Many sales executives get promoted to their positions because of their previous performances as salespersons. In some companies, outstanding salespersons have an inside track when sales executives’ jobs are being filled. The assumption is that outstanding salespersons will be outstanding sales executives. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The sales executive’s job demands administrative skills much beyond those required of salespeople. Personal-selling experience is not unimportant, as sales executives manage people who do personal selling. But personal-selling experience and outstanding personal-selling performance are two different things—most companies can recount instances where an outstanding salesperson failed in a sales executive’s job.
Basically, the sales executive has two sets of functions: operating and planning. The operating functions include sales force management, handling relationships with personnel in other company departments and with the trade (intermediaries and/or customers), communicating and coordinating with other marketing executives, and reporting to some superior executive (such as the marketing vice-president). In addition, in some companies and fairly commonly in lower-level sales executive positions, the sales executive sells some accounts personally (to keep a “hand in” and to keep abreast of current selling problems and conditions).
The sales executive’s planning functions include those connected with the sales program, the sales organization, and its control. The sales executive is responsible for setting personal-selling goals, for developing sales programs designed to achieve these goals, for formulating sales policies and personal-selling strategies, and for putting together plans for their implementation. Sales programs are put into effect through the sales organization, and the sales executive is responsible for designing and shaping the sales organization, for staffing it, for developing the skills of those who are part of it, and for providing leadership to it. Achievement of sales departmental goals requires controls over selling activities, sales volume, selling expenses, and the like. The sales executive is responsible for these and related control activities.
The relative emphasis that sales executives give to the operating and planning functions varies with (1) the type of products, (2) the size of company, and (3) the type of supervisory organization. Customarily, sales executives at all organizational levels devote more time and attention to sales force management than they do to any other single activity.
The significance attached to operating and planning functions varies with the product. If the product is a consumer good, sales executives attach the greatest importance to planning functions: development of sales programs, coordination of personal selling with advertising, and building and maintaining relationships with dealers and customers. If the product is an industrial good, sales executives attach the greatest importance to the operating functions—managing and directing the sales force, making calls with salespeople, and selling personal accounts. Consumer-goods sales managers, in general, spend more time on planning and less on operating than do their counterparts in industrial-goods companies.
The amount of the sales executive’s time devoted to planning and operating functions is influenced by the size of the sales organization. Sales executives in small companies spend less time on planning and more on operating. As the size of the company increases, the sales executive devotes more time to planning and less to operating.
Exerting important influences on the way sales executives distribute their time and effort, too, is the type of supervisory organization. When the sales executive supervises the field sales force directly, he or she spends most of the time on operating functions. When the sales executive supervises the field sales force through subordinate sales executives, more attention is devoted to planning and less to operating. Sales executives who have high-caliber subordinates generally are more willing to delegate most of the performance of the operating functions to them and, consequently, have more time left for planning.
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.