DOES A GOOD SOLDIER MAKE A GREAT GENERAL?

A lot of people think they do!

At least, among many of the MSMEs I have worked with and dealt. And that leads us to a fatal flaw in so many entrepreneurs who seem to think that there are certain areas of business which require very little thought.

The same man who works into the late hours of the night trying to fix some technical problem or sits long hours with his accountant figuring out some tax issue, seems to find staffing a no-brainer. There are some standard slots requiring to be filled. Get hold of the person who hold some qualification or who has some experience in the field. That’s it. That’s it?  The harm that a thoughtless approach to recruitment does is no doubt universal but here I would like to particularly deal with the induction of a Sales Manager.

Doer v/s Manager

In law there is an often-used term “application of mind”. That is something we often fail to do with near-tragic consequences in business. The result is that our entrepreneur often confuses “managing” with “doing”.

The consequence is that we automatically, almost without thought, promote a “doer” into a “manager”. In the sales function, this can often be the difference between success and failure. The result is that we lose a successful sales person and get a bad manager.

Managing Sales is not the same as selling! Simple, isn’t it? But it is not so simple, if you simply go by the numbers of people who get it muddled.

The consequences of being muddled

It is a common recruitment tactic to head-hunt a competitor’s best sales person by offering to promote him as a sales head. It seems to be an easy way to attract talent and practical way to grow our own business.

How often has this worked for you?

Many entrepreneurs have realized that this does not always work as planned. It is the same story when we promote internally. We find a happy, successful sales person transforming in front of our eyes into a tense manager. He no longer gets the support of his erstwhile colleagues and is nervous when taking tough decisions.

Where does that leave you?

He rarely has answers to your questions and is unable to implement your plans. He hates to manage customers who he does not know and avoids dealing with operations. He loses his sharp ability to win deals, and youngsters do not grow under his tutelage.

You expected the sales manager to release your time and take over many of the tasks you did. You do give him the time and space. But your work has not reduced…. in fact, you have more challenges on your plate. Customers and internal teams continue to come to you and you are busy playing a broker’s role in meetings. Does this ring a bell? Where did we go wrong?

Let’s take a step back. Can a good soldier automatically make a good general? Does bravery on the battlefield translate automatically into brilliant off-field strategy? Reversing the thought, does a good driver need to know how to build a car? A driver needs clarity on where to head, how to drive the vehicle and how to get the best out of the car. But a great coach need not be a star player himself… but he must be a good student of the game and know how to get the best out of his players.

The set of qualities needed is very distinct and different for each role.

Getting the right man

Yet, when we seek a sales manager, we check his sales achievements and sales track record.

Are we evaluating the past or the future? Are we matching the necessary characteristics and right job description? Does the sales job train a sales person to be a manager?

The number of people who get this wrong is not funny. In many MSMEs a good sales head is more by accident, rather than a norm. To add to the woes, sales managers are groomed by the Owners, who expect them to think and work like themselves.

Here we come to a slightly bitter and, therefore, not palatable truth, Owners are not great role models for managers, just as much as all sales persons are not made to be good managers.

Who can be a Sales Manager?

It is critical to respect and recognize the role of a “Sales Manager” who is neither like a “Biz Owner” or like a “Sales Person.” It is a role in itself, with very different competencies and capabilities. His function when well-performed is the magic glue that can build a strong sales structure if managed well.

Let’s understand the different functions that are involved in completing a sale i.e. translating a market opportunity into an order-win with the right terms.

There are broadly three distinct functions, which are often misunderstood or mixed-up. These are Marketing, Product Management and Sales.

Marketing finds qualified prospects for Sales to convert to clients, while Product Management ensures that the products align with market demands to support Sales derive the right value. The third piece of the puzzle is sales management, which bridges the gap between the other two and ensures that the Sales teams meet their targets productively.

Playing the role

Hence, apart from team management skills, Sales Management has a clear role and needs distinct competence. Sales Management ensures that sales teams focus on what they do the best and that the rest of the functions align their priorities with the customer needs.

Quite obviously, managing sales teams, reviewing them and motivating them is a managerial responsibility. However, there is an often-missed role of planning in Sales Management.

This requires an alignment of sales goals and metrics with the company goals and policies. Quite often sales targets are made once a year and then forgotten. However, we all know that markets change, internal challenges surface, new opportunities are discovered and so much more. We need a way to keep the sales team working to real targets.

Practically, this means an ongoing balance of priorities and decisions. Sales teams need to be buffered from internal challenges to improve their productivity. Sales Management can bring transparency and build trust with marketing and product management.

Getting back to driving cars, pressing the clutch is what makes the gears work in sync with the engine. Sales Management does exactly that role. Can we now build a good job description or think of who in your organization is best suited to do this job?

Author: Ramas Krishnan

Ramas Krishnan is an original management thinker who heads Aspire Infinite, a consulting firm based in Mumbai and The Alternative Board, India, a peer advisory board, which works exclusively with Owner Managed Businesses in 18 countries across the world (ramas@aspireinfinite.com)

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