I recently read an article in the Harvard Business Review Daily Alert titled “Why New Sales Managers Need More Training” by Andris A. Zoltners, Prabhakant Sinha and Sally E. Lorimer. The article really resonated with me, especially when they mentioned the Peter Principal where “companies promote their best salespeople to become their worst managers.”
I was that person - a top salesperson who wanted to be a manager - and then quickly learned that I was not good at it! The things that made me great at one thing were not the skills needed to be a successful at the other. Fortunately for me, I worked for an organization that offered strong mentoring and training, and so I was able to acquire the skills to transition into management.
In smaller public media operations, the above scenario plays out every day: A sales manager retires or steps down, the station scrambles to get someone in place ASAP, and the first place they look is internally. Who is our best rep?
There are two problems with logic. First, you take your best rep off the streets. Second, you have a manager who does not know how to manage. So, as a small operation, how do you find the time and money to offer that training?
In the article they point to three ways a new sales manager can be trained:
I was fortunate to have a supervisor to train and mentor me who was highly skilled at this and had loads of patience. This is often not the case. At smaller stations the supervisor is often a general manager (GM) who has way more things on their plate than mentoring a new sales manager. Often that GM does not have a sales background. This training set-up is like the blind leading the blind. It may make sense to hire a consultant to offer coaching for a few months to help get that new sales manager up to speed.
Sales is a very different animal than development. The levers that make businesses buy our stations for marketing purposes are less philanthropic and more based on research, target markets, and ROI. So, if you are a general manager or development director managing the corporate support side, you need to learn a new vernacular.
When it comes to peer learning, look to other sales managers at stations that are similar in size and capacity as yours. Greater Public can help to connect you to someone who may be in your same situation. Your peers are a wealth of knowledge, don’t be afraid to reach out! I’ve never met a group of professionals more willing to share their knowledge and experience as those in public media.
Independent learning can take many forms. When I transitioned to management my bookshelves were suddenly full of management books. The Harvard Business Review Daily Alert was another useful source of info for me. And of course, there is the Greater Public website, with many articles, webinars, and worksheets to help guide new managers along the way.
In addition to the avenues for training mentioned above, a GM needs to focus on the following in order to support a new sales manager:
People: Do you have the right people on the bus to meet your goals? What metrics are you using to measure success? Do the reps have clear goals, and do they have the tools they need to reach those goals? Are you tracking them weekly and are you able to offer help when they need it.
Pacing: It is critical to keep track of annual goals by creating waypoints throughout the year, ideally monthly and quarterly. If you miss your first quarterly goal, that shortfall needs to be made up in the next three quarters. Miss your first two quarterly goals, and you need to make some tough decisions. This connects back to clear goals for reps and tracking them weekly.
Inventory Management: If you find yourself short on making goals, what do you do? Many stations default to “Let’s raise our rates!” But you need to know how much demand you have on your inventory. If demand is low, raising rates will have the opposite effect from what you want. By knowing demand on your inventory, you can make informed decisions about what your station is worth in the eyes of the marketplace. And, being in a supply and demand situation, this is critical.
Public Media is full of people who are wonderfully passionate about what they do. This is great, but we must also be skilled in order to turn that passion into results in an increasingly competitive marketplace. We need to provide training and resources to new managers for them to succeed. And while the cost of training may be hard to afford, you will pay more in the end for not investing in such an important revenue generating position.