We all struggle occasionally to keep things in perspective. In particular, we start to take things around us for granted — things that are so embedded in our daily landscape that we stop recognizing them as being uniquely valuable. To combat this tendency, there’s a simple reality-checking exercise I use to put things back in perspective: I simply try to imagine my life without those specific items. For example:
- To my children, “You don’t want to take the time to brush your teeth? Just imagine your life without them.”
- Or to my friends, “You’re frustrated with your teenage kids right now? Just imagine your life without them.”
- Or to myself, “Your wife’s dog just dug holes all over the yard? Just imagine your life without that dog. (A pause, while that happy thought swirls in my head). Then you should also imagine yourself without your wife!” Alas, I need that dog.
To name another common example, consider your sales managers. You remember them. These were the rock star salespeople you showered with rewards and praise earlier in their careers. You invested heavily in their skills and enablement. They closed big deals and cashed big checks. Your head of sales and CEO knew their names (maybe even the names of their children and dogs). They ruled the world and walked with purpose, knowing their contributions to your company were substantial and appreciated. Then the inevitable happened…
One day a hole appeared in the middle of your sales force’s org chart. A new supervisor was needed, and the search was on for ‘management material.’ And it seemed kind of obvious – the best salespeople should surely make the best sales managers! Then with both a bang and a thud, your former sales force celebrities were promoted into the most anonymous role in any sales organizations. They became your frontline sales managers.
In fairness, there’s nothing wrong this this story so far. You took great salespeople and make them your sales managers. It makes sense. But if your sales force is like most, your managers now just kind of blend into the landscape. Your eyes are naturally drawn to the new generation of rock star salespeople, and your sales managers are that dependable layer of the sales organization that you don’t need worry about. They’re solid. You can safely (even if unintentionally) ignore them.
But consider for a moment just how important those frontline managers are to you. Imagine your life without them. Pretend for a moment that your entire team of frontline sales managers didn’t show up for work one day. Or the next, or the next. I predict that three things would happen to you, exactly in this order.
3 Things that Would Happen without Sales Managers
First, you would lose confidence in every piece of information coming from the field. Want a sales forecast you can put your faith in? Forget about it. Want to feel good about your company’s sales pipeline. Ain’t gonna happen. Want to know whether every piece of data in your CRM is accurate and up-to-date? Good luck with that. Generally speaking, you will enter into a panic that will compel you to dive deeply into the daily activities of your salespeople – effectively making you the direct supervisor of every seller in the field. Yeah, that’ll be fun.
Second, your salespeople’s behaviors will become increasingly erratic. Salespeople that once operated within an organizational rhythm will begin to relax the boundaries of disciplined execution. They’ll do the things that feel right to them individually, but the bigger picture will degrade from a crisp photograph of your go-to-market strategy into an impressionist painting of someone else’s. Your well-coordinated selling effort will transform into a collection of bespoke strategies and tactics. In some places you might actually see improvement, but systemically your sales force will begin to disintegrate.
And at some point in the not-so-distant future, your sales results will decline at an increasing and uncontrollable rate. As a former business mogul once said when asked how he lost his sizable fortune, “Slowly at first, and then all at once.” This is how your fortunes will go, once your sales managers exit the building. Performance will seem okay for a month, or two, or three. But then the unavoidable breakdown in consistent execution will feed on itself, until you find yourself stuck with the worst sales force in your industry. The combination of lost efficiency and effectiveness will crush your team’s productivity.
Alas, you need your sales managers.
Imagine the Possibilities
Now consider the opposite situation. Imagine not only that you have a complete team of frontline sales managers, imagine that you considered them to be a focal point of your organizational affection. Imagine that they got just as much attention as the salespeople they manage. They got the rewards and praise. They got the investment in their skills and enablement. The head of sales and CEO knew their names and the names of their dogs. What if this quiet, solid layer of the organization got the rock star treatment? What would happen?
Well, you would experience a better life. Your reports, forecasts, and sales pipelines would be beyond reproach. Your sales force would become a guided missile that would annihilate your competition. Your team’s performance would perpetually improve, feeding off its own operational excellence. You would stand apart from nearly every other sales force in the world that views its frontline sales managers as the people who keep the peace – not the people who rule the world. And make no mistake… Sales managers rule the world of sales.
So I would propose this: Let’s go ahead and appreciate our sales managers. Just like we do our teeth, our children, our spouses, and their dogs. Let’s not wait for them to disappear to realize how important they are to our world. Let’s just acknowledge them now.
If you’re a sales executive, you probably realize (at least intuitively) that your sales managers do rule your world. Your great sales managers probably have great sales teams. Your mediocre sales managers probably have mediocre sales teams. What if we invested in making them all great managers? What a wonderful world it would be.