There is rarely a time when being a sales manager is easy and today is no exception. Throughout our research, sales professionals reported a number of hurdles facing their sales organizations. Some of the challenges were more external in nature, such as changes in the competitive landscape and newly emerging customer behaviors, while others were internally driven, such as reduced staffing and budgets. We examined these challenges on an organizational level in Chapter 1. Here, we look at them from a more functional perspective, illustrating how they can impact the daily responsibilities of those in a management role. Some of these challenges include:
More and increasingly acute competition. Whether due to organic economic forces or the result of artificially manipulated efforts, such as deregulation, new competitors are regularly appearing on the landscape. Sales managers must have a strong pulse on competitive developments not only to personally keep current on the marketplace, but also to educate team members on competitive differentiators and revise strategies and tactics to market accordingly.
Increased customer and prospect demands on delivery, quality, and price. As time passes, customer expectations rise. Many managers told us they spend a great deal of their time trying to figure out more efficient ways to meet these increased expectations and often with less resources. They focus on addressing these concerns with customers, compellingly justifying a client’s or prospect’s investment in them, as well as educating their teams on how to overcome objections and sell value.
Changes in customer behavior. Nearly every organization we encountered reported some change in customer behavior. Each of these developments has direct implications on the ability of salespeople to maintain and mature personal relationships, traditionally a successful sales technique. For sales managers, the impact is significant as they must become creative in developing solutions to overcoming these barriers to relationship building. Further, they need to have the skills to teach and coach their sales teams to be equally innovative in the creation of alternative approaches and techniques.
Greater urgency on the part of stakeholders to exceed revenue and profit goals. Alongside the tentative economic conditions of the early 21st century, owners and principal stakeholders placed considerable value on those who acquired profitable business. This shift now requires sales managers to fully understand the financial impact each deal will have on their own organization’s bottom line. Likewise, it forces the sales manager to educate his or her field associates on identifying business opportunities that will yield acceptable returns for the enterprise.
Sales organization reductions. In an effort to reduce the cost of sales and achieve maximum profit, sales organizations across the globe have likewise taken similar steps, such as reducing or completely removing support and administrative positions, consolidating territories, slashing field positions, decreasing sales bonuses and incentives, and cutting back on recognition programs. Each of these actions requires a sales manager who can effectively make allocation decisions, including staffing, for maximum return, while simultaneously keeping sales force morale up.
Managing more channels to market. Sales managers, unlike their predecessors of generations past, may be responsible for managing a mixture of avenues to market, each with its own unique nuances and each presenting distinct challenges unto themselves. The presence of multiple channels also increases the potential for conflict, reinforcing the need for sales managers to be both proficient at tailoring strategies for unique channel points and to possess strong conflict resolution skills.
Improvements in sales force technology. Technological advancement, like a double-edged sword, presents the sales organization with opportunities and challenges. For the sales manager, sales force automation (SFA) systems can provide a host of valuable and insightful information for tracking team performance, managing resources, and quickly identifying gaps. For optimal success to be achieved, however, the sales manager must have field representatives and others keeping critical information up-to-date and accurate. Moreover, they must facilitate an environment that secures the complete buy-in for these tools and their maintenance from field associates. Without frontline acceptance, the outputs of these tools are meaningless.