Strategic Investing for Sales Managers

By Lain Ehmann

Portfolio management isn’t just for the bulls and the bears. Instead, as a sales manager you should view your team’s list of accounts as a portfolio of investments – investments in attention, time, energy and other resources, says Amir Hartman, managing director of Mainstay Partners in Redwood City, California, and author of Ruthless Execution: What Business Leaders Do When Their Companies Hit the Wall (Financial Times Prentice Hall, 2003). Just like a financial investor, Hartman says you should monitor your investments across different categories of risk and return, optimizing your portfolio for your sales organization.

Hartman proposes a performance portfolio framework, whereby accounts can be mapped into categories according to how critical the investment is to the business’s success, how new or innovative the initiative is, and the associated risk and possible return. Once you map your current efforts and see where the bulk of your investments lie, you can determine if the allocation of resources matches your organizational goals.

“Do I allocate my attention across those four budgets in the same way? No, I do not,” says Hartman. For example, if you’re intent on breaking into a new market and are launching a do-or-die product offering, you should be allocating greater resources to the appropriate accounts. Alternately, if you’re hoping to hunker down and ride out the current economic climate with as few casualties from your roster as possible, you should place a greater concentration on existing accounts and pay less attention to experimentation.

Different categories call for different investments and different skill sets, he says. Some of your team members might be excellent prospectors or particularly skilled at launching a new product line; others might naturally gravitate to a day-to-day account management role. Once you recognize your optimal portfolio mix, you can treat your staff as another resource and allocate them accordingly.

Using a model like Hartman’s won’t solve your account management problems. Instead, “a framework is a pair of glasses, a set of lenses you put on to look at a certain scenario,” he explains. “It’s really just a disciplined approach to making decisions about how to allocate attention.”

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