A few years ago, a sales manager at an Atlanta industrial distributor was relating the difficulties of dealing with his top salesperson, who was late to meetings, rarely completed call reports on time, ignored most sales promotions and was a general pain in the neck. In fact, it had become so bad that the two parted ways, with the salesperson deciding to represent a competitor's product line while working from home.
The salesperson admitted that, in his opinion, meetings, call reports and the like stood in the way of getting orders. If he was doing those things, he wasn't performing the one task he should be: selling. Six months of working from home, however, made him realize there was something to his old sales manager's methods. Working on his own, he could no longer count on assistants and customer service people to keep track of all the information he needed to know. The salesperson also admitted even someone as good as he occasionally needs a pep talk. In other words, he could use a sales manager.
The first step to being your own sales manager is to become better organized. When working for someone else, you probably didn't have an organization problem when it came to your own accounts. You knew whom to call on and when, right down to the name of every personal assistant you came in contact with at a company. Now, however, you'll have to keep more detailed written records.
Take, for example, call reports. Most salespeople consider them an annoyance at best. Now they take on added importance. Note all the calls you make, the sooner after the call the better. The notes don't have to be elaborate--just a simple summation of whom you saw, when you saw them, the results and the questions raised.
Also, devise a rating system based on the amount of business clients do with you. And note how much time you spend with each client and when to call them back.
The key is to look at the call report as an aid. Filling one out will make you re-examine your sales strategies. You may find you're spending too much time with customers who don't warrant it, at the expense of servicing bigger customers or looking for new ones.
You should also keep a time log to give you a rough idea of how you're spending your day. Compare it with your daily schedule to see how closely you're sticking to it. You may find you've made fewer sales calls than you planned or spent too much time on activities unrelated to sales.
Neither of these reports should be overly detailed. Just include essential information that will help you sell more efficiently.
Other tips for being your own sales manager include the following:
- Think long term. As a salesperson, your job was to get the order and maintain the account. As your own sales manager, you have to think about future sales. Whom do you project will be your top customers in six, 12 or 18 months? How is their business changing? How is your business changing? Is your market becoming saturated with competitors? Are there new opportunities you're missing?
- Create a written strategy with weekly and monthly goals. It will be very tough on you financially--not to mention stressful--if you're constantly trying to just get through each day without going belly up. You must spend time anticipating and responding to changes in the marketplace.
- Learn to be patient. As you do more planning and forecasting, you'll have to wait to see results. You no longer have the backing of an established company, and customers will be slower to take to you. Don't be too quick to make a deal you have reservations about, and keep in mind, it will take some time to build a reputation.
- Set priorities. When you're working on your own, one of the biggest challenges is to make yourself do the task you should do instead of the one you want to do. For example, it's easier to drag out a sales call with an old friend than to make cold calls. It's easier to spend a little more time on the Internet or buying office supplies than it is to process your direct mail. It doesn't mean you're lazy--it's natural. But forcing yourself to do the tougher jobs is what's going to make the difference between success and failure.
- Be open to new ideas. Never thought of marketing on the Internet? Now you should. Thought publicity was someone else's job? Not anymore. Don't just rely on the old ways of doing business. It's your company. Be creative.
*Learn to motivate yourself. You no longer have a sales manager to talk you through a slump. Instead, you're it. Whether you're motivated by a fear of failure, a longing for a better quality of life or more money, use it. Don't lose track of what made you take the leap to being a homebased business owner. If you're going through a rough period, call on some sure accounts, talk to friends, commiserate. Just do something.
Bill Kelley is a business writer in Arcadia, California.