One of the fascinating aspects of corporate psychology is knowing that an attribute that makes someone great at one job can impair them in another. For example, at Psynet Group we are proud to be associated with a healthcare company that is so efficient that they deliver great services at lower costs while still providing stakeholder value. The people who built and maintain this company excel at operations because they are process oriented and build great procedures. Ironically, these skills that make them so effective also impair their sales team.
They started on the right path by hiring the best salespeople in the industry who know the space inside and out. This knowledge allows the salespeople to adapt their message on the fly in response to a potential client’s responses. They intuitively know when to send an email, make a call or invite someone out for a drink. Despite regularly ignoring many of the steps to selling developed by a high priced consultant and endorsed by the procedure oriented executives, they surpass their quota every quarter.
How does a company that excels because they have mastered processes effectively sell these products and services through salespeople who not only lack a process orientation but also rebel against any initiative to install procedures? The answer lies in the unique capabilities of the mid-level sales manager.
Managers who Stand in the Gap
In the gap between leaders who rely on processes, structures and procedures –and salespeople who are opportunistic, intuitive, and agile stands the mid-level sales managers. They make it possible for the organization to excel by performing three difficult tasks:
- Translation: When people’s styles differ greatly, it often appears that they are speaking different languages. Effective sales leaders speak to both audiences and can translate the needs and wants of each.
- Mitigation: Differences in thinking styles often lead to conflict. Effective sales leaders mitigate this conflict and often absorb the brunt of the frustration without taking it personally.
- Transmission: Just like a transmission on a car transmits the energy from the engine to the wheels, the sales leader creates the structure that allows sales and operations to work in a system.
Why There are Few Effective Mid-level Sales People
There are a couple of factors in play that make it rare to have the right sales leader in the right place.
First, our smaller studies confirm Gartner’s larger ones that identify five primary sales styles. Three of these styles would be considered non linear (Relational, Autonomous, and Challenger) and two styles take a similar approach to process as many operations directors (Hard Working and Problem Solving).
Our studies showed that those with a non linear style tend to reject the process oriented styles (negative correlation) and vice versa. Furthermore, Gartner indicates that the operational styles are two of the least effective sales styles, yet our research shows that they are the most likely to be selected for sales manager roles. The reason — operations managers are most similar to the executive leadership whose unconscious bias leads them to hire people similar to themselves.
Secondly, when salespeople are promoted into leadership positions based solely on their individual sales performance, the results are often poor. This is especially true in this situation because the non linear characteristics that lead to successful sales are the same characteristics that make it difficult to collaborate with process oriented executive leaders.
As a result, organizations often make one of two errors: hiring sales managers from the outside who can relate to the operations managers but cannot lead their most effective sales people –OR promoting effective sales people into roles where they cannot relate to the executives. The latter has twice the negative impact because they lose an effective salesperson and “gain” an ineffective manager.
Make sure your hiring criteria includes assessing agility. A highly talented sales manager can effectively link the non linear and process oriented mindsets in your organization.
Provide a realistic job preview that allows people, especially internal candidates, to opt out of consideration if they realize they will not fit –and don’t penalize them for the decision.
Don’t give the hiring decision solely to process oriented leaders who are prone to hire people like themselves.
The mid-level sales managers that can operate in both non linear and process oriented arenas are crucial to an organization’s success. So if you hire, structure, and coach for agility, your sales team will meet if not exceed aggressive sales goals. If you want to know how we have done this for ourselves — and for our clients, reach out to us. We love to see others succeed.