Episode #3: "When a Sales Manager Should Save a Deal," with Mark Hunter

Hosts: Tim Clarke & Kevin Micalizzi

We’ve all seen it. At the end of the month, the sales manager jumps in to “save the deal.” It often stings, and it always undermines the salesperson's credibility with the customer. Join the conversation with Mark Hunter, CEO and Founder of Sales Hunter and author of High-Profit Selling, as he shares how sales leaders that avoid the trap of saving the deal help their reps close even more.

Read the article that inspired the conversation: “When a Sales Manager Should Save a Deal

Tim Clarke: Thank you for joining the quotable podcast.  Today we're joined by our guest speaker Mark Hunter, who's the CEO founder of the Sales Hunter. He's the author of "High Profit Selling - Win the Sale Without Compromising on Price." And today we'll be discussing a topic that's really front of mind for Mark, when a manager should jump in to save a deal.

I'm Tim Clarke, product marketing director at Salesforce and I'm joined today by our guest host, Kevin Micalizzi, product marketing senior manager here at Salesforce. Welcome, Kevin.

Kevin Micalizzi: Hey, Tim.

Tim: Kevin's also our executive producer of the quotable podcast program so please send in all of your feedback and any ideas that you've got for all of these different podcasts on Quotable.com. Before we dive into today's topic, Mark why don't you tell us a bit more about yourself.

Mark Hunter: Hey. Thank you for having me on today, Tim. Very much appreciate it. I have the unique opportunity. I travel about 200 days a year, speaking at a wide number of conferences around the US and have had a chance to speak at a number of Salesforce events.

All of my conversation is really about, how do you maximize price? How do you maximize profit? And it really comes down to sales leadership, which is what we're going to be delving into here. Tim, thanks so much for allowing me to be on.

Tim: Yeah, thank you. Kevin, I think you're going to get us started.

Kevin: Absolutely. Mark, you recently published a piece on Quotable called "When a Sales Manager Should Save a Deal." The hint is basically never. I'm curious, why did you choose this topic?

Mark: Because it is very difficult for salespeople to call out the sales manager and say, "Hey, you're messing things up." But this is exactly what happens too many times. When the sales manager comes in at end of the fiscal year, at the end of the quarter, and they come in to try to close the deal because they want to make sure that they get the deal.

But what they do is they undermine the value and the credibility that the salesperson has built up with the customer. Suddenly, no longer is the sales person's call, but it's now the sales manager's call.

Tim: Mark, you write that sales managers should not be helping to close the deal. I know from the eight years that I spent in sales the amount of end of month, end of quarter, end of year, opportunities when I have the sales managers that they're getting involved in the deal because they feel it's their responsibility. A lot of the time, it's the top-down pressure. Why do you feel that sales managers should not be helping to close these deals?

Mark: The sales manager can certainly. They have the skill-set to go in and close the deal, but many times what happens is the sales person actually has the capability of closing the deal themselves.

If the sales manager, and let's start using the term "Sales leader" because that's what I want the sales manager to be. I want them to be the sales leader in terms of coaching and helping to prop up and support the sales person, that they can go in and close the deal on their own. because here's what happens.

The sales manager goes in at the end of the quarter, and I've been on both sides of the situation both as a salesperson and a sales manager. You're desperate to get that deal. What happens is you start undermining. You start cutting price. You start giving away things. You start doing whatever it takes to close the deal.

Think about the signal that that sends to the customer. The customer now says, "Hey, I want to get a better deal. All I need to do is get the sales manager involved." What does this tell the sales person? All of the work that you've done to create the equity, to create the brand positioning, to position yourself as truly a leader with that customer goes right out the window.

You know what? Your skill set as a sales person is really much better than you think it is, and you could have, and probably would have closed that deal without the sales manager's assistance especially undermining on the price.

Tim: Mark, you walk about how the problem isn't the closing of that deal, but it's really much further up the sales funnel, and how important the process is for the sales manager, and that they need to buy into it 100 percent. What does that mean to you?

Mark: This is what's very interesting. One of the great questions I love asking sales managers when I'm out working with an organization, I'll ask them, "When do you tend to go out and make calls with your sales people?" Almost invariably it winds up being they're back loaded. They're towards the end of the fiscal year, towards the end of the quarter.

I say, "That's the whole problem. You need to be out at the start of the fiscal year, the start of quarter making sales calls. Why? Because the sales leader has the ability to ask questions, get meetings and have relationships and dialog that the sales person can't have."

