5 tips on teaching people to manage a sales team: an Asian view

by Geoff Alexander

Ever since I started my inside sales training company, I’ve been working with internationally-based teams. This week, I met with Mike, a professor at a well-known university in a large Asian city. He’ll be teaching a course on managing sales teams, and his students are MBA folks from all over Asia. The class will be held in Thailand, and we discussed bringing me in as a guest speaker. I’ve got commitments in the U.S. during that time, so instead, he asked me for some tips on teaching the class on how to be effective sales managers. Over coffee, I suggested 5 priorities, in terms of effectively managing a team. Although initially applicable to Asian companies, several of these points are applicable to everyone:

1)      Emphasize that you’re teaching techniques that work in the United States and Canada. Not all the techniques will work in all countries. But encourage students to “think out of the box.” I’ve made a career out of calling high, and it works in Asia, too. And you don’t need an introduction to do it.

2)      While “relationship selling” has its benefits, many deals are lost all over the world because despite the closeness of the relationship, a competitor offered something more beneficial, at a better price point. Even if you have a strong relationship, focus on helping the prospect to solve a problem, and prove by ROI (return on investment) math formulas that the solution makes financial sense.

3)      In Asian countries, be an expert in familial relationships that run corporations. In Thailand, for example, a few dozen families run the lion’s share of the country’s business. There’s a book, even, that describes these families, provides links through marriage, and lists many of the companies that are connected-family-wise. When you’re prospecting to an enterprise, ensure that you know as much as possible about the people running it, as well as their familial relationships with leaders in other companies.

4)      Begin developing a personal “brand” through LinkedIn, and develop a significant list of business contacts as soon as possible. MBA school is a great place to get started. And observe business etiquette: don’t invite people you haven’t met, or talked to. You’re not making “friends,” you’re making valid business relationships, and inviting everyone under the sun to be your contact runs your credibility. Those management contacts in your LinkedIn profile will be of great assistance to you as you hire salespeople, and will more than occasionally offer you personnel insight that references can’t.

5)      You’ll be hiring salespeople, right? Place a lot of value in role-playing during the interview process, and check references thoroughly. Don’t place any value at all on “personality tests.” No test can tell you who will or will not be a great salesperson. Lots of superior performers I know just walk away from an interview if they’re asked to take a test. You’re dealing with professionals, not elementary school children.

So now Mike’s on his way, with some additional ideas for his curriculum that weren’t in the textbook. The class itself is somewhat ironic, because Asians have been selling things far longer than we have in the U.S. But concepts such as ROI selling, electronic business networking, and calling high, which were perfected in the west, have begun to change the face of selling in Asia too. Mike’s looking forward to some spirited dialogue in his class, and I can’t wait to hear about the feedback from his students regarding how they can potentially put these ideas to use in their current of future sales operations, internationally.