Ron Karr on Effectively Managing a Sales Team

I spoke to Ron Karr, who is the author of the CEO Bestselling Book Lead, Sell or Get Out of the Way!  He specializes in building High Performing Sales Cultures. Ron also mentors select VP’s and CEO’s in the Chief Revenue Officer Mastermind Group (CRO). In the following brief interview, Karr talks about how to effectively manage a sales team, the common misconceptions about managing, recruiting the right people, incentives for sales people and more.

Dan Schawbel: What are the common misconceptions about managing a sales force?

Ron Karr: Typically, sales managers are people who are promoted after they became a top producer. When one is promoted to management, their role changes. As a top producing rep, they were soley responsible for their success and acted in a certain way. As a manager, their success now is dependent on the actions of their sales people. Often, these managers will try and make their team members act the way they did as top producers. The fact is there are many strategies one can use to achieve success. The sales manager should be more concerned about whether or not the strategies the team members are using are solid enough to succeed, not in demanding they do it the same way the manager did it when they were in sales. Their job now is not to sell, but to coach, identify gaps and help develop their team. They must also identify tools that will help their salespeople become more efficient.

Schawbel: How do you go about recruiting the right sales people that will stay with you long term?

Ron Karr: The biggest mistake people make in recruiting is they fail to benchmark the job. What does the job need in terms of behavior, skills and values in order to produce the results desired? When you benchmark the position, it must be benchmarked for the results you want produced a year from now, not based on the results you are currently achieving. New hires are brought in to deliver better results than are currently being realized. Once the benchmark is achieved you then need to use an assessment tool to gauge the talent against the benchmark.  Very rarely is any candidate ever a complete fit. However, some candidates are better fits than others. Assessments should never be used as the only decision criteria. They should uncover additional areas that need to be addressed in future interviews to help the hiring officials make the right decisions.

Secondly, you are best using an outside resource to help locate existing talent currently working that might be willing to change positions. You ideally want people who have experience in your industry and/or market segments. If you are a small company with limited resources, be careful about hiring someone from a big company. Big company personnel often have trouble acclimating themselves to a small company where they have to roll up their sleeves and do more with less resources. You want to make sure the candidate is a right fit for your type of business, environment and sales cycle.

Finally, make sure you have a robust hiring process that involves multiple interviews with different decision makers. Choreograph the questions based on needs and have the same questions asked by different interviewers to compare the answers. Multiple interviews allow you to see the candidate at different times in different situations. The more you see a candidate it becomes harder for the candidate to keep a mask on. In other words, you will tend to see below the warts the more you talk with someone.

Schawbel: What incentives, aside from money, are important to sales teams?

Ron Karr: Money is not often the reason people leave a sales position. A few years ago top producers in many industries were questioned as to why they left their current employer. Money was listed as number 5 out of 10 reasons. The number one reason was a lack of appreciation.  We have to stroke the top producers and make sure they are feeling fulfilled and appreciated. That does not mean you have to become a slave to them. Sometimes top producers become a cancer because they feel the world revolves around them and their attitude impedes others from succeeding. I have seen several situations and in some cases advised clients to terminate their top producers when their behavior becomes an obstacle. While the short-term results can be devastating, the long-term outcomes are far superior compared to other situations where the top producers are negatively impacting others.

Schawbel: What are some of your tips for managing an entire sales force?

Ron Karr: A leader must look at the whole sales force as an entity. They must identify the moneymakers who are going to blow through their quotas and give them the tools they need to succeed and then get out of their way. Those are the A players. The B players should provide a good return on investment (earnings, benefits, expenses). These players need to be coached and their actions managed to ensure their success. C players are marginal performers who either have to bump up their performance or leave, as they are not paying for themselves.

The biggest mistake is managers often spend too much time on the C players trying to convert them. Rather, they should be identifying the gaps, coach the C players and give them clear guidance. If improvement is not shown in a proper period of time, they should be replaced. The players management should spend their most time on are the A Players followed by the B players. They will get a greater return on their investment from the A’s and B’s.

The key to managing an entire sales force is to think and act strategically.

Related Posts

Posted in Featured Interview, Team & Project Management