That's not to diminish the sales person. That just goes with the title. That just goes with the title of being the sales manager. The job of the sales manager is to really be able to uncover new, strategic opportunities. Opportunities that the sales person never be allowed to get because of the fact they just don't have that position and that title.

The work of the sales leader is to be front loaded and bring strategic opportunities out on the table that the sales person can now capitalize on over the course of the quarter and also the year.

Kevin: When we talk about this overall process and make clear there's lots of different steps throughout this individual process, what recommendations would you have for sales managers, sales leaders in terms of what they should be doing from a coaching and development perspective for their sales teams?

Mark: That is a great piece, I'll tell you why. Too many sales leaders don't coach before the sales call. What they do is they critique after the sales call. That's really what the sales manager does, they critique after the sales call, "You stupid person, you failed to do this and this and this."

The sales leader coaches ahead of time. What do I mean by this? One of the questions that you, the salesperson, need to be asking, "Let's walk through, let's dialog through what do we want to be the key components of the sales call. What's the objective?"

The biggest thing that the sales leader can do is to give the salesperson a vote of confidence that they are going to be able to go into that sales call and be successful. I remember back in my days as being a salesperson and I had a particular manager, he was a master of the critique. He didn't critique, he ripped you apart.

As a result, I always went into every sales call almost feeling that, "This is going to be disaster because no matter how it comes out, I know he's gonna rip me the big one" and my performance never measured up to what it could. Conversely, I had leaders at other times in my sales career that they really equipped me and helped prepare me ahead of time and my level of performance, my level of result's far superior.

Really, it's not after the fact, it's before it happens. That's where the sales leader really comes into play and earns their keep.

Tim: Mark, when you're looking at the sales process -- I think a lot of sales leaders inherited a process within their organization -- what do you recommend they do to find it and fix what isn't working in their process?

Mark: That's a great way to say "inherit." In other words, the bad stuff because inherently, almost 90 percent of all sales organizations have a management structure that really is anything but optimal. It's all about checking reports, checking numbers, doing updates, and all that type of stuff and very little of it is in coaching.

What you have to do as a sales leader is say, "I'm not gonna buy into this. OK, I still got to do these reports, I still got to do that. I get that," you can't change, it can't...Rome wasn't built in a day, "but what I need to be doing is I need to be working on the front end."

What are the two or three components...let's break this apart. The sales leader says, "OK. What are the two or three components, and no more than three, that I want to help each of my sales people develop? What are those two or three key components? What can I do very specifically?

I got to get buy-in, I got to get very specific buy-in with my sales person at 'This is what we're gonna work on' and what's the roadmap? What are the steps, what are the things?" Here's where the vast majority, I think, of sales managers fall down.

They do coaching, if you could even call it that, by telling the person what to do. The best coach doesn't tell you what to do but asks questions to get you to see yourself what you need to do. The reason that I like this approach is because it's no different than what we want to do when we're on a sales call with a customer.

We can tell the customer all we want, but if the customer doesn't buy into it, they're not going to do it. How do we get them? We ask the customer questions. When the customer reveals to us the information, they tend to believe it.

Same thing with coaching a sales person, so what we got to do is we have to shift this paradigm around because here's where this really starts to come into play. I can be in a situation where if I coach you and I help you, "OK. These are the questions I think we need to be looking at asking when we're on the sales call, and oh, by the way, here's what our expected outcome is."

What I mean with the expected outcome, do I intend to close the sale, do I not intend to...is it that just this is the next step, whatever it might be. Here is the whole thing, give your sales person the support and the latitude that if they can't achieve that, they can walk away.

Let me explain this here for bit. What happens is sales people will give away the farm to keep their boss happy. I used to do this all the time. I would give away the farm, I would cut price, I would do whatever I needed to just to keep me from getting my head chewed out when I got back to the office.

My boss would never quite find out the price until we were way down the road, and by that time he'd forgotten about it, and life would be OK. What I want salespeople to understand from their manager is that, hey if I'm not successful, and I can't get the customer to this point, I can walk away.

There's all strategy in walking away. It's not shutting down the relationship with the customer. It's simply agreeing to disagree and understanding what the next steps are going to be. It's amazing what happens. The salesperson feels so much more confident.

When the salesperson feels more confident it is amazing how much more successful the salesperson is in understanding and learning what is it that the customer's really saying. What happens is, we come out of it with a better deal. The customer is more satisfied because they have a salesperson who truly listens.

