The Seven Deadly Sins of Sales Management
Written by John R. Treace
I have been part of many business turnarounds in my career, and in all situations I have noted the errors consistently made by sales management, all of which negatively impact team morale and sales. Here are seven of the deadly sins of sales management.
1. Conflicts with Marketing
We have all heard of the traditional conflict between sales and marketing. The sales team says the product is priced too high or not what the customer wants, or that the marketing programs are ineffective. Marketing may say the sales force is not well trained, too small, ineffective, or a myriad of other complaints. Sometimes these are valid complaints, and good management will identify and address them. But if they aren’t valid, or if they are merely excuses for poor performance, it is imperative that management recognize this situation. There is nothing worse than having the sales and marketing departments at each other’s throats. This is a formula for business failure, and powerful management will work to create collaboration and understanding between the two groups.
I was once employed to affect a business turnaround in an organization that had conflicted sales and marketing departments. Since the overall corporate sales results were lacking, both groups blamed the other for the failure. Prior management was unable to fix the situation, and the blame game expanded to serious interdepartmental conflict. To overcome this situation, we employed a consultant skilled in strategic planning processes and team-building. We conducted a two-day offsite meeting designed to bring the sales and marketing groups together and show them they must function as a team for success. As a result, the relationship evolved so that if marketing was late introducing a new product, sales management would pick up the slack with promotions on existing products. Conversely, if sales anticipated a tough quarter, marketing would work to release a new product ahead of schedule. Teamwork between sales and marketing isn’t a “sometimes” thing; it is critical to the success of a high-velocity organization.
2. Poor People Management
Powerful investment groups don’t invest in companies; they invest in people. People are the most important ingredient in any organization. At the heart of high-performance organizations is management that obtains the willing cooperation of others to achieve its goals. To gain the willing cooperation of others, employees must see that management genuinely cares about them, that they can trust management’s word, and that management focuses on distinction in all aspect of the business.
I once worked for a company whose upper management failed in all those respects. At this company, management continually changed policies, to the point that the sales team no longer trusted its leadership. Sales reps came late to meetings and were unprepared. In short, the message management sent to the sales force was that they didn’t care, were not to be trusted, and were not committed to building a powerful business. This company had a continual revolving door of salespeople, and it eventually failed.
Another common mistake is not acting on low performers fast enough. In every failed business I have worked with, I have found a number of salespeople who should have been moved to another position. You do no favors by keeping a failing employee around unless you are confident a correction can be effective. One word of caution, though: most failing businesses do not have metrics that effectively judge individual sales performance, so care should be taken when identifying low and high performers. Another error—the reverse of too few terminations—is aggressive termination. To avoid both extremes, remember that it isn’t who you fire that counts but who you hire. The proper hire will not need to be terminated. Always look for a track record of success in candidates. Hiring the proper people and creating a culture of mutual trust is a vital component of good people management.
3. Not Holding People Accountable
Holding people accountable for their performance is a cornerstone of powerful organizations, but you would be surprised at the number of companies that don’t consistently do this. This is especially true during trying times, when management is inclined to lighten up on performance standards. During a downturn, it is better to reduce quota requirements than look the other way on non-performance. When we don’t consistently hold people accountable for their performance shortfalls, it sends a message that management is weak and not confident in the goals it sets. This will erode morale as well as confidence in management.
4. Poor Award Programs
Award programs need to be seen as achievable and fair. Reps need to see that the playing field is level and that everyone has a shot at winning recognition. It is amazing how many companies have award programs that are slanted in favor of a few preferred individuals. This sends a morale-damaging message to all reps, including the favored ones: that some are valued over others.
5. Changes to the Sales Process
The sales process includes all the steps and procedures a company puts in place on its way to having the product delivered and invoiced. When the sales process is changed or modified, expect the sales force to need time to adjust. For example, the sales team might be required to fill out new reports or obtain price quotes from the corporate office, even if they previously had the freedom to do this themselves. During a period of adjustment to a new process, expect sales to be impacted. When the sales process is changed, all of management should expect sales as well as sales forecasting to be affected and in a direct proportion to the degree and type of change, at least for the short term.
Additionally, sales reps generally dislike change. They don’t want to spend time learning a new process; they realize that learning the new system will detract from their current efforts. If they see the change as inhibiting their sales, this will impact morale—especially if the change is a non-sales requirement. If you are faced with needing to modify the sale process, quantify the amount of time the average rep will need to spend on the new non-sales activity, calibrate this lost selling time to lost sales, and advise senior management on the anticipated impact. All management needs to be aware that changing the sales process will affect sales.
6. Poor Metrics
Metrics are the numbers that tell us where we have been and where we are headed. They should act as the radar that lets us know well in advance of impending problems. A large number of sales management teams get into trouble due to ineffective metrics—or in extreme cases I’ve seen, no metrics at all. Usually, when we find poor metrics, it is because sales management doesn’t appreciate their value or does not know the business well enough to develop them. Good metrics should allow sales management to confidently predict the quarter’s sales, identify high- and low-performing reps, and develop solutions to problems. In today’s high-velocity markets, it is imperative to have a solid dashboard of metrics to guide the sales ship and keep it out of trouble.
7. Lack of Deep Understanding of the Business
Failing to know the business at a deep level is one of the surest paths to failure. This has been a prime issue in every struggling business I have worked with. Management that does not know the business at the customer, product, or service level will have difficulty identifying solutions to problems and will lack confidence in the directions they take. At one company where I worked as a sales rep, our regional sales managers were unable to make any presentations to customers, and they didn’t bring any value to the sales process. At another, they were able to present products to customers better than most of the reps. The company with management that had a better understanding of the customer and products was much more powerful. The sales force could not use excuses for poor sales, and conversely, management understood the valid problems the sales force faced and worked to correct them without blame. The sales force was confident with this management group, but not the other. When sales are going well, the lack of deep business understanding usually does not appear as a problem, but when business is challenged by sagging sales, it is. These are the times when a thorough understanding of the company’s customers, products and services, and sales process is critical. Without it, sales reps cannot be confident in the course taken by management.
