Why are there so many dysfunctional sales organizations in the world today? One of the biggest reasons is that too many sales managers think their job is to be a superstar athlete rather than a superstar coach.
That’s the key to building and managing a successful sales organization: taking the approach of a sports coach, or an orchestra conductor. The coach usually can’t play the game better than their best players; the conductor can’t necessarily play any instrument better than the musicians. But that’s not their job. And as a manager of a salesforce, your job is to improve the performance of the entire organization, and help individual members perform the best they can as part of your team.
A good sales manager, like a good coach, isn’t necessarily the best salesperson on the team. It’s the person who’s the best at getting top performance out of their people. When you start looking at sales organizations through this prism, it totally transforms the way you manage. It transforms your goals for yourself and for each member of the group.
It also takes ego out of the equation; why should I care that she’s selling more than me? My job isn’t to sell more than she does. Or rather, it redirects ego onto a healthy track that benefits the bottom line: I take pride that my employees sell more than I do, because when they’re performing at the peak of their abilities, that means I’m doing my job. If you’re no longer afraid of having people pass you – and in fact you’re encouraging it – you give them the freedom to excel.
Unfortunately, what happens in many organizations is that when a salesperson starts to excel, resentment and rivalry lead other team members – and even the coach – to drag them down. Frank Vogel, the coach of the current NBA champion L.A. Lakers, doesn’t resent the team’s star LeBron James because LeBron can dunk better than he can. Everybody can see that would be crazy.
And yet sales managers do that every day: team members who outperform the boss are dragged down to mediocrity, or they eventually get fed up and leave for another team where they’re appreciated. Lots of managers say they want their people to excel, but in reality they’re scared of being overshadowed.
Instead, managers have to learn to derive their sense of accomplishment from the performance of the entire organization, not from their own personal numbers. A good manager has to be ok with managing people who are going to be better than them. Actually, no – you can’t just be ok with it, you have to be downright excited about it. And your organization’s culture and incentives have to get managers excited about seeing their team members flourish.
Another application of this metaphor is in the kind of person you select for your team. When I recruit, I don’t necessarily look for a LeBron James or a Michael Jordan. If you can get one at the right price, great. But really I’m spending my time looking for the Scottie Pippens and Dennis Rodmans: the players who supported the superstar Jordan with assists and defense.
In fact, I’m inclined to look a little further down the roster: the sixth or seventh player on a basketball team, or someone from the second violin section, can be an ideal member of a sales team. Why? Because they’re constantly struggling to improve; because they know the value of working hard to achieve success; and because their success has come by knowing what it means to contribute to a team.
Finally, just like a good coach, you have to take the time to understand what makes your people tick, and where their particular skill set fits into your overall organization. Managers often miss this by hiring people who are all just like them. But nobody wants to listen to a dozen soloists all playing at the same time. An orchestra takes a variety of skills.
Sales managers who model their behavior on conductors and coaches have found the secret to building a successful sales organization: empowering individuals to succeed by deploying their skills in the service of a common goal.