Positioned at the crossroads of upper management, the sales force, and external customers, the role of a sales manager is as much about balancing priorities as it is driving productivity. As Jeff Goldberg, a longtime sales manager, notes “Time is taken up with “stuff”…endless meetings, reports, etc.”
As a result, making decisions about where to focus time and energy, amidst a constant bevy of pings, can be daunting at best and downright depleting at worst.
But new research published in a 2012 edition of Industrial Marketing Management on sales manager effectiveness may give those struggling with balancing the “stuff” some insight into the activities that most impact results. Spoiler alert: “endless meetings” aren’t on the list. According to the data, sales managers are most effective when they:
1. Build Close Relationships with Salespeople
The study reports that sales managers who build genuine relationships with their salespeople “cascade to an important outcome, salesperson commitment…the importance of this cannot be overstated, especially given that commitment reduces turnover (thereby lowering numerous types of disruption costs), improves work behaviors, and enhances performance.” Reps who develop close working relationships with their supervisors often perceive them to be more capable, reliable, easily approachable, and attentive to their needs.
Simply put: Employee engagement is key to reducing salesforce turnover. Recent research from Gallup also confirms these findings, revealing that companies with highly engaged employees are 21% more productive and 22% more profitable than those with “disengaged” workers.
John DiPietro, a salesman turned consultant, reflects on employee commitment from the salesperson perspective: “[a sales manager] interest in the rep makes the rep want to work harder for them…having a run of 15 consecutive years as the top producer in my company, I can tell you the relationship between sales manager and top sales people is vital.”
2. Emphasize Customer Relationship Building
The study also reveals that sales managers can impact the bottom line by working with their reps to deepen client relationships. While yesterday’s sales organization could arm itself with superior product knowledge, today’s salespeople must be able to show buyers that they understand their specific pain points — better yet, that they relate to them.
The authors conclude that “emphasis on salespeople’s customer relationship quality is positively related to sales manager effectiveness…sales managers will realize a positive effect of emphasizing the quality of a salesperson’s relations with customers.”
“I recall one manager who said to me, ‘What do we need to do to keep this client happy?” said DiPietro. “…the good sales managers go to the place of business of the client and meet them and thank them for their business, face to face.”
Bob McIntyre, a career information technology salesperson and owner of RM Data, also validates the research and believes his first sales manager illustrates the study results perfectly: “My first sales manager had an uncanny way of helping me…if a deal was worth winning, we’d figure out a way to do so. Between the two of us, I was able to hit 240% of my quota.”