The job of the first-line sales managers is one of the hardest, so I sympathize. They must manage up and down the organizational ladder while being accountable for a revenue number. They must know their customers as well or better than they know themselves. They must facilitate the sales process to make it easier for the sales team to sell and easier for customers to buy. And they need to spend time coaching you and your team to ensure you are forecasting accurately and improving your close rates. But over and over again, sales pipelines end up becoming “pipe dreams.” The reason, in many cases, is linked to the sales manager.
Many times, I’ll talk to each member of a sales team to gain an understanding of the sales manager’s role in helping their sales people qualify deals. In many cases, qualification is left up to the sales person. The sales manager may go in towards the end of the sales cycle to shake hands with the customer, ask some questions and handle final objections. But is that the right time for the sales manager to engage with the customer?
The sales manager should get involved early especially in large, complex deals. It’s early in the deal that executives on the customer side are engaged since they want to ensure a successful business outcome within a timeframe that is meaningful to them. Executives will share more about their needs and priorities before handing the project over to a project team. Therefore, the job of the sales manager is to begin establishing a relationship early on. Nothing is more important than listening to what the customer is trying to accomplish and by when. They can tell you all kinds of details, if you ask the right questions, when they are engaged.
Executives are typically involved in sales cycles early and later in the buying process. And sometimes they’re involved throughout, but that is not as typical for complex deals. Sales managers that only get involved late in the sales cycle may not have an opportunity to establish the right types of relationships. As a result, you may not be close enough to the customer to be able to ask the tough questions and truly understand where the buyer is in their buying process. This is critical to helping you forecast accurately since without this knowledge, you’ll be forecasting from your point of view and not the customer’s.
Is it not your sales manager’s job to ensure your pipeline is real? Are they taking the information you give at face value, and then validating it later in the sales cycle?
One of my sales VPs helped me learn about this first hand. If I was able to get him involved early in a deal to talk to executives, my percentage to close increased exponentially. When things were going sideways or getting too quiet for my taste, he would pick up the phone or visit the executives to get the real picture. From there, we were able to either get back on track and proceed, or know we were nowhere close to being selected.
Where is YOUR sales manager? Are they getting involved early in your deals? Or are they coming in at the eleventh hour?
Janice Mars, principal and founder of SalesLatitude, is a senior business and sales executive with more than 30 years of experience helping companies build successful sales teams. She has parlayed that experience to help her clients to improve their sales processes, accurately forecast revenues, ensure focus on winnable opportunities, and attain consistent results. View my LinkedIn profile | Twitter