Controlling Sales Personnel Through Supervision

Management also controls sales personnel through supervision. Regard­less of who does the supervising, the objective is to improve the job per­formances of sales personnel. Exercising supervisory responsibilities, the executive establishes working relations with sales personnel for pur­poses of observing, evaluating, and reporting on performance, correcting deficiencies, clarifying responsibilities and duties, providing motivation, informing sales personnel of changes in company policy, helping to solve business and personal problems, and continuing sales training. Clearly, sales supervision is concerned mainly with the action phase of control— action aimed at enhancing personnel contributions to the achievement of objectives.

How much supervision is enough? Too much is as bad as too little. It is difficult to prescribe how much supervision is enough, but there are some conditions under which supervision is needed. Among these condi­tions are:

  1. Sales personnel turnover rate excessive in a branch, district, or other organizational unit.
  2. High turnover of accounts.
  3. Increased complaints from customers.
  4. Low ratio of orders to sales calls.
  5. Total number of calls very low or very high.
  6. Increasing ratio of selling expenses to sales in an organizational unit.
  7. Low morale, as implied by negative attitude toward company, lack of enthusiasm, signs of restlessness, and job hunting.

These conditions can trace to the wrong kind of supervision as well as to too much or too little supervision. While this list is use­ful for appraising the effectiveness of sales supervision, those doing the appraising must recognize that many of these conditions may have their roots in deficiencies in other phases of sales force management. It sometimes happens, too, that a company upgrades the quality of its sales personnel and fails to adjust the pattern of supervision. The sell­ing task in many companies has changed so that it is now high-level and aligned towards key account selling, and this demands indepen­dent, self-reliant, highly educated sales personnel who can and must make their own decisions. When management brings in highly trained and self-reliant people to meet the new selling challenge, traditional

supervision—and the attitudes that underlie it—stifles those whom management seeks to encourage. What worked for so long is wrong for the more dynamic assignment of the newer type of person. The type of supervision, in other words, should be adjusted to the type of person in the selling job—when the type of person changes, so should the type of supervision.

1. Who Should Supervise?

Depending upon the company and its organization, sales personnel may be supervised by home office personnel, branch or district managers, or field sales supervisors. Put another way, sales supervision may be either through executives as one of their job responsibilities, or through special­ists whose jobs are mainly supervising. If the sales force is small and expe­rienced, sales supervision is generally through the top sales executive or an assistant. Necessarily, control through home office supervision is mini­mal, but it may be enough, especially when the sales organization is small and permits the development of close relations among sales personnel and executives and when little sales training is required.

Companies having decentralized sales organizations sometimes assign the supervision responsibility to branch or district managers. Cus­tomarily promoted from the ranks, branch managers are presumably well prepared to supervise field sales personnel. However, even in companies with elaborate field sales organization, limitations exist on the amount of supervision that branch managers should exercise. In practice, the branch manager is often a local general manager more than a specialized sales executive and, in this capacity, is responsible for the local conduct of all the company’s affairs. This is not only for managing sales person­nel but for ware- housing, extending credit and making collections, pro­viding service, and performing other activities. Branch managers spend most of their time attending to details, so it is unusual for them to devote much time to personal supervision of sales personnel. But they should spend some time. Especially when branch managers have large numbers of sales personnel under them, the time they can spend with each one is limited, and, as is true of supervision emanating from the home office, they rely mainly upon sales personnel to supervise themselves.

2. Qualifications of Sales Supervisors

Sales supervisors generally are selected from among the sales force, but besides having the qualifications required for selling success, they need other qualifications. They must be good teachers and mentors. They must recognize training needs, know how to train, be patient with those who have less skill, and be tactful in pointing out better ways of doing things. As vital links in the chain of communication—go-betweens for higher sales management and the sales force alike—they must understand the needs and problems of both and reconcile them in the field. They must be skilled in handling people and be equipped to deal with many complex situations. Beyond these supervisory duties, some companies expect sales supervisors to sell certain accounts personally, this being one way to motivate them to be aware of field selling techniques. The field sales supervisor’s job is dif­ficult and, in most companies, one with comparatively low pay. Neverthe­less, many salespersons are eager for promotions to supervisory positions, since they often are stepping stones to higher positions.

Source: Richard R. Still, Edward W. Cundliff, Normal A. P Govoni, Sandeep Puri (2017), Sales and Distribution Management: Decisions, Strategies, and Cases, Pearson; Sixth edition.

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