Recently, I read an article in Modern Distribution Management that really struck a chord. In it, the author April Nowicki looks at how younger sales reps prefer to work versus how more seasoned reps prefer to work. Refreshingly, this wasn’t a baby boomer vs. millennial showdown piece. Rather, it made some insightful observations.
Namely, it centered on the changing role of the sales manager as these two different sales personas co-exist on one team. Older sales reps are more independent, relying on their decades of experience to know what to sell, who to sell it to and what price to charge. Younger reps, lacking that experience, need more process and crave more coaching to be successful. As sales teams evolve, sales managers must evolve their style, and their teams, to meet the needs of the new team and prepare for the inevitable exit of more seasoned players.
To Nowicki’s point, this can be a huge challenge. Older sales reps want less guidance, enabling sales managers to take on larger teams. As teams grow, managers spend more time firefighting and reacting. But a younger sales team needs to have a clear vision of the team’s mission, how they fit into that vision, and specific feedback on how they can improve. Managers must find a way to provide younger reps with the guidance they crave without alienating or condescending the older reps who prefer more independence.
Therein lies the challenge: It’s impossible to direct our teams’ every move, but we also know they won’t succeed with complete autonomy. Where should a sales manager strike the balance?
According to the author, technology and data offer ways to level the playing field and help managers better-lead their teams:
“Every company must accept technology-driven changes or risk being at a critical disadvantage in the marketplace.”
I couldn’t agree more, leveraging technological tools like predictive guidance helps companies execute their growth strategies through the sales force. This has never been more important than in B2B sales forces where the challenges of a flux in management style is compounded by increasing portfolio complexity. Product proliferation (100,000-plus products is no longer uncommon) and the rise of micro-markets make it virtually impossible for a rep to really know all of the customers, let alone understand what products and services they most need. As management devises increasingly sophisticated and targeted strategies, front-line managers and reps struggle to incorporate these top-down priorities into their day-to-day selling tactics.
By providing situational guidance and structured flexibility, [Read more…]