Sales managers – stop assuming majority rules works best

Managing Sales Teams

It’s easy to manage a sales team when there’s consensus on where you’re going and how you’re going to get there. But what happens when there isn’t consensus? That’s when sales managers face some challenges.

Randall Peterson, a professor at the London Business School, found that when dealing with small groups, majority rule doesn’t work – it simply makes for an unhappy minority. “They have nothing invested in success and often have something invested in failure,” Peterson says. “Particularly for a group under the size of 10 people, majority rule is a bad way of going about business.”

Since many sales managers deal with sales teams with around 10 sales reps, we were intrigued with Peterson’s recommendation – “qualified consensus” – where everyone has to at least agree they can tolerate the outcome; they can live with it.  But if agreement can’t be reached even at that level, then the sales manager makes the call.   So the idea is the sales manager needs to provide a discussion about all that and sales team needs to get engaged.

Good enough – everyone needs to know and agree to the decision-making rules of the road.  The problem is the discussion is often never held and the notion of consensus of any type is simply not on the table.

We thought Peterson’s recommendations were straightforward, smart, and particularly will suited for the sales environment.  His approach seems useful whenever dealing with conflict inside a sales team and appears to be especially important when limited sales team resources are being spent.

A couple of additional thoughts on the topic:

  • Understand Why. Delve deeper into why there is disagreement – by identifying what’s really driving the disagreement.  By doing so you will be able to craft a solution where the minority can at least see the logic of the decision.
  • Respect Measurement. Define metrics to measure the success of the decision (e.g., increased sales, reduced costs, new customers, shorter sales cycle) –this will provide those who both agree and disagree with the decision a better basis for their argument if it arises again.
  • Inspect. Check progress periodically to ensure you’re on track.

There is more to team building then just hiring the right people.  This topic is one of the other pieces of the puzzle.

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About Janet Spirer

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. Janet has followed two different, yet complimentary paths. First, as a B-School Professor she taught marketing, sales, and business strategy courses. She also managed a consulting practice focusing on sales productivity and marketing – working with a variety of clients ranging from Xerox to IBM. She translated those experiences into a book – “Parlez-Vous Business” – that helps sales people develop the business savvy to sell successfully. Since co-founding Sales Momentum® in 2000 with Richard Dr. Spirer received her Ph.D. from The Ohio State University, an M.P.A. from The University of Texas at Austin, and a B.A. in Economics from Brooklyn College. She holds the appointment of Professor Emeritus at Marymount University.
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