What do skilled sales professionals and effective managers have in common? Frankly, not much. And when someone leverages sales skills to gain success in a management role, it’s not just a new job title — it’s a whole new world.
I learned this lesson when I was promoted to sales manager. I’d been an integral part of the sales team, but once I became responsible for managing the team, instead of executing the strategy, my relationship with my colleagues transformed. Suddenly, I had to hire the right people, fire the weak links, and dole out discipline — all things I had no experience doing.
My management mistakes were hardly unique. Many new managers struggle to adapt, often because they don’t have the proper sales management skills. They get too involved with the direct sales role. As a result, they lose sight of how to reach sales goals as a team and often make unilateral decisions. The better approach focuses on gaining success through a teamwide effort.
How to be a good sales manager
Good managers inspire others to reach their full potential while adding the best people to the team. They hold the sales staff accountable to the agreed-upon metrics and goals. They evaluate performance based on the most important revenue-generating metrics, rather than arbitrary indicators.
But a manger’s most important role is to clear the unproductive activities that don’t support sales so salespeople have a clear path to success.
I got plenty of advice about how to be a good sales manager, and it did little to get me through the first days, weeks or months. So here are a few things I learned on the job that I wish I’d known before I started:
1. Refine your team. You need to build your dream sales team as quickly as possible. Immediately evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of your existing team members while also scouting for the right additions. Determine which teammates have the skills, attributes, and cultural fit to remain on your team. Then, identify individuals who don’t have the necessary skills today but — with some guidance — could get where you need them to be.
Finally, find those team members who aren’t a good fit and aggressively interview to upgrade your team. What attributes should you look for in candidates? On one episode of the “Inside Intercom” podcast, guest John Barrows, a sales trainer and consultant, suggested hiring salespeople with passion. Barrows believes that while you can teach specific skills and techniques, you must hire for passion, grit, and drive.
2. Observe firsthand. You won’t know a sales professional until you see him or her sell. Go out in the field with everyone on your team to observe talent, style, and potential. Then, use those insights to retrain where possible and, as mentioned, add or subtract members where necessary.
In a column for Radio and Television Business Report, sales trainer Barrett Riddleberger wrote that the sales manager’s role is to help the team members develop their individual skills. By observing the process and providing specialized feedback, a good manager helps his representatives become independent.
3. Remove roadblocks. Your most important job is to remove barriers so your sales team can thrive. For instance, a 5% increase in conversion rates could lead to 50% more closed sales. Look for every opportunity to empower your sales reps to work as efficiently as possible.
I worked with a client where the business owner required his team to document all activity, not just key metrics. Each sales rep did more than 40 face-to-face prospecting calls per day and spent hours logging in every visit, including what was said and what materials were left behind. Reps were so busy manually cataloging every detail that they didn’t have time to follow up on viable opportunities.
4. Meet weekly. I’m a believer in weekly one-on-one meetings with everyone you manage. They’re a great way to hear about the opportunities, challenges, and pipeline problems your representatives face. Personal meetings also demonstrate that you respect the people you manage and care about their opinions. When you recognize each salesperson’s unique talents, you can personalize your motivational efforts to match. As a result, you’ll get the most value out of your teammates.
As a first-time sales manager, a little awkwardness is inevitable. Fortunately, you can avoid the mistakes new managers make using these tips.
Mark Thacker is the president of Sales Xceleration, a firm specializing in sales execution. Mark has a 33-year history of sales leadership and success in diverse industries. Mark has overseen the growth of over $1 billion in revenue from Sales Xceleration clients since 2011.