I can spot a Tom Hopkins disciple (or for that matter, a disciple of a Tom Hopkins disciple) from a mile away. They use “sales words,” like calling a contract “paperwork” or calling the price an “investment.” In today’s world, it’s like a wet towel across the face of your buyer, letting them know that they are dealing with a “Salesperson.” But that’s not the topic of this article.
You see, the word “investment,” and it’s closely related word, “spend,” really do have a heavy bearing in the world of sales management.
According to Webster’s, “invest” means “to expend money with the expectation of realizing a profit or material result.”
“Spend” means “to pay out money in buying or hiring goods or services.”
Note the difference? When you “spend,” it’s without expectation of achieving a profit. And in over fifteen years of managing salespeople and coaching other sales managers, I can state this as fact: Far too many sales managers spend their time when they think they are investing their time. This, in fact, became a major topic of discussion at my recent “High Performance Sales Management” boot camp in Las Vegas.
To start with, understand that most sales managers spend their time working with, or on, the bottom tier of their sales forces. They do this, usually, simply working to raise low performers up to a level of basic competence (quota) so that they won’t have to fire them.
“But, Troy,” you say, “that’s natural, isn’t it? My top guys don’t need my time, and some of them may not want me messing with them. Therefore, I can improve the skills of my bottom tier salespeople, and impact my sales force’s performance that way.”
This response is true nearly all of the time – and sometimes it’s even the correct way to look at their situation. However, this is where we turn back to the old question of spending your time versus investing your time. Here’s a simple checklist to help you understand which is which:
• After a work session with a rep, do the rep’s skills improve? This would seem obvious, but it’s not to many sales managers. I recently had the opportunity to make joint calls with a client’s salesperson. I had previously made joint calls with him – three years ago. Three years ago, he was teetering on the edge of being released. Since then, the manager has made a project out of him, dedicating at least a half a day per week to working with him. What’s the result? Well….nothing, that I could see. His skills haven’t improved to any measurable level. He’s still not asking the right questions, fumbling in his ability to present to a customer, missing buying signs, and probably burning sales left and right. Yet his numbers are just enough higher that he’s no longer in danger of being fired. We’ll get to the “why” of his numerical improvement in a moment, but first, here’s the moral of this story:
If your salesperson’s skills are improving when you work with him/her, you are investing your time. If not, you are spending your time.
• Are your joint calls focused on teaching the salesperson how to sell, or are they focused on just helping the salesperson get the deal? Here’s the “why” of the above point. It’s true that the salesperson’s numbers have improved. The reason – which the salesperson admitted at the end of the day – is that the sales manager is going on enough important calls that more deals are getting closed. Of course, the reason that those deals are closing is that the sales manager is basically closing them himself – taking over the sales calls and making the deals happen. If you do this, you might think that you’re doing your job and benefiting the company, but you’re not. You’re only benefiting yourself and your rep, and then only in the short term.
If you’re staying silent during joint calls and using them as a coaching opportunity, you’re investing your time. If you are selling, you’re spending your time.
• If you took your hands off the salesperson, what would happen? Back at the office, I then began probing the salesperson’s sales and activity records for the past three years, and cross-referencing them with the sales manager’s vacation and travel schedule. I bet you already know what I found. When the sales manager wasn’t there, the salesperson’s activity levels dropped nearly in half – and the salesperson rarely sold any deals when the manager wasn’t there. While this was disappointing to the company’s owner, it was what I expected to find by this time. The manager was simply doing much of the work for the salesperson.
If, after some length of time under your tutelage, the salesperson can function independently, you have invested your time. If not, you have spent it.
In the review meeting with the company owner and the sales manager, I gave my analysis of the situation (pretty much as above, but with specifics included). I was asked by the sales manager if the salesperson should be put on a PIP – a Performance Improvement Plan (probation). I said, “That’s up to you. But,” turning to the business owner, I said, “The sales manager should definitely be put on a PIP.” Both jaws dropped.
“Here’s why. You (the sales manager) have told me that you’ve spent at least four hours per week over the past three years with this person. That’s over 600 hours of your time. You’ve done that not to improve the salesperson’s skills or performance – they haven’t changed – but to save yourself from having to make a transition, and perhaps because you liked him so much. That’s an incredible misuse of time and resources, considering that you have seven other reps who do not receive that level of attention. You should be put on a PIP, and then how you handle improving your own performance is up to you.”
Harsh? Maybe. But the truth is that the sales manager had gotten emotionally involved to a high degree and had abdicated his sales management duties in favor of basically being a part-time, uncommissioned sales rep. Sales managers do this every day without realizing it. If that’s you, stop!
But what about the other part of the objection above – that your top reps just want to be left alone, and not to be messed with? Maybe that’s true in some cases. Rarely, however, does a strong relationship, and time spent, with a top rep fail to produce dividends. If you get out and work with your top people, you may find easily coachable moments that will produce success – and if you improve a top rep once, they will always want to work with you. The reason is simple: Your top reps are the ones who always want to improve, always want to sell more, and produce more. If you can help them do it, that’s a good investment of your time.
To truly start investing your time rather than spending it, try this one simple guideline: Apportion your coaching (and make it coaching, not selling) time evenly to all your mature reps, top to bottom. Granted, new and ramping reps take more time, as they should – but if you divide yourself equally among your mature reps, you’ll find out that your time is probably better invested with your top people. And that will make everyone smile.