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Common Mistakes in Sales Management: Summing it up

(This post originally appeared on LinkedIn here)

The eight common mistakes in sales management I presented over the last weeks received quite some support, so it wasn’t only me coming across them. Which poses the question: Why are they made so widely?


There is one potential explanation I want to rule out right away: No, sales managers are not stupid. They don’t make these mistakes because of lack of intellectual capacity.


After 35 years as individual contributor and manager in sales I identified two causes at play, unfortunately amplifying each other when appearing in combination.


The first one is a general management problem: The loss of detailed data when aggregating across multiple levels. The result is a figure that represents a median that, depending on the horizontal stretch of the underlying curve, can well be absolutely meaningless. All it says is that in 50% of the real world cases the value is lower and in 50% it is higher. So, using this median for managing the total is as good as betting.


The other one is a lack of pattern recognition stemming simply from a lack of experience in managing sales cycles. Lots of sales managers use the first opportunity for promotion to leave sales and from then onwards apply the few lessons they learned to every new sales cycle their team works on. This becomes especially visible when they switch into new business models and still apply their old thinking, e.g. chasing orders when in fact they sell services in a consumption-based pricing model.


The good news is: Both problems can be solved with consistently practicing just one leadership principle called Dive Deep!


There is nothing wrong with looking at aggregated data if you make the effort to drill way down into detail BEFORE making a decision. In fact, you only need to look at a small number of cases to proof or disproof the pattern you believe to see when looking at aggregated data.


The same applies to deal patterns. You don’t have to wait until you ran a thousand sales cycles before becoming a manager. To improve your pattern recognition all you need to do is to dive deep into those deals that don’t fit the mainstream. The ones that are described as “extraordinary complex”, “ambiguous”, where “the customer is asking for strange things”. These are the deals that will proof or disproof your believes and make you grow both as a salesperson and a leader.


So, here is my recommendation to all sales managers: Spend your time diving into detail instead of looking at the reports and dashboards that present you aggregated data. Listen to understand, not to respond with your opinion. Start feedback rounds in your reviews with the most junior person at the table, not yourself. Get nervous whenever your mind tells you “I exactly understand this, I have seen it time and time before”.


The devil is in the detail and detail is what will derail your plan that looked so perfect on the top, aggregated level.

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