This suggestion is not to be taken negatively – the dictionary says that by eating dirt you are having a really unpleasant experience. I don’t wish to take things to such extremes but it is a reminder to Sales Supervisors and Sales Managers that things can get really unpleasant later on if you are not willing to put up with some discomfort on a regular basis – discomfort by way of experiencing the heat and dust of the market.
You cannot rule a territory by sitting in the cool confines of an office…. Period!
I remember sitting in business meetings and listening to Sales Supervisors present the quarterly report for their territory. The charts are very slickly made and all the numbers are written in bold fonts. There would be all sorts of ratios presented and no dearth of drama in backing the number with their pitch – they are Sales guys after all.
(All names changed to protect identity)
Our Circle Business Head, Prasad, would listen to one animated report and quietly ask:
- George, which are you key outlets in the Muvattupuzha Area?
George would provide a few names and Prasad would follow – up with:
- How about XYZ Communication and ABC Mobile?
George would say that they are competitor’s strongholds and that he had tried hard to enter those counters. Satish’s next questions would be about the last time George visited those counters and what are the stock levels in each of the big counters?
George would provided random numbers but the answers aren’t convincing enough. The truth is revealed in due course – that it’s been a while since he visited that area and he had no data on stocks – he had sub-contracted the work to his juniors and was managing work remotely
What George had not realized was that it was Prasad’s habit to visit the market whenever he passed through any town. He had recently gone to a town beyond Muvattupuzha with George’s boss and the two of them had visited a number of counters to get some not so favourable reports about George.
George’s reporting Manager desperately wanted to help his team-member by giving him advance notice of the visit but he was operating some other market that day and could not reach Muvattupuzha on time.
What Prasad had found was the following:
- George had not visited Muvattupuzha for the last 2 months.
- The major counters were low on stock – they were not being visited regularly by the supply team
- The competitor’s counters didn’t mind keeping other brands too – no one had approached them
- Some of George’s own counters didn’t know him by name
Young George was only repeating the mistake made by many young Sales Professionals:
- They were sticking to some territories close to the office and ignoring the ones further away
- They were running the business remotely – by phone or through subordinates
- They were not aware that the subordinates were doing their work as expected
- Data presented on many reports were guesstimates and not the actual data
Prasad was a very level-headed Manager who had grown to the position of Business Head from the ranks. He had learned the business by working the market. He liked it when people told him that they had tried and failed and he was also willing to take shortfalls so long as they were backed with real data. But he disliked people who stayed away from the market and lied about it too.
P.S: Dirty shoes are one of the indicators of success in Sales!
Sales is a highly competitive activity – with most economies open to competition the world over there are hardly any protected markets left. No company can take business as a given; they have to be sharp with their product offerings and marketing strategy.
In such a combative marketplace, when companies need to fight tooth and nail for their share of the business pie won’t it be debilitating if they have to dissipate energy in settling internal strife.
As a Business Manager I have often had to moderate arguments between my own team – members who had made bids to the same account or two Channel Partners who were at loggerheads because one had made a supply in the other’s territory.
One warring member of my team would have entered a disputed account and made the pitch only to find a few days later that there is competition, not from a rival company, but by way of a bid from another Sales Executive / Channel Partner of his team! Both sides would allege that they had been working this account for a while, or that they were called to make a bid. It leads to a lot of acrimony and the customer usually has the last laugh because both would make unreasonable offers to win the business – ego prevails over good sense.
Such situations are not uncommon and I have had to play moderator on numerous occasions – in comparison the skirmishes I had with my rivals seem like no-contests!
Sales Managers need to step in and clearly spell out the rules of engagement:
- Territories need to be clearly marked for each player
- Major Accounts to be approached only by designated team – member
- Channel partners also need to be given clearly demarcated territories
- Have systems in place to check unfair practices / predatory bids in the marketplace
As Leader always retain the power of veto to ring in changes if people turn territories into fiefdoms and then neglect business development activity. In the absence of controls and checks Sales Executives could ignore difficult accounts and avoid visiting remote parts of the territory. They would just focus on what’s convenient knowing well that there won’t be any surprise attacks. What they forget is that the ignored accounts would soon be stolen by the competition and they won’t even know.
Is your team short-circuiting your high – voltage business plan!