Small Business Toolbox

Herding Cats: A handy guide to managing sales professionals


Managing sales professionals can feel like herding cats- a constant balancing act of patience and prodding, tolerance and coaching. There is much written about the importance of teams in the strategic sales process. It is equally important to recognize high performing sales professionals have distinct, strong characteristics best suited to do what they do-sell.

Many a sales manager understands this; distinguishing between acceptable nonconforming behaviors that would otherwise be unproductive in a more organized context in the organization can be a daily trial.

Rule No. 1: You may be better served to refer to managing the best sales professionals as ‘assisting’. Exerting too much control can squelch your ability to retain top sales professionals (and that ‘too’ is quite subjective depending on the sales professional).

Rule No. 2. Remember it is said, all behaviors serve a purpose. This may be helpful to remember in successfully identifying, training, and supporting sales professionals.

Keep in mind what each characteristic or behavior serves in the big picture-known as results. Balance that against potential nonconformity annoyances, before you move to curtail or corral it. Tightly organized internal and non-sales departments generally require conformity in social engagement, communication, and procedural adherence to obtain efficiency, effectiveness and peaceful coexistence. Sales departments are categorically classified as a department but better operate a little bit differently.

Here are some traits that make a sales department click:

Autonomy. High performing sales professionals have radar for what needs to be done and they do it-they don’t ask permission, they don’t tell others where they are or where they are going next. They do. They do it best alone. And they get it done well.

Innovativeness. A closed sale is their mission. The more efficient they are the more sales they close. They keenly scan the horizon; as new information is obtained or the environment shifts, they immediately adapt. They will skirt hindering internal bureaucracy in what they see as needless or cumbersome practices-and the whole organization ultimately wins, despite annoying rule followers and compliance driven team members.

A developer once told me the best way to lay out permanent walkways in a new development is to ignore the architect’s plans; delay putting them in until the residents start walking about—then put them where they would be used the most, using the natural pedestrian flow. If you want to know how to make your organization’s customer information flow faster, watch your sales people who are annoying the daylights out of others.

Goal perseverance. Sales professionals enjoy the process of spotting a potential sale, learning about the customer, then using persuasion and persistence to win them over. Dogmatic and tenacious are two other ways to describe this. These same behaviors are used on their managers and team members for other purposes-you’ll know it when you feel it.


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