Why managing salespeople is different from other staff.Many owners of restoration contracting businesses started their companies after experience working for other restorers, or perhaps in construction or carpet cleaning businesses.

Quite often, these owners have very limited experience and/or little to no specific training in terms of business management and they have to learn as they go.

In fact, overall management expertise is one of the major limiting factors to business growth because businesses do not outgrow their owners! This is why owners that want to grow their businesses to the next level will first have to grow their own skills.

Still, management of employees seems simple enough — at first.

For example, let’s look at managing a water damage technician. You give instructions as to how to set up the equipment. You have the technician observe. You observe the technician. And at some point you cut him loose to set up a water loss without your constant supervision. Of course, you periodically “inspect what you expect” to make sure that the employee hasn’t fallen off the rails and is still placing equipment properly.

And when you discover a performance problem, you address it, hopefully with a formal system that might start with a verbal warning and retraining all the way to formal write-ups and possible termination.

Seems simple enough; if they want to keep their jobs, they’ll do what you taught them or you’ll send them on down the road.

And, while that is a simplistic explanation, it follows the management practices of most business owners in most industries, including ours.

They aren’t techs

However, when it comes to managing salespeople (marketing reps out calling on agents, adjusters, plumbers, property managers, etc.) this type of management style rarely works for high performance people who can make a meaningful impact on the growth of your business.

To discuss this, we need to make an important distinction. We are talking about managing salespeople who have “made the team.” Trying to convert a “B” or “C” player into an effective rep is, generally speaking, an exercise in futility. You are far better off hiring the right person in the first place.

In order to understand how to manage salespeople, let’s take a look at their world. Outside sales is one of the most difficult jobs in any organization. After all, they are rejected many times every day and yet they have to get back up and go at it again.

And while each company’s circumstances vary, salespeople are often being sent out into the field, often with little direction, often with nothing to say or do that makes them any different from the dozens of other restorer salespeople calling on the same targets. And they are expected to bag the big game that will grow the company  —and fast, please!

It is a pretty tough row to hoe!

To make it even tougher, salespeople are often working largely on their own with little supervision. This means that they must come face-to-face with their own fears, perceived limitations, self-doubt and other demons every day to do what they are supposed to do, let alone do it at a high level.

So how is managing salespeople different from managing other staff?

Finding the ‘right’ reward

First of all, salespeople cannot be managed negatively or punitively. This just adds to the pressure that they are already under. And while we like for them to be motivated by rewards like money, they are also not effectively managed by “carrots” either (although financial reward is an important part of the sales program.)

They must feel that they are part of a team; that they are important, that they are supported and cared for. The nature of outside sales is that it can often feel very lonely and that no one in the company knows or even cares what they are going through every day.

Interestingly, good salespeople are willing to be accountable and to work hard, but they need engagement — and on a daily basis. A “daily huddle” that is focused on daily accountability can make a huge difference in a salesperson’s performance. This looks like a 10 minute conversation to review the actual outcomes from the previous day’s sales plan, and a brief review of the current day’s plan.

This accountability should be collaborative, rather than the “Homer Simpson hands around the throat” style of management. If there are performance problems, these can be addressed separately. Instead, you function in a support role and as a sounding board. Reps know when they report on the previous day’s work whether or not they put in a good effort. In fact, simply knowing that they will be reporting on their activities each day will drive a significant increase in productivity.

It’s all about the challenges

Remember also that salespeople are stroke deprived. Make sure that you celebrate their victories and address defeats as challenges to solve, rather than failures on their part. This is no small thing.

Your daily engagement with your salespeople must be sincere. It is also extremely helpful if you have a sales program and process to follow that you can support them in.

Salespeople burn a lot of energy trying to figure out what to do in order to be effective and, if you haven’t figured this out, it’s going to be hard to be able to give direction if you don’t know what they should be doing differently in order to be successful.

People work in order to achieve their own goals. Therefore, the focus of sales management should be on helping your salespeople achieve their personal goals. Those personal goals must be attached to their professional goals, which are, in turn, attached to the company’s overall goals. 

You are sending these warriors out onto the battlefield, often by themselves, to do battle for your company. So, instead of using carrots and sticks to get people to take specific actions, managing salespeople is about support, engagement, inspiration and love.

Fundamentally, you must love your salespeople.

Tim Miller is the president and chief executive officer (CEO) of Business Development Associates Inc. Miller is a highly regarded sales and marketing expert in the industry, and brings 30 years of experience and a unique perspective to help businesses solve their problems and grow to the next level. He is also a published author in several trade magazines and speaks at multiple industry events and conferences throughout the year, where he leverages his business experience in both the restoration industry and his other entrepreneurial ventures, including his own construction company in New Mexico.