Deadly Sales Management Trend #5: The Sales Manager as a Firefighter

In this final installment of our five-part series about troublesome sales management trends, we look at the constant demand on a sales manager’s time. Sales managers are in demand by sales reps who want them to solve their problems. They’re in demand by their sales reps’ customers who want to shake hands with more senior folks. They’re in demand by sales leadership, which wants department forecasts updated. They’re even in demand by other parts of the organization that want access to their reps and data. Yes, sales managers are very much in demand.

Consequently, sales managers surrender control of their daily lives to others who demand their time – typically in a very urgent fashion. In fact, sales managers sometimes look like professional firefighters. From the beginning to the end of their day, they receive urgent alarms that they must quickly attend to for fear that the “flames” will spread and bring down their entire sales force. They’re simultaneously in search and rescue mode, trying to satisfy all of the incoming demands for their attention. “Phew, put out that fire. Yikes, there’s another one!”

The impact of these incessantly urgent demands is that sales managers don’t get around to the really important stuff. When we asks sales managers to report their biggest challenge, there’s one answer that always comes back: “I don’t have enough time.” And when we ask them what they’d do if they did have more time, their response is similarly predictable: “I’d spend more time with my reps, coaching them and helping them win more deals.” Our observation is that sales managers universally know what’s important. They just don’t have the time to do it.

Well, here’s a fact that we know with absolute certainty…there is no more time coming. An hour will never last 61 minutes, and a day will never contain 25 hours. You have what you have, and that’s it. So unless the demanding salespeople, customers, and others within your realm magically relent, the demands on your time will never cease. Ever. Therefore, you face a choice: either free up time to get to those critical tasks you’re ignoring, or acknowledge that the important stuff will NEVER get done.

This is why sales managers have to fight their instincts to put on their fire helmets and rush to the rescue. Sales managers shouldn’t be full-time problem solvers – they should be full-time managers and coaches. So immediately answering every phone call or responding to every e-mail shouldn’t be a time management strategy. One manager we spoke to recently came to this very realization. He said, “You know what… I never really thought of it, but I’ve let my sales reps control my calendar. No wonder I don’t have time to do what I need to do, I don’t have any time of my own.” Indeed! That’s what happens; good intentions often lead to unexpected bad consequences.

So part of our sales manager training agenda is to help sales managers establish a management ‘rhythm.’ We help them arrange their calendars so that there’s time set aside to do the important things. It doesn’t have to be a lot of time, but there has to be some. Time to meet with reps in a proactive way... Time to think…Time to plan… Time to do what sales managers need to do.

Counter-intuitively, managers often find that setting aside time on their calendar will miraculously free up more time. If your reps know that they have scheduled time with you, they tend to call and e-mail less often. They know they have an appointment coming up, so they make a list of things to talk about instead of making that call. But if they don’t have time set aside with you, then there’s no better time is than right now to interrupt you with a phone call.

So suspend disbelief. Give it a try. Silence the firetruck sirens and resist the urge to answer every phone call and respond to every e-mail. Set aside some time to do the things that you know are important – thinking, planning, managing, and coaching. Stop putting out fires and quit living your life on-demand.

Jason Jordan, one of the sales world's most prominent thought leaders, is now a Salesforce Sales Community contributor. This community is a new collaborative networking group for sales executives sharing best practices and innovations in sales leadership. We encourage all Salesforce customers to join Jason and other top sales thought leaders in the new Salesforce Sales Community.

About the Author

Jason Jordan is a founding partner of Vantage Point Performance, a global sales management training and development firm, and co-author of Cracking the Sales Management Code. Jordan is a recognized thought leader in the domain of business-to-business sales and teaches sales and sales management at the University of Virginia’s Darden Graduate School of Business. For more information, visit www.vantagepointperformance.com.

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