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When the Sales Numbers Aren't Hitting the Mark - Why is Micromanging the Auto-Default

Updated: Sep 19, 2021

When the Sales Numbers Aren’t Hitting the Mark- Why is Micromanaging the Auto Default?

We have all been there…

  • The company is behind the forecast.

  • The trends are not what they should be, or worse they are flat.

  • A new product launch isn’t producing the hockey stick that marketing assured you it would.

The actions you take with your marketing and sales teams are crucial and of my years in leadership roles, they are often reactionary and predictably poor.

Here are some of the typical reactions from marketing or senior leadership: “The reps don’t get it,” “The reps are not conveying the marketing message correctly” or “The reps are not working.”

These are just a few.

The sales team’s reactions often sound like…” Marketing isn’t listening to us” or “They aren’t in the field hearing what we hear.”

The step that comes next is critical and, in my experience, has usually involved the following micromanagement steps.

  • Looking at the number of calls/day/weeks.

  • Looking at the call notes.

  • Looking at the number of calls for the product launch.

  • Adding more training because “they don’t get it” “they aren’t doing it right.”

  • Increasing co-travels with salespeople, taking over sales calls while with sales representatives.

  • Using the “stick” or better yet…the “blitz” sales contest where results are scrutinized daily, looking for short-term gain throwing out long term strategy.

None of these are prescribingly bad if used in the right context at the right time and depending on your products, services, or markets and the tenure of you or your team. There are times when micromanaging is necessary. The error comes when this is the only default remedy, when it happens reactionarily or when the marketing side or the forecasting side of the situation is not explored. Try adding a product launch during a pandemic and the world looks even more different! It is important to understand why this happens and how as a great leader you can do better for your team.

When the sales numbers are not hitting the mark, or falling behind, there can be a number of reasons There are forces outside the leadership and marketing walls that impact sales greater than anything else…one of the most critical is access to the decision-maker. If there is not continuous and sustainable access to a decision-maker and the person who holds the decision-making power. You may get in the door, but consistent and sustainable growth will be challenging and all the sales aids and selling scripts will not make a difference.

Some other areas that need consideration before defaulting to micromanagement are:

  • Is the marketing message the right message?

  • Does the customer care about your message?

  • Does the person hearing the message trust you?

  • Does the customer have an active pain point they need a solution for?

  • Is the product solving a problem you have to educate the customer that they are having?

  • Has the market changed since you launched?

  • Does the compensation for the reps drive the behavior you desire?

  • Is the product/service priced appropriately?

  • Is your product considered a commodity even though you don’t think it is?

  • What has been the feedback from the customer about the product? (Not just friends and family type accounts)

  • Has anyone asked the sales team, what they think?

  • For companies where marketing is the lead generation arm, is the qualification process defined and effective for both teams?

  • In SaaS-type models, are the hand-off processes well defined as well as account ownership?

Marketing teams often look only at the messaging and if the sales team is delivering it the way they intended. An often-quoted statistic is that 65% of marketing content goes unused by sales. Is that happening and if so, why? Remember, the message is a commercial and it may not take the customer from unaware to interested in the time frame you expect. Asking the sales team for safe and candid feedback should be a critical step included. When I had the opportunity to participate in a product launch follow-up conference call, the marketing team had this opportunity and instead for an hour had the group review a new sales aid. The changes to the sales aid were positive and helped tell a great story, which may change the 65% statistic illustrated above, but will this solve the problem of the sales numbers not hitting the mark and how long will it take?

Why does this happen time and again? Does the company culture encourage and reward this kind of behavior?

In an article by Nick Hardy with Breathe, 7 Signs you are Dealing with a Micromanager (and how to manage them) the Harvard Business Review, posed the two main reasons managers micromanage are:

  • They want to feel more connected with lower-level workers.

  • They feel more comfortable doing their old job, rather than overseeing employees who now do that job.

Leadership expert and best-selling author, Mark Murphy, adds a third dimension: fear. Nick Hardy goes on to describe, “but the fear most responsible for causing bosses to micromanage is that 48% of bosses like to be seen as experts and authority figures. More than 5,000 leaders have taken the online test titled Are You Motivated by Power or Achievement? Based on the results of the test, we know that about 41% of leaders have a very strong desire for power. This isn't always a bad thing - but when managers get carried away, that's when it becomes a problem.”

The act of micromanagement can come from a place of fear or anxiety but can also be fear of the loss of control over projects, or fear of career effect if your team is not performing (especially if you are a newer or less experienced manager.) Again, if you are a leader and you are more worried about your career than your team’s success, please go find another job. You are the biggest part of the problem. Micromanagers, through surface-level diligence, commitment and attention to detail may seem like model managers, but often use this to hide in plain sight and disguise working practices which – if you had visibility that they were going on – would probably horrify you.

A large part of the solution is to look deep into the organization. Are the sales and marketing teams aligned or silos? Going back to culture -you will find I often do because it permeates everything it does and stands for is there a lack of trust? Are the leaders from sales and marketing examining market dynamics and buyer behavior? Is there an effective Sales Enablement team that can act as a neutral conduit to help tie together sales and marketing? Is there a credible sales advisory panel to provide feedback up the leadership and marketing chain or do they rely on a select few over and over giving less of a perspective?

Looking deeper into these areas and others can provide information and direction to help the sales and marketing efforts without alienating your sales team through panic and micromanagement and provide the added benefit to the bottom line of reducing the overall cost of customer acquisition.

Many first-line managers are likely to succumb to the micromanagement path based on their experience and the culture of the company. This is common if they feel they must “follow the company line” to protect their jobs or if they feel they have no voice regarding the questions listed above.

First-line managers, you can help the company accomplish their goals and navigate through this effectively, without resorting to the evils of micromanagement if you have created the right team culture for your team (regardless of the company or senior leadership have done so.) Managers can have an open and honest conversation with their teams if there is a high culture of trust to set a plan of action toward achieving the team and company goals. This includes honest discussions about what has been working effectively in the sales process and letting them know they have your support. You as great leaders can set expectations as to standards and basic approaches. What are the guiding principles not just the tactical elements?

In other words, through effective coaching and counseling, getting the team aligned on how to move forward as opposed to micromanaging process alone, you will achieve what the company expects of you and your team while maintaining your culture and trust.

We need to remind ourselves that the role of a manager is to be the team leader, the decision-maker, and the coach, not to oversee every step taken by an employee. Henry Stewart, business author and CEO of Happy has noted that in his eyes, the number one frustration employees experience is micro-management. He suggests that managers take steps to “make clear the guidelines and what you want people to achieve. And then give people the freedom to work out how to achieve that”.

Let’s ignite with inspiration not fear!

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