We all are problem solvers at our own level. Handling challenges, hurdles, persistent issues and alleviating them is what differentiates a great sales manager from the rest.
Tools and techniques for solving problems are well established for a long time now and there are various methods, techniques and tools that can be used. For example, Lean Six Sigma, TQM, Agile, Scrum, Design Thinking, etc are few such frameworks. Various sectors have seen success with these methodologies. However, when it comes to functional success, business development and sales is a unique function in that, it is highly dependent on external factors. Even many internal factors are not within good control of the sales organization. Thus, there are certain unique challenges that sales managers face when they try to apply such proven problem solving methodologies for sales problems.
More than a structured approach or framework for solving sales problems, the first thing Sales Managers should develop is a Sales Problem Solving Mindset. The skills that support this mindset are described below. Each of these skills can separately add value to every sales manager’s performance. When applied in the form of a structured problem solving framework, it becomes very powerful.
The first step in solving business problems is knowing exactly what is the problem that has to be solved. This might sound like a no-brainer. But don’t underestimate the power of clarity. If the organization wants to improve its market share in a particular segment, the problem may have to be framed keeping in consideration points such as – Is our market share very low compared to peers, how long has it been this way, what have we done and why have they failed, what is the customer’s perception about us?, etc. After sufficient exploration, we may narrow down and define the problem that we wish to solve as “How can our employees engage with our channel partners effectively?” instead of “How to improve our Market Share?”
Sometimes, we can define the problem and then collect data, but on other occasions, we have to do the reverse. Thus framing a problem for a given scenario is a skill in itself and Sales Managers need to master this.
In order to permanently solve any problem, we need to go to the root cause of the problem, and use data or facts to validate really if a particular cause is the reason for the problem. Often, Sales Managers are plagued by reasons that their team members use to justify their poor performance. But these have to be validated with data. Unfortunately, the problem in sales is that required data is not often available. Sales managers should develop necessary skills to understand what data is needed to validate a given problem or cause and how to gather that data. Sometimes surrogate measures will have to be used and sometimes they have to live with surveyed data. Thus the ability to know what data is needed in a given scenario and how to gather that is the second skill needed for Sales Managers wishing to solve business problems.
Today’s sales enablement systems such as CRM, ERP, etc provide enough data to get started with some basic sales analytics. However sales managers need to upskill themselves in analytics. They need to know how to perform necessary analysis from the data available. While Sales Analysts are well versed in crunching numbers and preparing charts, many Sales Managers are not even comfortable with relevant formulae and charts in Excel. The ability to work with data, using visualization methods to validate association or relationship between various factors, use statistical tools to identify sources of inconsistency in performance & factors driving it, ability to identify known best performers from data, using probability principles to validate demand-supply problems in sales and statistical association/correlation studies to identify causes are all essential analytical skills for sales managers.
To solve most sales problems, an augmented approach of using both Data and ‘Gemba’ is needed. There are several aspects such as field observation, validation or audit of sales standards across the sales process, partner sales rep skill and will validation, qualitative evaluation of customer objection handling, benchmarking competition best practices, picking up verbal and non-verbal clues, etc., that require strong discovery skills that sales managers need to develop.
The willingness to accept that not everything that we are doing is going click & that too the very first time is the basis for experimentation validation. When solutions are put in place, often sales managers are anxious to see the results right away. In reality, many of our action plans are unique to the circumstances and the mindset to see it as a series of experiments and set logical check points, learn the lessons and move forward to refine the action plan or solution is any skill that sales managers need to acquire too.