In Defense of the Sales Manager
“What does my sales manager DO? Why do I even have one? It feels like they’re just here to micromanage us and approve expense reports!” This a pervasive view of middle managers that many have been posting about on LinkedIn and Twitter in response to the calls for a “return to office” by employers.
Sadly, it didn’t take a post-pandemic request to return to the office for these feelings to reveal themselves. Worse yet, too often, these statements are true; however, to be fair, most sales managers have little, if any, training and have typically not had the best role models to follow. Too often they get tapped as the next manager because they’ve been the top performing salespeople who are then catapulted into a role that requires completely different skills than that of a salesperson.
Promoting your best salesperson into a sales manager role can cause you to lose both! You’ll have lost your best salesperson & you’ll end up firing your new bad sales manager. Most non-salespeople assume that the top performing salesperson can simply teach others how to sell like them and have high-performing little sales clones running around. However, here’s the little secret; top performing salespeople usually have no idea what they’re doing that sets them apart. When one is gifted with a natural ability it is easy to downplay that gift and to believe that everyone has it. The newly made sales managers tend to think that it is their individual work ethic that sets them apart. This lack of awareness results in a training technique that sounds like, “go out and just do it!”.
So, what does the sales manager need to do to ensure both their own and their team’s success?
The ideal sales manager must be able to change the behaviors of those on the team, not manage for accountability, but rather, lead each team member to maximum potential. The sales manager will want to continually grow their ability to mentor, coach, and lead. These are the three skills required to change behaviors of the team at the individual level to perform to their peak levels.
To mentor, one must be a student of the game. The manager will want to take the seemingly non-transferable skills (“I don’t know, kid, just go out and do it”) and identify the process of how that manager was successful when in sales, then train others to mimic that same process.
This might be easier than you think; the sales managers can simply record themselves performing every step of the sales process, from how to identify an ideal customer profile (ICP), develop an ICP list, effective outreach, discovery, pipeline, deal flow and territory management. The thoughts and questions that the managers would ask themselves while performing these tasks are the thoughts that will train the team. Recording the actions and the thoughts that form the actions will help to build out both the sales process and the playbook for the team to realize the same success. For a good resource, please see “Clockwork” by Mike Michalowicz, specifically step 4, chapter 5 for an easy-to-follow road map to develop and capture this information.
Often top performers find coaching to be the most difficult part of the transition into becoming a leader. They would rather do or teach techniques (“this is how I did it”). Instead, one must coach to push the individual to change their behaviors through the process of questioning strategies. This takes a lot of patience, and we all know that’s hard for top performers! For coaching effectiveness, one must have ongoing conversations with each individual team member on a consistent basis. A key point to remember: don’t reschedule these appointments, or the team will not take them seriously and will stop showing up. Keep these appointments just like they were sales appointments. One might argue that these are of equal importance to running a sales call for the long-term development of the team.
Thankfully, there is a very limited number of areas needed to coach: motivation, activity levels, a resilient/growth mindset, and results. Each member of the team will need an individualized version of coaching, based on personality, experience, territory assignments. Using the situational leadership approach will give good guidance in how to do this effectively.
Leading is not managing; leading is inspiring the team to be just that, a team. Developing the vision for your team, creating the expectations in how each member is to behave, and what quality and quantity of effort is expected for success. Especially for remote teams, developing these guiding principles is the best way that we’ve found to develop and reinforce the culture of the team.
It’s easy to fall into sales-management-by-KPIs. Because of sales enablement technology, it’s fairly easy to get metrics. The real question becomes, how can one move past simple metrics management to understanding the story that the KPIs and numbers are telling? By knowing one’s numbers at each step of the process (lead list size needed, list refresh rate, attempts, connections/replies, booked meetings, kept meetings, next steps, size pipeline, days-to-close, closing ratio…) and then leading the team to continually improve the ratios between the steps of the sales process will shorten sales cycle time, increase win rates, improve average contract values, and allow each team member to achieve their personal goals.
This type of sales manager is not only needed, but the sales team will want a sales manager like this. Mentor the team, coach to top performance, lead with clarity of expectations. Do these things and one will witness the team’s behaviors change, and in the process, the one who does these things well will build a team of leaders-in-training. Give them the playbook. Coach them on how to be the most effective version of themselves. Lead them to achieve great things.
Shannon J. Gregg is the President of Cloud Adoption Solutions, a woman-owned Salesforce partner. Harness the power of the Sales Triangle to build your predictable sales machine. This planning guide takes you through the People, Process, Technology approach of the Sales Triangle to make sure that you’ve got the right components to present predictable sales success.
Bryan Whittington is the Founder of ebsGrowth, a sales recruiting & consulting firm. Assess, Design & Build Your Sales Team. Discover your team’s sales readiness for scale by taking this self-diagnostic assessment on your team’s level of sales maturity.