The salesperson truly wins because they come out of it with a better deal. Gee, doesn't that help the sales leader? It sure does.

Tim: I want to go back to earlier in the podcast you referenced let's talk about sales manager and a sales leader. I know this is something that you talk about quite a lot. Could you just delve into a little bit more detail on this? For you, what is the difference between a sales manager and a sales leader?

Mark: Sure. The easiest way to look at it is a manager manages activities. A leader leads people. That's a very much of a cliché so to speak. What I mean by this is that the manager is the one who sits there and manages the reports, get this check in and get this information in, make sure this is updated, all that stuff.

The leader, they know they got reports to take care of, but they're leading the people. They're leading the people by helping them see what is it that they need to do to develop themselves. What I want to do as a leader with my people is I want them to create for themselves a development culture within themselves.

In other words, a development culture where every day they access themselves. Every day they review themselves. Every day they critique themselves. Not negatively, but positively to say, "Hey. What went right? What went wrong? How do I build on this?"

When I'm a leader and I have salespeople that are developing themselves, wow, look at how much better the results can be. The manager is the one who wants to control everything. They want to make sure that they are the only way. This is the way we're going to do it, and everything is so regimented and so controlled. It's a robotic relationship.

Think about it. Sales is anything but a robotic relationship with the customer. If it is a robotic relationship, then why do I need sales people? It truly is an Internet driven process. Sales is about really understanding the customer. To do that, that means I got to go in and use my intellectual, my insights. I have to really be engaged.

Can I use the word "Emotional"? Yeah, emotionally. Emotionally engaged to understanding where the customer's coming from. A manager's not going to be able to create salespeople like that, a leader is.

Kevin: Mark, for those listening in who are probably questioning whether they're on the leadership or the management side, what are some of the attributes that you've seen for great sales leaders, things that they should be emulating?

Mark: The easiest thing is if you're a sales manager, and you're listening to this, and you're asking, "Well what am I, a manager or a leader?" ask yourself this question: How much time do you spend helping your salespeople prepare for the call versus critiquing after the call?

Two, what is the percentage of questions that you ask your salespeople versus orders that you dictate? Three, what is the level of one on one time that you spend with your salespeople? Leaders are very comfortable going one on one with their salespeople, not one on one from a confrontational, but one on one time in terms of coaching and developing.

Fourth, a leader is going to understand what you the salesperson, what are your professional goals and what are your personal goals? The manager is never going to be concerned about a person's personal goals, but a leader is. A leader knows that I can't separate completely professional from personal. It is totally interrelated.

When things are going good for me at home it's amazing how much better they're going for me at work. If they're not going well at work, guess what, it's probably not going well at home. The leader understands this. This isn't to play parental role. No. No. It's to play the role of the coach. It's to play the role of the coach in truly helping people.

Those are just some of the things that if you ask yourself, "Am I doing this?" If you're not, you truly are a manager. One final piece that I would challenge every manager who wants to move into the real coaching world, you want to ask yourself, can you be spending at least ten percent of your time and start off with just ten percent.

Ten percent of your extra time. That's not even one hour a day coaching your individual people. What does this mean? This might mean that I'm going to take one salesperson, and I'm going to spend 30 minutes a day with them coaching. Maybe I've got ten salespeople. Guess what, I'm doing two people per day.

I'm going to spend 30 minutes a day one on one with them coaching them. Your whole objective is, if overtime you can get your coaching up to where you're doing 30 or 40 percent of your time. Think about what's going to happen here.

The results are going to be that you're no longer having to go out at the end of the quarter to close the deal because that salesperson's going to be very capable of closing the deal themselves without you being there. What's that going to free you up? It's going to free you up to do more coaching and to make your sales calls.

At the beginning of the quarter, I'm covering more strategic opportunities with the customer.

Tim: Mark, I know at the beginning I referenced your book called "High Profit Selling." I love the tag line in the book title. "Winning the sale without compromising on price." Clearly, right now, we're talking about when a sales manager should and shouldn't get involved in closing that deal.

How many times have you seen the sales manager, the leader, the rep convincing themselves that it's part of closing the deal, the driving to that final meeting? How many times have you seen them almost convincing themselves that they need to give a discount?

Mark: Oh, that happens way too much. I fell victim to that. On maybe the long drive to the customer, it's amazing how the windshield would start talking back to me. Of course, remember, we never lost a sale because of our ineptitude. We always lost a sale because our price was too high.

