Sales Managers: Is the Deck Stacked Against You?

Without process and guidance, the journey for new salespeople can be slow and painful.

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When it comes to who trains new salespeople, the high rollers in Vegas would confidently bet on the sales manager. The whole thing makes lots of sense since sales managers are the muscled professional athletes of the selling world. They are the kind of folks who know every selling trick in the book and have invented some new secret tricks along the way. What’s more, nobody has a better handle on the ebb and flow of customer behavior or the nuances of product applications like a seasoned sales manager. They are a mighty force.

All of this makes sense on the surface; however, it rarely works this way when it comes to training new sellers. My research into new distributor salespeople proves that sales managers rarely do a thorough job training the rookies. When training exists at all, it is very similar to training one received in the 1980s: a little time in the warehouse, a week or two with inside sales, a couple of days shadowing an experienced seller, and then turned loose in the territory with high expectations.

Armed with a hand-me-down company car, new sellers are instructed to meet new customers, make 12-15 calls, and set up demonstrations. After flopping around for a few weeks, they meet up with their manager to report their underwhelming results. The sales manager struggles to offer something positive in the results, tosses out a few suggestions, and instructs the new sales guy to persist with, “Keep pushing and things will come together.”

Sales managers face systemic challenges that can be difficult to overcome. These challenges are often linked to the fundamental differences in the people that sales managers work with daily, complicated by the time lapse since the manager first started their sales career.

One critical activity for sellers is setting appointments with new customers. Of the new sellers involved in our research, setting a first-time appointment was the single most daunting task, something most sales managers rarely face regularly.

Experienced salespeople and their managers rarely struggle with scheduling meetings. Existing customers are already familiar with the organization and understand the potential value of a meeting. Sales managers typically focus on important existing and high-potential customers, relying on established contacts and long-term relationships to open doors. A new salesperson lacks the title and connections to make the process smoother.

The appointment process for sales managers has drastically changed in the post-COVID era, compared to 10-15 years ago. Gone are the customer receptionists who, while serving as gatekeepers, provided at least some feedback and/or help to a new seller.

Voicemail etiquette, too, has changed. Thanks to the relentless flow of calls from strangers selling insurance, school debt forgiveness and medications, it has become acceptable to ignore phone calls. Many now instruct callers NOT to leave a voicemail and to text the information instead. It’s less intimidating, but it’s not always easy to get your point across in a single text.

Customer contacts live in a lean environment where time comes at a premium. With more customers using flex-time options, appointment-setting is more complicated. Our research indicates it may take up to seven tries to reach a potential customer. Even then, the deck is stacked against them.

Research carried out by Forrester in 2017 points to customers pushing back against sales visits unless they see an actual value in the visit. Value is defined by the customer as providing a service, such as solving a delivery issue, negotiating a better price or assisting in the selection of a complex product for a special application. Realistically, new sellers need more experience to easily navigate these situations.

It takes a long time to graduate from the school of hard knocks. A persistent seller will eventually make inroads; however, without process and guidance, the journey will be slow and painful. It is quite common for the salesperson to both develop bad habits and never quite learn some of the skills required to reach their potential. Sadly, our direct work with new sellers reveals some will reach a point of frustration where they decide to pursue different career paths, leaving their employer back at the starting line. The school of hard knocks comes with a high tuition.

For distributors, the cost of adding a new salesperson is massive. According to the 2013 study by noted distribution consultant Brent Grover, the average cost of bringing on a new distributor salesperson exceeded $150,000. Based on inflation and the massive rise in people costs, that is at least $200,000 in today’s dollars. Accelerating the process from newbie to sales profit generator can greatly impact the cost of expansion.

Facing these realities, I launched into what I called The New Sales Guy Project. Over four years, I spoke to, coached and/or mentored over 200 folks who had one thing in common — less than one year in a selling role in a knowledge-based industry. During this project, I searched for sales books to recommend … unsuccessfully.

Most sales books focus on transactional selling, which refers to sales as a one-time event like real estate or consumer goods. However, our kind of selling is an ongoing relationship with the customer. Building trust is crucial. Not getting an order right away but working toward strengthening the relationship with the customer can be more beneficial in the long run. Books written for our type of sales activities are developed for experienced salespeople. There is nothing for the neophyte salesperson.

I began to understand the key issues faced by new salespeople and worked with them to develop effective processes to aid in their development. The result was a practical system for moving from a new seller to a profit generator.

The Answer: The New Sales Guy Project

My experience with new sellers inspired “The New Sales Guy Project” book, which takes fresh sellers through the process of gaining traction in their sales careers. This unique approach is not a quick read full of sales gimmicks. It is more of an easy-to-follow guided workbook covering how to gather and organize the right information to be successful, learn about thousands of new products, what to say in a first-time sales call, and a process for getting more appointments.

Feedback from our beta testers and their sales managers indicates actively doing the book’s exercises over 8-10 weeks gave them the knowledge that takes most new sellers at least a year to obtain.

Think about it. Less time to reach profit generation, less cash outlay by the distributor, less frustration for the new seller. It’s a win-win-win. And available on Amazon.

Frank Hurtte is an industry veteran with over four decades of experience in the world of knowledge-based distributors. During this time, he was recognized for his work at the leading North American automation supplier, his leadership at one of the fastest-growing regional distributors, and his efforts as president of the Association for High Technology Distribution. With a passion for nurturing new talent and a dedication to redefining sales success, Hurtte is on a mission to equip the next generation of sales professionals with the tools they need to excel in a rapidly changing world. He can be reached at [email protected].

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