Not surprisingly, many sales managers choose to simply adopt the practices of other sales managers around them. Sometimes the practices are from past managers of theirs that they respected. Other times, they’re the practices of peers in their organization who are relatively successful. Either way, sales managers tend to take on the ‘best practices’ that they observe with their own eyes and ears. And so it goes, over and over again. From one sales manager to the next, the tribal knowledge is passed on. In essence, there is inertia in these historical sales management practices.
Sometimes these ambient sales management practices are absolutely the right things to do. And sometimes they’re absolutely wrong. But it’s difficult to know the difference between best, most common and worst practices when eyes and ears are the instruments used in the decision-making process.
This is why thoughtful research into sales management practices is so important. We can’t trust that existing practices are best practices. They’re common practices for sure, but that doesn’t mean that they’re the right practices for today’s sales forces. Sometimes they are wrong, and only research can inform us of the difference by correlating those practices with actual sales performance.
Our research has discredited many such sales management practices – for example, the practice of enthusiastically stuffing sales pipelines with more and more deals. We’ve proven that smaller sales pipelines are actually more productive than larger sales pipelines if they’re managed properly. But that hasn’t eradicated the practice – even in clients of ours that agree pipeline stuffing is a bad idea. Frustratingly, even sales forces that WANT to stop this bad practice STILL struggle to stomp it out, because they also have to contend another barrier to change… Gravity.
Even if sales managers buy into a theory, it’s still difficult to actually make a change. Sure, sales managers can acknowledge that our research is sound and that smaller sales pipelines can be more productive than bigger ones, but then comes the hard part… Actually telling their salespeople to take existing deals out of their sales pipeline. Doing so takes a leap of faith on the part of sales management, and the gravitational pull of common sense is both powerful and resilient.
To be fair, the managers aren’t being defiant in most cases – they’re just playing it safe. Change comes with risk, and they’re responsible for the livelihoods of their sellers and themselves. They really are being asked to make leaps of faith. Leaps like asking for smaller sales pipelines, rather than larger. Or holding more sales meetings, rather than fewer. Or focusing on sales activities, rather than sales outcomes. None of these practices is intuitive, but they’ve all been proven to produce more sales.
So to truly transform sales management, we face a couple of critical tasks. The first is to do solid research that definitively reveals true sales management best practices – practices that are often surprising and counterintuitive. Then, we face a second challenge: convincing sales managers to take a chance on something that might fly in the face of their intuition. So we need good research to fight the inertia of common practices, and intense change management to fight the gravitational pull of safety.
And so we fight on… For the sake of better sales management.