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What Should Sales Managers Avoid After Being Promoted?

What Should Sales Managers Avoid After Being Promoted?

Nicolai Tillisch points out four traps to avoid if you are fortunate and talented enough to achieve such a promotion.

The best individual performers are promoted across professional disciplines and become line managers of their former peers. There is a risk in this situation that the individual’s own contribution suffers and no compensatory benefit is derived from their leadership.

As the sales force is the lifeline of any business, poor management is easily exposed, sometimes with devastating consequences.

The local cocktail

This issue is pressing in the Gulf. Look around at all the international brands operating in the region. Very few of their logos adorn factories, shared service centres or laboratories. The primary task of the staff behind them is to sell products developed and delivered from outside of the region. The role of the sales force is even more prominent, relatively speaking, due to the limited local value-add.

At the same time, organisations in the Gulf employ sales people with the broadest possible repertoire of personal styles, making them more challenging to lead. Allow me to illustrate the point with some stereotypes.

The Lebanese salesman shines by entertaining a local customer with moving stories in virtuous Arabic. The Indian salesman inspires confidence in customer representatives with his understanding of the intricate details of their requirements, which he explains in more elegant English than most Brits. The American salesman magnetises the room, entering in Hollywood style and shooting one-liners with his baritone voice.

My point is that each of these styles can work wonders; just as each of them can backfire. Effective sales will always have a strong personal dimension. Meanwhile, low performing Arab, Asian and Western sales people can take very different approaches to get on track.

So what should you do if, having been a top-performing sales person, you now find yourself faced with the challenge of getting the best out of an entire organisation? Unfortunately, there is no magic formula for success but I can point you at four common traps to avoid.

Do not try to fix what can be fixed

In a recent client engagement, I coached a sales director who was appointed following a dramatic fall in the company’s market share. The company’s offering had previously virtually sold itself; putting it diplomatically, effective sales activity was not a high priority for the company. After a few sessions with the sales director, she concluded that her overarching problem was the win rate. The solution to her problem had therefore as much to do with getting the value proposition right again as it had to do with improving the sales activities. Furthermore she could focus on a few selected elements of the latter to help revive the company’s fortunes.

Do not expect anybody to copy you

As a coach, one of the questions that I sometimes ask executives concerns their leadership philosophy. A common answer is that they lead by example. Effective leaders do certainly have to set good examples for others. However, you cannot expect your direct report to become your carbon-copy, especially if their background is very different to yours. Instead, you should spell out the basic rules of your game, leaving nobody in doubt, and encourage everybody to play creatively. I am continuously impressed with how much this simple approach can lift performance.

Do not trust carrot and stick

During the research for my book, I interviewed the human resources director for Middle East and Africa in a major and very well-known American corporation. He spoke of their struggle to get the sales organisation to perform according to international standards. To his surprise there was little recognition of any problem, despite the application of the same individual bonus system as anywhere else in the world to measure and incentivise the workforce. It had taken him a while to realise that the sales managers acted – as Arabs and easterners alike often do – as patriarchs treating their teams as a family, instead of a group of individuals of whom some were falling short of expectations.

In any case, don’t just be nice

Understanding people is an important part of both sales and leadership. However, convincing a customer to buy something is very different to helping a colleague to develop and achieve over time. It is said that sales people particularly dislike bringing bad news. To be an effective leader you will need to do this, as well as working with colleagues to overcome their difficulties. This is even more critical at a time when people are faced with increasing competition after decades of continuous, extraordinary growth, as is the case in most industries in the region.

There are enough examples of good sales people turning into bad managers to legitimate the smile on people’s lips when referring to the phenomenon. Still, I ask you to forgive me when I cannot restrain myself from puckering my eyebrows when the CEO of a company has no flair for sales.

Nicolai Tillisch is the author of ‘Effective Business in The Gulf: Mastering Leadership Skills for Greater Success’ and the founder of Dual Impact, the Dubai-based executive coaching and consulting company.

The book is available via Amazon Kindle, bookstores throughout the region and Books Arabia.

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