Sales management – pitfalls and perils of power

Sales Management

Periodically we come across a study we think is particularly interesting … and worth sharing with others.  A case in point is an empirical study reported in strategy + business where Booz and Allen looked at the relationship between power and decision-making.

A brief overview …

  • Set up – Four experiments were conducted, including one in a real-world business setting, where the research team used a 360-degree assessment to explore the relationship between power and openness to others’ input.
  • Findings – In all four experiments the same findings emerged:  Powerful people are less likely to take advice from others.   In large part this finding was attributed to the fact they have high confidence in their own judgment and don’t feel the need to incorporate other views.  Many powerful people, over time, come to see taking advice as a sign of weakness; hence they should project total confidence in their views alone. By not factoring in others’ advice, however, people in power risk making flawed decisions.

The implications of these findings are evident for most managers – but are there some unique implications for front-line sales managers?  We suggest the answer is yes.

For example, sales managers can never know all of the issues inside every account in their territory, which by default means relying on others’ assessment of a sales situation. And for sales managers who have many sales people reporting to them or who cover large geographies intimacy with accounts is even more difficult.

Extrapolating the findings of the study to sales management a couple of perils and pitfalls are worth highlighting.

Assuming the present looks like the past. This trap has a number of different variations but one that is particularly problematic has to do with account strategy coaching.  Assuming you know the best account strategy because you worked with the account in the past is usually ill advised.

Even if the players remain the same, what’s occurring inside the account is evolving.  The account a sales manager used to know and the one that exists today probably isn’t the same.  So, when strategizing about the account with the sales team, not listening to their point of view and pressing your own is definitely a trap.

A second, and somewhat more telling, version of this trap is when a sales manager who isn’t familiar with an account makes assumptions about what is the best sales strategy. This usually stems from the sales manger adopting an “I have done it thousand times” point of view or from extrapolating what their sales manager did in a similar situation.

Ignoring the advice of peers. In order to win major accounts in today’s B2B market, a sales manager needs to leverage all the company’s assets and resources including other sales managers, marketing, and technical support.  Failing to seek and/or ignoring the advice of peers is short sighted.  This is often particularly telling because such assets are in short supply and if support is subsequently requested it may not be forth coming.

Failing to recognize individual differences. Coaching is a critical piece of the puzzle for building a superior sales team.  And, time is a major constraint.  So wasting time doing the wrong things really matters.  One thing we know with some certainty when it comes to coaching sales people is – one size doesn’t fit all.   Whether it is about “what to coach” or “how to coach,” it is important to seek out advice from the person being coached as to what makes sense.

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©2012 Sales Horizons, LLC

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About Richard Ruff

For more than 30 years Dr. Richard Ruff and Dr. Janet Spirer - the founders of Sales Horizons - have worked with the Fortune 1000 - such as UPS, Canon USA, Smith & Nephew, Boston Scientific, Owens & Minor, Textron - to design and develop sales training programs. During his career Dick has authored numerous articles related to sales effectiveness and co-authored "Managing Major Sales", a book about sales management, "Parlez-Vous Business" which helps sales people integrate the language of business into the sales process, and "Getting Partnering Right" – a research based work on the best practices for forming strategic selling alliances. Dr. Ruff received his Ph.D. in Organizational Psychology from the University of Tennessee and a B.S. from Rennsselaer Polytechnic Institute.
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