How to Manage Your Sales Team: Don't Forget to Eat Your Own Dog Food


All the boxes are being checked. The whole team is making their calls. And the numbers are still flat. Now what?

Maybe it’s time to consider the unthinkable. Maybe it’s not them — it’s you.

Maybe your plan is stale. Maybe your market has changed. Maybe your pipeline needs a bit of rerouting.

It’s not enough to give your crew a list of tasks if those tasks don’t get results. So sales managers need to ensure the playbook their people are following is still getting the job done. As the old Microsoft mantra suggests, it’s time to eat more of your own dog food.

“There’s this communication gap that happens from the C level to the E level, from the E level down to the VP and SVP level, even down to the sales level,” said Dan Waldschmidt, managing partner of the consulting firm Waldschmidt Partners.

The “day-to-day drama” that a sales team grapples with can get lost in that gap, he said.

“You forget that those problems exist, and what happens is a lot of simmering discontent lingers that could be easily solved by someone who has their hands on,” Waldschmidt said.

It’s more than an academic debate. An out-of-touch sales manager pushing a team to meet out-of-date targets will soon be looking at shrinking numbers, said Greta Schulz, author of To Sell is Not to Sell.

A salesperson might be checking off all the boxes, but it’s up to the manager to make sure they’re getting results — to be a leader and a coach. Sometimes that means customizing the plans.

The personal touch

Each salesperson has different strengths and weaknesses. Some might be great at cold-calling on the phone, making 20 or more calls a day to land appointments. Others might get better results through networking, cultivating contacts who already have an in with a potential client or building relationships by being active in their communities.

“After 30 days, they sit down with that salesperson and say, ‘OK, where are you getting the most gas for your engine? What’s working for you? Were you getting appointments? Were you getting referrals?’” Schulz said. “Then they can say, ‘OK, if this is working better for you, let’s do more of that, and let’s do less of this.’”

The sale itself is a closing indicator, Waldschmidt said. Positive numbers may indicate a successful method — or just a lucky streak. A negative trend could point to the need for a change — or just a slowdown on the customer’s end. That’s where an engaged manager comes in.

“You can’t manage until you know. And the only way you know is not to take someone’s opinion for it, but to actually get in and read and listen,” Waldschmidt said.

“The difference between the guy who really hits it out of the park and the person who has the numbers, but no one can figure out what’s going wrong — we’ve all been in that scenario — is that qualitative approach,” he added. “And the only way you can get your hands around that is to listen in on the calls, hang around, see what’s going on.”

Stay casual, but engaged

Waldschmidt recommends a casual approach: Dress down; sit in on a call or two; keep up with the email; even walk the halls with a cup of coffee to pick up on the team’s vibe. The important thing is to stay engaged.

“You should take deliberate time to answer support emails,” he said. “Great leaders do that, from [Jeff] Bezos to Steve Jobs. They’re famous for getting those emails and then passing them on to the right person.”

Another way to get a reality check is to make sure salespeople know their next steps, Schulz said. That’s more than just follow-up calls, which Schulz said most would-be buyers dread. It means knowing the customer is prequalified, on the same page about prices and having a “clear next step.”

“A clear next step is very particular,” she said. “It’s a date and time and an agenda of what’s going to happen when they have their appointment.”

Failing to reach projections is the most obvious symptom of a problem, Schulz said, noting:  “You should be fairly close to your forecasts if you have a good handle on your salespeople.” But it’s not the only one.

“If you’re getting a lot of ‘They’re going to let me know’ or ‘I have to follow up,’ that’s a symptom. That means you’re not setting a clear and concise next step for a decision for something. All you’re doing is a lot of presentations and follow-up.”

Those specifics will give managers a better picture of where a potential deal really stands, and how likely it is to close. But it’s important to keep some distance. Schulz said sales managers should avoid the temptation to swoop in and close the deal, sticking instead to teaching and motivating their teams.

“They need to see others succeed and be behind them and not in front of them,” she said.