How Sales People WANT To Be Managed...And How They SHOULD Be Managed

During my work with clients, I’m often asked to interview their sales people as part of my sales team due diligence. One of the questions that I always ask is their desired management style from the company. The response I hear most frequently? “I want to be treated as if I were running my own business.” On the surface, this should be music to the executive team’s ears. The truth of the matter is that it is actually cause for alarm.

When sales people say they want to be treated as business operators, they mean it. Yet, their perception of running a business is not consistent with reality. They are saying they want complete autonomy to do whatever they want to do, whenever they want to do it. The French expression laissez-faire describes what they really desire…hands-off management. And that’s not how successful businesses operate.

Anyone who has ever operated a business knows that running a business does not include the right to follow the path of the wind. If you operate a publicly-traded company, you have responsibility to the Chairman, the Board of Directors, and the shareholders. If you run a privately-held company, you have accountability to the bank or partners. In both instances, you also have responsibility to the employees. This doesn’t quite sound like laissez faire and running a successful business are compatible.

That said, you should treat your sales people as business operators…real business operators. After all, your company is funding their business. Your sales people have an obligation to present their plan to make that business profitable. In essence, you are the primary investor in their business.

The first step toward treating your sales people as business operators is to ask them to provide you with a business plan that shows how they will make their business successful. The plan should not be the second-coming of “War and Peace,” but should be thorough-enough to give the investors comfort in the plans for success.

If you provide the sales team with nothing more than the instruction to write a business plan, they will waste a lot of time trying to figure out what you want…and will still miss the mark. The best approach is to create a sales business plan template using the questions the investors have about their business strategy. The overall plan should “map back” to the revenue target you have set for the sales people. If you are asking them to generate a million dollars in revenue, the plans should clearly show how they going to achieve that target.

The plan should have five core components:

Accounts. The accounts section is the place in the plan to list clients/prospects and their expected revenue contribution toward the million dollar target. If the sales person’s target includes both existing accounts and new ones, this section of the plan forecasts the expected performance of their portfolio and documents the new accounts that lead them to the target revenue number.

Prospecting. The prospecting section shows their plan to build a sales pipeline. If there are no prospects, there are no sales…so understanding their strategy to reach prospects is a key for the investors to sleep at night. This area should highlight both their pipeline development strategy and tactics.

Sales Metrics. The sales metrics section shows how their activities correspond to results (i.e., revenue). This is a statistical presentation of the sales activities that they will perform that leads them to achieve the million dollar goal. This should show their success formula that works backwards from the goal and corresponds to sales activities (i.e., how many meetings will lead to a proposal, how many proposals will lead to a sale, etc.).

Skill Development. This is area is often ignored by sales people, but should be important to the investor group. After all, if there is no commitment to continuous self-improvement, how will the business continue to grow? The plan should show what they will do to improve their skills and industry knowledge…with a time commitment.

Business Needs. The final section of the sales business plan asks what the sales people need from the company to succeed. This area of the plan provides each business operator with an opportunity to share his needs of their manager and the company. It also tells what would prevent him from achieving the million dollar goal. As an investor, you want to know about his potential roadblocks so they can be addressed.

Once the plan is created, a conference call/meeting is scheduled with the investor group (the key business stakeholders) and each sales person. During the call, the sales person presents the sales business plan and the investor group challenges it to make sure it is sound. On a quarterly basis, the sales people present an update to the plan to ensure progress is being made toward the annual million dollar goal.