Between the two of us, my partner and I have over a half century of successful sales experience. Sometimes we were successful by simply being in the right place and time with the right product or service. Sometime we were blessed to be coached by some remarkable sales managers as we learned and perfected the profession. Other times, however, we succeeded in spite of our supervising managers.
Furthermore, during the course of our consulting practice in dealing with companies grappling with sales issues in Korea, Japan and elsewhere, we have encounter sales professionals struggling with challenges, both large and small, in a wide array of industries.
Frequently we hear sales managers grousing about salespeoples’ attitudes. It often comes across as “what are we going to do with the other generation” – even if management and the sales force come from the same age group.
Salespeople tell jokes about sales managers as a way to vent their frustration of having to meet quotas or potentially finding themselves unemployed without being given much insight on how to sell, other than pitching the product/service’s features, functions & benefits. And many sales managers come across as if pricing & closing is all there is to selling beyond understanding the products/services' basic components.
The sorry fact is, more often than many companies care to recognize, the sales management is not of significant higher caliber than their subordinates. Often today’s sales managers were yesterday’s salespeople when their product was earlier in its life cycle or perhaps during booming economic times.
Thanks to hard work as well as once being at the right place at the right time, sales champs of yore are today's sales managers. And often these sales managers are pulling their hair out, since they do not know how to motivate and coach their sales forces to bring in the numbers.
As interested third parties, we often see sales managers being agitated by salespeople spending too much time in the office as week by week their sales patches slip behind from making sales quotas. We also see demoralized salespeople discouraged by poor results while attempting in good faith to do what they have been ordered.
The worst example we have encountered (and this is indeed extreme) was a retailer who responded to the lack of foot traffic by ordering his sales staff to telephone prior customers. Given the lack of customers at the counter, the rationale was that product stocking can only take so much time. So if the salespeople were being paid their hourly wages, they should encourage the customer base to return to the store. And to make things interesting, all the salespeople were given the very same lists of customers and phone numbers. The obvious happened. Not only did the tactic do little to bring in the customers, the redundant phone calls became major irritations of once happy customers.
Of course most managers and owners are not so foolish. But the salespeople in the above case were forced to do something that was obviously counterproductive if they wished to keep their jobs. The obvious question is what other counterproductive activities are other sales managers forcing their salespeople to conduct?
Often it is the salespeople who first discover the folly of a bad idea, since they are the first to apply the concept to reality. But when salespeople report the results, they are usually told they are not doing their jobs correctly or that they have bad attitudes.
Of course, in some cases, sales staff poor attitudes may be a major factor. But in many cases, the truly bad attitudes are held by the sales managers who believe they know better and their good ideas are just short of infallible – that is, until executive management tells them to knock it off. But until the cease and desist order comes from upstairs, many sales managers refuse to believe they are the cause of poor sales and are quick to blame their subordinates, if only to protect their own jobs.
First, let’s consider the following likely causes of poor sales.
- Mismatching of product/service with the prospective buyer
- Applying old strategies that were proven during different economic times
- Little or no sales training or poor sales training
- Subordinating training salespeople on how to meet the customers’ needs, as defined by the customers, to sales closing and negotiation technique
- Over-dependency on brand or company image to sustain sales during tough times
- “Managing results" rather than professionally coaching and leading the sales force
An internal or external consultant can help by objectively assessing the situation, both from within and from outside of the company, and may assist in forming remedial strategies, ranging from reassessment of marketing strategies to helping salespeople, including old timers, develop truly professional sales skills.
There are no quick and easy panaceas for these kinds of challenges. But when one hears complaints about “bad attitudes,” that may be a red flag for the company to slow down, to reassess, and to consider major corrective action.
Sean Hayes may be contacted at: SeanHayes@ipglegal.com.
Sean Hayes is co-chair of the Korea Practice Team at IPG Legal. He is the only non-Korean to have worked as an attorney for the Korean court system (Constitutional Court of Korea) and one of the first non-Koreans to be a regular member of a Korean law faculty.