Jonathan Farrington

Article Summary:

What’s involved in selling and in sales management including persuasion, characteristics of the role, organizing, planning, training, motivation, and recruitment.

Selling and Sales Management: What’s Involved

What any individual Sales Leader actively does is conditioned by the size of their company, the products it sells and the way they are sold, the organization of functions within it, and perhaps their own special ability. They may carry most or all of the responsibilities which would be those of a Marketing Manager, if this position does not exist within their company.

Essentially, however, the task of the Sales Leader is to produce revenue for their company through the operations of the sales staff for whom they are responsible. The size of this revenue, and the profit (however defined) which it should show, are usually predetermined in order to achieve the aims of company policy. The objectives which they set for the various activities which are involved in carrying out this task should therefore be derived from, and be compatible with, company objectives, such as return on capital employed, cash flow, market position, growth.

Characteristics Of The Role:

  • Many of the factors which affect success are not within their control (such as competitors and government legislation).
  • They are nevertheless required to forecast future sales and to plan their operation accordingly, using their judgment and experience.
  • They must depend on other departments for the design, production, quality and delivery of products for which they obtain orders, just as those departments must depend on them to get these orders.
  • The sales staff that they rely on to produce the results they have planned for, are for most of the time working alone, not under their immediate control.
  • They are engaged in a constant struggle to obtain increased sales against competitors with the same aim.
Although the basic functions and skills of management, discussed later, apply to their job, it is clear that such qualities as creativeness, flexibility, tenacity, and ability to deal effectively with people, will be particularly important. At the same time the ability to analyze market situations and form sound judgments on them, is equally necessary but may not sit easily with the kind of qualities mentioned.

The Selling Role
Since, like other managers, the Sales Leader depends on those who work for them to produce the results by which they are judged, consideration of their job can usefully continue by examining the nature and characteristics of industrial selling and, hence, of the salesperson’s job.

Personal selling is only one of several possible ways of communicating with customers and potential customers but, particularly where industrial goods are concerned, is undoubtedly the most effective in terms of achieving the objective, influencing the decision to buy. It is also, even though selling costs may be a small percentage of revenue, expensive. Sales staff should therefore be treated as a scarce resource, to be used as effectively as possible.

Selling itself is a process of bringing persuasion to bear, to:

  • Awaken awareness of a need or problem
  • Establish that the need can be satisfied by a particular type of product
  • Convince the prospective user that the salesperson’s own product can offer a superior satisfaction.
The actual selling job for a particular product or company may embrace all three of these stages, the last two, or the last only, depending on the situation requirements.
  • An innovatory product, hitherto unknown
  • A product for which there are alternatives
  • An established market in which the user can choose from a number of makes.
For economy of effort the salesperson’s task (and perhaps the kind of person required) should be defined accordingly.

Other Tasks of the Sales Staff
Although selling is the basic justification of the salespersons’ existence and the Sales Leaders purpose in employing them, all sales staff have to spend part of their time doing other things (e.g. traveling and preparing reports). Sales staff are, however, often also required to:

  • Provide technical information other than that strictly needed to make a sale
  • Give some kind of after-sales service
  • Conduct market research (going beyond the normal, essential supply of market intelligence about customers, competitors, etc)
  • Check credit status of potential customers
It may or may not be that the salesperson is the best person to do such things as these. As, however, he is a scarce resource, expensive, and employed to obtain orders, the cost-effectiveness of using them for such purposes compared with other means should be examined – remembering also that there may be some loss of sales to take into account (the “opportunity cost”).

The Sales Manager’s Responsibility for Sales Staff
Some characteristics common to most forms of selling are:

  • Smaller sales forces in industrial selling than consumer goods selling, usually dealing with a very much smaller number of clients.
  • Responsibility and power to make decisions vested in the individual salesperson.
  • The need often to deal with a number of people in the customer company in order to achieve buying decisions.
These characteristics must influence the nature of the Sales Manager’s responsibility for their sales staff and the forms it takes.

One effect may well be that a good deal of the market analysis and planning which is part of the Sales Manager’s responsibility, is delegated to sales staff who, to this extent, are the managers of their own territory. If this is so, the need for clear objectives and adequate overall control is stronger than if sales staff were more closely directed. This also emphasizes the importance of good communication and information, flowing in both directions.

The Sales Manager’s general responsibilities for the sales staff may be summarized as:

Planning – They are given resources, human and financial, and must plan to use those in the most effective combination to achieve predetermined results. They can do this only by knowing their staff and understanding the nature and behavior of costs.

Organizing – The way in which they develop sales staff – whether on a general or territorial basis, or specializing in types of product, or by class of customer or end user – should derive from a study of the market, taking into account also the qualifications and the experience of the sales staff.

Training – As products, markets and objectives tend to be continually developing and changing, training also should be a continuous process. With small sales forces, formal training presents difficulties, but the need to always seek a higher standard of performance remains.

Control – This involves setting targets and standards for measurement of performance, and taking appropriate action when they are not met.

Motivation – Motivation implies two effects in the sales staff: the right attitude to their job and willingness to play their part to the best of their ability in achieving aims set by their manager. It results partly from training, partly from incentives (financial and other), and perhaps most of all from the leadership given by their manager. Regular appraisal of performance and attitudes by discussion with the sales force, and observation of their work, are important for this purpose.

Recruitment Of Sales Staff
Selecting a person who will become a successful member of the sales force for any particular company is very difficult, whether they are appointed from within the company or are recruited from outside. It is often made more difficult than it need be by the lack of an adequate specification of the job the sales person is to do and, derived from this, a specification of the kind of person who might be likely to succeed. Such specifications introduce some objectivity into the selection process and provide some measures of comparability between candidates.

The importance of the sales person to their company, and the considerable investment made in them, justify a systematic approach to the ways in which, as a candidate, they are assessed and decisions are made about them. The validity of assumptions made about them at the time of appointment should be checked against subsequent performance, and the reasons for mistakes investigated.

The subjective element in selection will never be eliminated, and in at least one respect it is a valid criterion. The person chosen must “fit in” to the team comprising the Sales Manager and their sales force. If they do not do so, no matter how suitable their qualifications and experience may be, friction is likely to ensue.

For a group of people to remain “consciously competent” at optimum performance levels, they require frequent injections of stimulation, motivational guidance and prompting otherwise they can easily lapse into” unconsciously competent”, or worse, “unconsciously incompetent.”

The primary objective of a professional Sales Manager has to be: “To achieve consistently superior results, through the performance of every key individual.”

Jonathan Farrington is a globally recognized business coach, mentor, author and consultant, who has guided hundreds of companies and thousands of individuals around the world towards optimum performance levels. Formerly Jonathan was the Managing Partner of The jfa Group which he founded in 1994. Now he is the Chairman of The Sales Corporation and CEO of Top Sales Associates. Full details are available on Jonathan’s website at

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