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Promoted! Effective Sales Management Begins with Letting Go

Why is there so much confusion about what effective sales management looks like?

Ask 10 new sales managers from 10 different companies what their job entails, and you’ll get 10 different answers. Except for this one common denominator: Everyone agrees that sales managers are responsible for sales numbers. But how to deliver on that responsibility? That’s where the confusion comes into play.

Use this table to evaluate whether you’re doing the work of sales management or doing something else.

Effective Sales Management Through Delegation

Best Practices for Distributing the Work that Drives Sales


What Sellers Do

What Sales Managers Do

What Others Do

Lead Generation

Call on leads in a timely manner using value-based approach.

Monitor and coach on top-of-the-funnel effectiveness.

Marketing drives qualified leads in from a variety of sources.

Needs Discovery

Conduct dialogic assessment to build buyer desire.

Monitor and coach question-asking effectiveness.

Product managers inform sales about user needs that emerge.

Proposal Preparation

Link buyer needs to solutions in a compelling, personalized way.

Review and coach on proposal prep and presentations.

Marketing provides templates, decks, starter talking points.

Answering Objections

Listen and respond effectively to bring focus back to value.

Coach on objection responses and positioning of value.

Marketing provides research on competition and price/value.

Negotiating Terms

Uphold price and collaborate with buyer to deliver value.

Approve reduced prices in exchange for equivalent terms.

Finance informs pricing floors and educates on ROI needed.

Closing the Sale

Respond to buying signals; close on deals that deliver value.

Observe and coach for skills development.

Operations, Production, others respond to fulfill orders.

Handling Complaints

Facilitate communications to expediently resolve issues.

Empower sellers and others to address customer needs.

Credit, operations, production, etc. handle issues directly.

Forecasting Performance

Keep data in CRM updated for “flash” reporting.

Monitor data and coach sellers when gaps first appear.

Sr. management requests only the necessary reports/updates.

Filling Vacancies

Help cover open territories/ accounts.

Expediently fill open sales jobs with high-quality sales talent.

HR recruits/screens candidates; leads selection process.

Training New Hires

Mentor, demonstrate, answer questions. Allow job shadowing.

Set expectations; coordinate training; monitor progress.

HR handles paperwork, policies, company-wide onboarding.

Developing Veterans

Responsible for own ongoing professional development.

Coach for stretch assignments and continual learning.

Sr. management & HR provide development opportunities.

Managing Performance

Work to meet activity standards and achieve sales goals.

Monitor and coach for skills that produce results.

HR is involved when underperformance is an issue.

Staying in the column labeled “What Sales Managers Do” will set you up for success.

Spending time in the seller column creates two problems. First, every minute you spend there is time lost in doing your actual job of managing. Second, if you’re doing the work of selling, you’re robbing sellers of learning opportunities. You’re inadvertently signaling to them that you lack confidence in their abilities and that you’re not willing to invest in their growth and development.

Doing work that’s listed in that third column will also impair your effectiveness. Collaborating with others vs. trying to do it all yourself is going to liberate you to do the most important, highest-value work (the work in your own column!).

Wait. What? NOT Selling!?!??!!

You read that correctly. Sales managers should not be doing the work of selling.

In last week’s post, part of this series for newly promoted sales managers, we described the necessity of making successful passages from one job level to the next. We also provided an overview of three specific passages you’ll need to make from seller to sales manager. All three of them involve getting the work done through other people -- that is the essence of management.

It’s generally easier to make a transition into management when you work in other functions. In sales, managers still have goals related to making sales. Oftentimes, they still get paid commissions for sales goal attainment. And they still get pressure from their sales directors about making the numbers. So they default into selling mode.

That’s a mistake. Here’s why.

What Happens When You Keep on Selling

If you manage sellers in multiple territories or categories, assuming the role of “super seller” puts you in an impossible situation. Your territory is now much larger (the cumulative territories of all sellers who report to you). Your impact is diminished because you aren’t the primary contact for buyers. And you have less time to make sales because there are management duties others expect you to complete.

Not only that, if you are ineffective in the managing part of your job, you lose. No matter how effective you are in selling, you will ultimately be unsuccessful if you are not coaching and developing sellers to work autonomously and perform at peak levels without you accompanying them to “save” sales.

You are only one person. You can’t be everywhere, on every sales call, every time. It’s not a scalable or sustainable approach to make sales dependent on your input and/or presence.

There are even more disadvantages when you step in to sell. For example, every time you intrude during a sales call, you plant a seed of doubt in the buyer’s mind. In that moment, you are demonstrating that you know more than the seller. That erodes the buyer’s confidence in the seller and can derail the relationship between the buyer and seller.

When you step in to make sales, you also diminish sellers’ self-confidence. If they don’t think they can do it on their own, they won’t. If they think they can’t, they can’t.

You may justify your selling as “demonstrating” so they can learn. That’s not how adults learn. If you need to show them, do it in a role play before the sales call. Adults learn by doing.

You may justify your selling as essential for making the number. As long as you’re making the sales, that will always be true. In fact, the more you are selling, the more you will need to continue selling. It’s a trap. The only way out of it is to stop selling. Even if you miss the number this period, stop selling. This is an investment in getting sellers to sell. That’s their job, not yours.

Delegating for Development

Delegating is an extremely important skill for managers.

To delegate means to give work away so that it gets done by someone else.

Many managers fail to delegate because:

  • They think others are too busy to do additional work.
  • They don’t want to spend time teaching someone else to do a task.
  • They prefer doing the work themselves because it’s enjoyable or receives accolades.
  • They’re unable to trust others.
  • They believe they’ll have to “clean up” after others attempt the work.
  • They’re concerned that not doing the work will diminish others’ perception of them.
  • They don’t know how to delegate.

