expectations.
We’re on a mission to help sales leaders improve how managers coach and lead their teams by helping each and every team member make quota. To learn more about our Sales Performance Management framework and the Funnelocity® tool set, please check out our website, visit us on the Salesforce AppExchange, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1 – Godin, Seth. The Practice. Portfolio, 2020.