Changes in the sales process, poor metrics and award programs, ineffective management, conflicts with marketing, and a lack of business understanding are all deadly to the performance of business. In today’s tough business climate, wise management will review these topics frequently to ensure excellence in their organizations.
About the Author: John R. Treace has over 30 years experience as a sales executive in the medical products industry. In 2010, he founded JR Treace & Associates, a sales management consulting business. He is a member of the National Speakers Association and earned a BS in Psychology from the University of Memphis.
Treace is the author of the new book, Nuts & Bolts of Sales Management: How to Build a High-Velocity Sales Organization. For more information, please visit www.treaceconsulting.com.
Six issues at the top of tax and finance leaders’ agenda
New Deloitte research reveals that tax leaders are under increasing pressure to add strategic value as companies accelerate business model transformation, from undergoing digital transformations to rethinking their supply chains or investing in green initiatives.
According to Phil Mills, Deloitte Global Tax & Legal Leader, to “truly deliver value to the business, the tax function needs to rethink its resourcing model and transform its technology infrastructure to create capacity and control costs”.
And the good news, according to Mills, is that tax and business leaders have more options at their disposal to achieve this.
Reflecting the insights of global tax and finance executives at global companies, Deloitte’s Tax Operations in Focus study reveals the six issues at the top of tax and finance leaders’ agenda.
Trend 1: Businesses seek more strategic counsel from tax
Companies are being pushed to develop new digital products and distribution channels and accelerate sustainable transformation and this is taking them into uncharted tax territory. Tax leaders say their teams must have the resources and skills to give deeper advisory support on digital business models (65%), supply chain restructuring (49%) and sustainability (48%) over the next two years. This means redrawing the boundaries of what tax professionals focus on, and accelerating adoption of advanced technologies and lower-cost resourcing models to meet compliance requirements and free up time.
According to Joanne Walker, Group Tax Director, BT Group PLC, "There’s still a heavy compliance load today, but the vision for the future would be that much of that falls away, and tax people become subject matter experts who help program the machine, ensure quality control, and redirect their time to advisory activity.”
Trend 2: Tipping point for resourcing models
Business partnering demands in the tax department are on the rise, but 93% of tax leaders say their department’s budget is remaining flat or falling. To ensure that the tax function can redefine itself as a strategic function at the pace that is required, leaders are choosing to move increasing amounts of compliance and reporting to a combination of shared service centers, finance departments, and outsourcing providers that have invested in best-in-class technology.
Trend 3: Digital tax administration is moving faster than expected
in addition to the rising focus of the corporate tax department partnering with their business counterparts, transformative changes to the way companies share tax information with revenue authorities is also creating an imperative to modernize operations at a faster pace. Nine in 10 (92%) respondents say that shifting revenue authority demands on digital tax administration will have a moderate or high impact on tax operations and resources over the next five years—and several heads of tax said the trend is moving faster than expected.
"It’s really stepped up in the last couple of years," says Anna Elphick, VP Tax, Unilever. "Tax authorities don't just want a faster turnaround for compliance but access into a company’s systems. It's not unreasonable to think that in a much shorter time than we expect, compliance will be about companies reviewing a return that's been drafted by the tax authorities."
Trend 4: Data simplification and lower-cost resourcing are top priorities
Tax leaders said that simplifying data management (53%) and moving to lower-cost resourcing models (51%) must be prioritized if tax is to become more proactive at delivering strategic insights to the business. Many tax teams are ensuring that they have a seat at the table as ERP systems are overhauled, which is paying dividends: 56% of those that have introduced NextGen ERP systems are now highly effective at supporting the business with scenario-modeling insights. Only 35% of those with moderate to low use of NextGen ERP systems said the same.
At Stryker, “we automated the source P&L process for transfer pricing which took a huge burden off of the divisions," says David Furgason, Vice President Tax. "Then we created a transfer price database to deposit and retrieve data so we have limited impact on the divisions. We are moving to a single ERP platform which will help us make take the next step with robotics.”
Trend 5: Skillsets are shifting
Embedding a new data infrastructure and redesigning processes are critical for the future tax vision. Tax leaders are aligned — data skills (45%) and technology process experience (43%) are ‘must have’ skills in a tax department of the future, but more traditional tax specialist knowledge also remains key (40%). The trick to success will be in tax leaders facilitating the way these professionals, with their different backgrounds, can work together collectively to unlock lasting value.
Take Infineon Technologies, which formed a VAT technology and governance group "that has the right knowledge about how to change the system to ensure it generates the right reports", according to Matthias Schubert, Global Head of Tax. "Involving them early was key as we took a greenfield approach, so we could think about what the optimal processes would look like and how more intelligent systems could make an impact
Trend 6: 2020 brought productivity improvements
Improved productivity (50%) and accelerating shifts to remote working (48%) were cited as the biggest operational benefits to emerge from COVID-19-driven disruption. But, as 78% of leaders now plan to embed either hybrid or fully remote models in the tax function long term, 34% say maintaining productivity benefits is a top concern. And, as leaders think about building their talent pipeline and strengthening advisory skill sets, 47% say they must prioritize new approaches to talent recognition and career development over the next two years, while 36% say new processes for involving tax in business strategy decisions must be established.