There are, however, so many huge benefits to delegating that none of these reasons stack up. When you delegate, you will free yourself up to do higher-level, more strategic work (i.e. management work!). You will become more productive, achieving more than you thought possible when you were hoarding all the work. Your stress level will be reduced.

Best of all, when you delegate with the express purpose of developing others, they will benefit immensely, too. And so will your company. Delegating for development means you’ll assign tasks to people who are interested in learning and growing. Your delegation gives them a chance to challenge themselves and acquire new skills that expand their:

  • Capacity
  • Visibility
  • Career opportunities
  • Business acumen   

8 Steps to Delegating

There are eight specific steps required for effective delegation. They are:

1. Select a delegate for the assignment.

Select based on delegate readiness, interest and stretch-ability. Here are six questions you can ask to narrow down your choices. You can also return for our next CONNECT2Lead post about how to select the right delegate for the task(s) you will be delegating.

2. Grant your delegate sufficient authority.

Micromanagement is a symptom of poor delegating. Those behaviors also suggest that you don't trust the person you've delegated a task to. If you didn't delegate authority and autonomy along with the task, you didn't really delegate at all.

3. Set clear, specific goals and non-negotiable protocols for how the work will be done.

You dignify people when you give them a clear framework without prescribing or monitoring every single action. For example, let your delegate know the goal, the specific timeline and deadlines, when you'll check in and what's expected when you do, plus any work practices that are absolutely fixed (because, for example, they affect handoffs to other departments).

Then step back and allow your delegate to modify (and improve!) processes, to try alternate ways of doing things (and to learn while doing so!).

4. Enable your delegate to achieve the goals.

Be fair and reasonable. You can't expect people to accomplish goals if they are lacking time, budget or access needed to get the job done.

5. Be a resource to support your delegate.

Without hovering, be available. Check in occasionally and make sure your delegate knows it is safe and expected to bring questions and updates to you. Handing off a task doesn't mean abandoning your delegate.

6. Assess your delegate’s performance.

This is particularly important the third or fourth time the delegate is independently completing a recurring task.

Allowing for a learning curve means you are more involved on the front end as a mentor and teacher. As you gradually pull back, you will still check in and give feedback. Make it constructive and focused on continual development.

7. Give recognition for contributions made.

Recognize effort to learn and grow. Acknowledge the risk taken to tackle a new task. Celebrate success, including the little wins along the way that represent learning and growth. Encourage your delegate often so the new assignment won't feel like a thankless dump of undesirable tasks.

8. Maintain responsibility for outcomes.

You don't get to check out. As the manager, you are the one who is accountable for outcomes. Harry S. Truman's "the buck stops here" philosophy applies. If your delegate is not delivering on the desired outcomes, you bear some of that responsibility. Go back through steps 1-7 above to improve the outcomes.

Once you've delegated work, it's a bad idea to take it back. Planning for the delegation, effectively staging it and supporting your delegates will prevent you from ping-ponging the work in a way that causes others to feel your handoffs are merely self-serving.

(Want to learn more about delegating for development? Check out this downloadable infographic and tons of bonus content on this web page. Be sure to check out the handy tools for determining what to delegate and who to delegate it to. )

Coaching for Development

Sales coaching, like sales management, is widely misunderstood.

It’s not coaching if:

  • You show someone how to do something
  • You conduct a therapy session
  • You’re primarily a cheerleader and promoter
  • You pontificate about how you did things once upon a time

And it’s not coaching for development if there’s an “or else” attached to what you’re doing. Performance coaching sometimes has that “last chance” attached to it as a final step before an employee is terminated. That’s not what you, as a new manager, need to master in order to succeed.

Coaching for development is the process of helping others recognize and apply their strengths, address their skills gaps, and reach their goals. In this case, we’re not talking about sales goals. Rather, this refers to reaching goals for development that will equip them for reaching and exceeding sales quotas.  

Professional, credentialed coaches use questions to promote self-discovery, dignify others’ input and ideas, build buy-in, and accelerate learning. When self-determination, future focus, and empowerment like this are introduced, people often exceed even their own expectations. That’s why the return on genuine coaching is 5.7x greater than the investment.

Effective coaches develop their own skills in:

  • Asking thought-provoking questions
  • Listening with empathy
  • Thinking critically
  • Speaking with candor
  • Setting aside their own impulses to offer prescriptive solutions

It takes a great deal of patience and practice to develop coaching habits. Doing so is well worth the time and effort.

Later in this series, we’ll devote an entire post to coaching for development. In the meantime, here’s a crash course that might be useful. This free webinar recording, available on-demand, explains how you can build on your selling skills to become an effective coach.

To Delegate or Coach for Development, You’ll Have to Let Go

It seems counterintuitive to let go and have others do the work that you could (possibly) do better.

But letting go is truly the right thing to do.

Letting go of a child’s hand empowers that child to take their first baby steps. We “let go” of our children throughout their lives, encouraging them to become independent and self-sufficient. In this regard, managing is like parenting. If you don’t let go, you won’t have a self-sufficient, high-performing team. Instead, you’ll have overly dependent, underdeveloped sellers who cannot fend for themselves.

Letting go requires two things. First, you must trust yourself to be effective in coaching and delegating for development. These are discrete skills that will require time to develop. Invest that time and get the support you need to become a quality coach and delegator. Second, you must trust others to deliver.

The second one is much more difficult for some. In sales, you were self-reliant. You didn’t have to trust others. You reached goals through sheer determination, will and effort – all of your own making. You may not trust others because they don’t exhibit the same abilities and characteristics that made you so successful. That’s why trusting yourself as a people-developer is essential.

Trust yourself to develop others so you can then trust them to do the work of selling. Let go of the job responsibilities that are not the purview of management. Otherwise, you’ll never be truly effective as a sales manager.

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