Optimize Your Sales Management Team to Drive Growth in Times of Change

Published in Member Communities on December 06, 2022

Todd Walling

By Todd Walling, SVP of Sales, Permobil Americas

One of the most important positions in our company is our field sales managers. They are the eyes and the ears of the company. They help spot issues, uncover new opportunities, report on industry trends, handle complaints before they get out of control, and provide daily support to our sales representatives across the country.

As you continue to look toward 2023, consider this perspective when developing a plan to optimize your sales management team. By taking an honest look at your team and process, you start to see the growth opportunities that exist, even in times of change.

Frontline Sales Leadership Is Not Just Middle Management

Boston Consulting Group1 (BCG) states:

[Frontline sales managers] are the primary face of leadership for the majority of the workforce. As a result, they have a tremendous impact on productivity, employee engagement, attrition, and customer satisfaction. Moreover, frontline managers serve as a talent pipeline for senior leadership roles in the company.

This is true in our business, especially as we continue to grow thanks to acquisitions, new team members, updating systems and processes, and gaining new customers. We needed to optimize our sales management team to effectively manage the business during this continued growth.

Eight years ago, we created small teams of six to eight people divided up among 12 areas of the country. We then appointed a “working sales manager” who had a smaller territory as a sales representative but who would also lead a team of sales reps. We called them area sales managers (ASMs).

This was great at first, because the business at the time was less complex, and we hadn’t expanded outside of mobility products. Companies may prefer this approach since there are cost savings from not having middle management, but we realized this was not sustainable as we continued to grow. 

Overload

Over time, those teams naturally grew in the number of sales reps, along with more product lines and customers to support. We started to see many of these ASMs overloaded. Based on the size of their team, some managers started to focus on either the top or bottom sales reps. They weren’t spending time developing underperformers or new employees. We knew this wasn’t in the best interest of the company’s long-term strategy.

Transition Individual Contributors Into Team Builders 

A few years after we implemented this new sales leadership structure, we made a couple of these ASMs full-time sales managers, transferring their accounts over to existing or new sales reps. We started to monitor their performance and quickly realized they were able to lead their teams more effectively without juggling their own individual sales territories as well.

These managers were able to spend more time onboarding new sales reps, building relationships with their customer counterparts, focusing sales reps on the correct sales activities, creating territory-level business plans, and driving the company strategy through key initiatives. 

Improvement

Strong sales performance was the proof we needed to make this change for all ASMs, and we have seen an immediate improvement to rep development along with improved customer relationships. We ask our sales team to treat their territory as their own Permobil franchise, and it’s no different for our sales managers. When they run it as their own and it grows, the team gains confidence in their leader which helps secure trust and buy-in to their sales strategy.

Empower Your Sales Management Team

Simply changing our sales managers to full-time directors of sales wasn’t all we needed to do to be fully optimized. We had to be faster and better at decision making. McKinsey & Company conducted a survey with more than 1,200 managers across a range of global companies. The survey stated:

[Respondents] gave strong signs of growing levels of frustration with broken decision-making processes, with the slow pace of decision-making deliberations, and with the uneven quality of decision-making outcomes. Fewer than half of the survey respondents say that decisions are timely, and 61% say that at least half the time spent making them is ineffective.”

Survey

Many of our managers complained we were too slow in some of our decision making or felt they were not empowered to make quick decisions to close a sale or “put out a fire.” As McKinsey & Company’s article, “Three Keys to Faster, Better Decisions” points out:

Delegated decisions are generally far narrower in scope than big-bet decisions or cross cutting ones. They are frequent and relatively routine elements of day-today management. But given the multiplier effect, there is a lot of value at stake here, and when the organization’s approach is flawed, it’s costly. In our experience, ensuring that responsibility for delegated decisions is firmly in the hands of those closest to the work typically delivers faster, better, and more efficiently executed outcomes, while also enhancing engagement and accountability. 

Delegated Decisions

We agreed with this approach and provided our new directors of sales the authority to make quick decisions on various low-risk, day-to-day activities to keep the business moving. This resulted in improved customer satisfaction, because we were making it easier for our customers to do business with us. It also provided some relief for our internal support teams since we were handling these issues or tasks in the field. 

Data Is Power

Leadership Development

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VGM Playbook Business Planning and LeadershipThis article was originally featured in the VGM Playbook: Business Planning and Leadership. To read the full article and more like this, download your copy of the playbook today

References 

  1. Bhalla V, Lovich D, Caye JM, et al. “How Frontline Leaders Can Deliver Breakout Performance.” Boston Consulting Group. November 21, 2016. https://www.bcg.com/publications/2016/peopleorganization-how-frontline-leaders-can-deliverbreakout-performance
    2. De Smet A, Jost G, Weiss L. “Three keys to faster, better decisions.” McKinsey & Company. May 1, 2019. https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/people-and-organizationalperformance/our-insights/three-keys-to-fasterbetter-decisions

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