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Sales Management and the Effectiveness of Manpower Planning


Bobby Bowden's thought that the team with the best players usually wins is echoed by Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric.  His 20-70-10 management practice has managers rank employees into performance categories of the top 20%, middle 70%, and the bottom 10%.

The 20-70-10 thought process suggests the top 20% of employees are rewarded in both "soul-satisfying and financially satisfying ways, the middle 70% are developed through training and coaching, and the bottom 10% are moved out of the organization. We won't go into the entire, and sometimes controversial practice here or defend it one way or another - you can read about it in a short article here: http://www.welchway.com/Principles/Differentiation/The-Case-for-20-70-10.aspx

But the best sales managers think about insuring they have the best players on the field which at times requires moving out bottom-tier performers so better talent can be brought in.

The Downside to Poor Manpower Planning

The downside to a lack of effective manpower planning is costly in both the short and long term.  Without effective manpower planning you could find yourself:

  • With too few sales people to adequately cover the territory
  • With sales people lacking the skill sets, cultural fit and/or knowledge to adequately compete
  • With too many salespeople adding unnecessary and wasteful costs to the operations while reducing the competitive efficiency of the business

Challenges to Effective Manpower Planning

cultureWorking to insure you have the right individuals slotted in the right positions to maximize sales results, while intellectually a simple concept, is quite a challenge in the day-to-day efforts of sales managers. A combination of factors present real challenges to sales managers that must be skillfully negotiated to effectively surround yourself with the right people.

Challenge #1 - Reactive Planning

Traditionally, the sales managers have no defined process in place for identifying and filling gaps in manpower. There are times that we are asked to think along these lines, but usually in reaction to some other activity or event.  We might, for example, think hard about our manpower situation during budget time when we are thinking about available resources.

While this is certainly a moment in time to consider your manpower, the top producing sales managers are proactively and consistently making analyses and judgements relative to the quantity, quality and deployment of the sales people on the team.

The most effective manpower planning is not a reaction to an activity or event, but is focused on opportunities. What are the opportunities in the short and long term for the branch/region and how should the sales team be structured to capture as much of the opportunity as possible.

Challenge #2 - Culture

A culture of "Family" permeates many wholesale distributor businesses and is certainly a strength in most cases. This strength, however, can also become a negative if not balanced with the need for managing costs and generating bottom and top line sales results.

In these challenging times, we must manager and lead the organization in such a way that slaes opportunities are maximized and costs are controlled. Success comes from having the right people in teh right position doing the right things and at times "Family" type cultures do not emphazie this business reality.

Challenge #3 - Business Realities

Even when decisions to move the right people into the right positions is made, business realities can also cause challenges. Often times, especially in the current depressed economic environment we find ourselves, many hiring decisions have to be headcount neutral - "to get this new sales representative, you've got to get rid of this one."

Challenge #4 - Established Relationships


Managers find it difficult to make the right decision because there are relationships in place and sometimes those get in the way of making the right decision for the business. You might, for example, have been referred to an individual with a high desire to work for your organization and could be very successful bringing new skills and talents to the team. If, however, bringing this individual in would necessitate replacing an individual whose production might not be as we believe it should, but we have had a relationship over the years - the relationship might win out over improved performance.

Challenge #5 - Focus on Tenure versus Performance

People and Performance Management are interrelated.  We often create our own roadblocks, filling positions based on tenure versus performance. If we do a better job at performance management, we will have people ready to step into those roles that we need versus someone who has been here for 15 years who is ready to provide a mediocre level of performance.

How about you? What challenges do you face putting the right players on the field?


Great post, Dirk, the best I've seen on the topic! You've taken a problem that many shy away from, regarding it as too complex, and made is straightforward. The challenge day to day is that it is simply easier to push your A & B players harder or just ignore the problem. You have to get out ahead of the problem--finding a path that honors performance and the culture you value without alienating those with potential to grow... 
Having led succession mgt for over 20yrs, I'll highlight the simple lil' shift that makes the Welchian 20-70-10 ratio work: Boldly insert a "growth" demand--it tweaks the culture and standards, then pulls the other factors you highlight here along with them. Here's the key: 
_You can't demand that everyone is an "A" salespro and firing all the "Cs" "Ds" regularly will create a culture of fear (and retention issues; sabotagep etc.) 
So...help salespro's know where they are at and demand that every player is working on the personal growth to achieve more--i.e., Every C must be working to master B-level skills. Simply working harder and applying C-level skill will not get them to a B. 
Then, when you must apply pressure to change or even must dismiss a non-producer, it becomes clear to all that he/she was not doing the work to meet the demands of a changing marketplace and move oneself forward--though you provided the nec. resources and coaching. 
Sales talent w/potential always responds to a challenge. Betting on "results" and not advancing skills only results in occasional 'pops' on one's monthly numbers (what, in the long-run, is revealed as luck), not moving up a level of achievement in a sustainable way. 
Be bold, challenge 'em to grow.
Posted @ Wednesday, June 13, 2012 9:59 AM by tvannest
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