This really comes back to the whole thing that as a sales manager I've got to coach and prep my salespeople to be able to go out and win. Let's just run down this road for a bit. Does this mean you never negotiate? No. You may need to negotiate. Here's what I've found, I don't need to negotiate on price. I do not need to negotiate on price.

There is another, even more critical factor than price, and that's time. Time is something that I can negotiate over. There are other critical factors that the customer has. That's what I want to negotiate over. As soon as I start negotiating on price with one customer, I will negotiate on price with every customer. It's a disease.

I've seen way too many salespeople, way too many organizations, get in that groove. In fact, this is a real problem I see, sales managers getting in that problem. They are so used to going out at the end of the quarter, making the number, and they make the number by playing "Let's Make a Deal." Guess what. Customers pick up on that pretty quickly.

Kevin: Mark, for the sales leaders who've been listening in and panicking right now about making their numbers, are there situations where you feel they should step in to save the deal?

Mark: Yeah. There are always going to be times when you have to, but let me tell you something. They are far fewer than you ever realize. If you have a sale that you have to achieve, because if you don't, you're going to miss the number that you need to report to your shareholders, I get it. You got to step in.

There are going to be times, but I'll tell you what. There are far fewer than people ever realize. Here's the whole thing. We got to look at the long term picture. This is another difference between managers and leaders. Managers look at the short term. Leaders look at the long term.

Leaders are saying, "There may be times when I'm going to have to forego X because I'm going to gain Y long term. Gaining Y long term is going to be far more beneficial. That's very easy for us to sit here as we're recording this to say that. I get it. You get down to that 13th week and you got to close that deal.

I get it. The pressure, but you really have to take a step back and say, "What is going to be the ramification of this long term?" Here is where I really drop the line and ask myself this question. Is the customer I'm looking to close the sale at, is this a repeat customer? Is this a customer that I'm going to be coming back to, quarter in, quarter out, getting additional business?

If I go in and close the sale once at the end of the quarter, they're going to remember that for next quarter. If, on the other hand, this is a one-off transaction and I will never interface with this customer again, I would probably be a little more likely to jump in and close that deal.

My only risk is with the salesperson. I've got to get them to understand that, "Hey, I'm only stepping in to save this this one time because fiscally, financially, we need it to make the number and it's a one-off transaction."

Tim: Mark, one of the things I really want to bring up again is that so many different organizations out there, some big, some small. Some have structured processes, some don't. When you're coming towards the end of the quarter, the CEO, he or she says to the sales leader, to the sales manager, "I need you to get out there. I need you to close the deal."

What tips do you have for them to manage upwards? Between the sales manager, sales leader, and the rep, you already given some great tips, what about managing upwards towards that CEO?

Mark: That's where that sales manager, the sales leader, has not done a good job of managing up throughout the quarter. The sales manager would be very upset at the salesperson who walks in at the end of the quarter and says, "I'm going to miss my number."

The CEO is going to be upset if you walk in to their office at the last week of the quarter and say, "We're going to miss the number." I can't do that. There is no way I can do that. What I've got to make sure is that I'm managing up throughout the quarter.

That means staying abreast. That means probably saying, "You know what, CEO? I want you going out with me at one or two sales calls at the beginning of every quarter." That is a real scary proposition for a lot of people. I've been in that situation.

I had a president who was absolutely petrified to go out with the customers. When I was able to get him to finally realize that you could come out with me, it will be safe, nobody's going to shoot you, there's no weapons involved, then it's amazing how over the course of a couple of quarters, he began to understand and look at the business differently.

Again, if I'm getting hit with this on week 13, shame on me as a sales manager for failing to coach upward throughout the entire quarter.

Kevin: Thanks, Mark. As we're getting close to time here, I want to ask you, what closing thought or quote do you want to leave our sales leaders with?

Mark: You're using the term "sales leader," and that is so good because here's the definition. I've been using this definition for a long time. I truly believe it 100 percent. The objective of a leader, a sales leader, is to help those you lead see and achieve things they didn't think were possible.

That is really what our goal is. What I want to do is I want to create salespeople who can be more successful without me being with them. That's not to diminish my role. That's to say that what I've done, I've done such a great job coaching them that they can achieve a level of success that goes above and beyond what they thought was possible.

Tim: Thanks very much, Mark. I think you've given some great insights there for people across the sales organization about when to really get involved in that deal closing and when not to get involved as well.

Thanks, Kevin, for being our co-host today, and Mark, really appreciate your time as well.

Mark: Thank you so much.

Kevin: Thanks, Tim. Thanks, Mark.

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