You’re new to your role as a Sales Manager. Congratulations on your recent promotion! (Not promoted yet but angling for a sales manager role? Here's a post to help you get there.)
If you’re newly promoted, that mildly bewildered feeling you have is perfectly normal. Others have felt exactly the same way when they first became sales managers. The job – and all that comes with it – involves a lot more than selling and, perhaps, a lot more than you expected.
Unfortunately, not every company provides training for sales managers. The burden may fall entirely to you and your boss. But maybe your boss was never trained as a sales manager either... Or doesn’t have a lot of time to train you… Or assumes you’ll figure it out on your own.
If you find yourself in this situation, this series is for you. It’s based on coaching interactions with real people who have been exactly where you are. You don’t have to make the same mistakes they did. You don’t have to flounder and fail before you get your bearings. This series will help you avoid all the landmines and proactively set yourself (and your team) up for success.
What Can I Expect in This Series for First-Time Sales Managers?
These are the topics that will be covered over the next 18 weeks. Be sure you subscribe to the CONNECT Community weekly newsletter so you won’t miss a single post or webinar about this important topic. Most of the posts in this series will also include bonus resources and links for additional learning.
Here’s what first-time sales managers need to know:
- How to make a smooth transition from sales to sales manager.
- The first thing you’ll have to do to make it as a sales manager.
- Understanding the goals and objectives of sales management.
- What it takes to manage a sales team that’s already successful.
- How to turn a struggling sales team around and get them back on track.
- How you can be sure every sales hire will be a superstar.
- Ways to evaluate the sales team and individual performance.
- The fundamentals of effective sales management.
- Once you’ve mastered management, you’ll also need this…
- Advanced strategies for boosting the level of sales productivity.
- How to access leadership training and ongoing development.
- Ways to motivate your sales team.
- Creating the sales culture you want for your team.
- Training for sales managers who want to get to the next level.
- A closer look at more strategic sales management.
- What senior managers must do to ensure sales managers succeed.
- What HR can do to hire, train, and develop stronger sales managers.
Before we tackle those topics, there’s something we need to do first. It’s about your readiness for the role. This isn’t about thinking like a seller, acting like a seller, or relying on the same skills and tools that made you successful as a seller. Nope. Being a manager is different. There are shifts you’ll need to make. Take a look at the mindset, skill set, and tool set you’ll need to succeed.
Developing the Mindset You’ll Need as a Sales Manager
It’s not about the numbers.
Seriously, if you’re focused on the numbers you’re going to fail as a sales manager.
This is the most important thing to understand about sales management. You are no longer a sales person. Sales is only half of your title, and the other half – management – is much more important. You won’t be managing people if you’re making sales, and that includes making sales where other people are supposed to watch and learn.
Sure, you might be measured by the numbers. You probably have revenue goals (a sum total of your sellers’ quotas). Your boss probably asks frequently about how close you are getting to forecast. Even so, your job is not about the numbers. Don’t be fooled by these mixed messages you’re receiving.
Your job, like the job of any manager, is to develop and prepare people. The sellers who report to you need to be engaged, equipped, enabled, and ennobled for peak performance. Your focus on the numbers prevents you from doing this work and forces you, in pursuit of the number, to do their work instead.
Shifting your mindset requires you to replace reactive responses with proactive ones. For example:
- Instead of reactively stepping in to save a sale or appease an upset customer, you can proactively use these situations for sellers to stretch, learn and grow. If you step in and do the work, you’re signaling that you don’t have confidence in sellers to do this on their own. By contrast, if you set expectations for sellers to do their best and learn from their failures, you’ll soon have more confident and more competent sellers. You’ll also have more sales because they will happen even when you’re not there.
- Instead of telling sellers what worked for you, you can proactively ask what their plans are to make a situation work. By giving them a chance to develop and evaluate options, you’ll be building their critical thinking skills (and, again, their confidence and competence).
- Instead of answering questions, you can ask “What do you think we should do?” to build business acumen, autonomy, and problem-solving skills.
- When sellers are under-performing, you can reactively micro-manage them. Or you can proactively coach them to independently determine which activities need to be improved and which need to be done more frequently.
- You can reactively conduct fire-and-brimstone meetings when sales performance is lagging. Or you can proactively diagnose the underlying issues and provide encouragement, training, tools, coaching or whatever solution will truly address those issues.
Your job is to build the people who will build the business. This is more scalable and sustainable than trying to make sales for people. You are only one person. You can’t be in all places at all times, and you’re hindering sales performance if sellers have to wait around for you before they big sales get made or important sales calls happen.
If you want to reach revenue goals, start by reaching sellers in meaningful ways. Enable and ennoble them to succeed without you.
Here’s an important question every manager should consider. Ask yourself “What difference do I want to make?” As a manager, aside from reaching revenue targets and ringing the bell, what difference do you want to make in the lives of the people who work with you?
It’s a big question. It’s an important one. And it’s not optional. That’s because you will make a difference to the people who report to you. Every manager does. If you don’t know the answer to this question, you are going to make a difference… But it may not be the difference you really want to make. You’ll have an inadvertent impact instead of one that is purposeful, positive, and productive.
Once you know the difference you want to make, your job will become much easier. You won’t be operating with a mindset to be all things to all people. Your mindset won’t be laser-focused on “whatever it takes” to make an immediate sale. You’ll be thinking bigger, planning longer-term, and helping sellers develop confidence and competence.
Developing the Skill Set You’ll Need as a Sales Manager
You’ve already mastered the technical and functional skills of selling. They give you credibility and the ability to mentor sellers. Knowing what it takes to make a sale also gives you the ability to understand sales struggles, empathize, and find solutions to overcome those challenges that sellers will face.
Relying on your selling skills, however, will not make you a successful manager. You need additional skills to be a manager in any role PLUS a few skills that are unique for people who manage sellers. We’ll cover these broad topics in greater depth throughout this series:
Skills all managers need:
- Communication skills (even more than you had as seller)
- Selecting and onboarding sales talent
- Coaching for development (note: this is not the same as demonstrating or mentoring!)
- Setting expectations, giving feedback, and managing for performance
- Creating a positive and motivating workplace culture
- Collaborating with peers and senior executives
- Planning strategically for long-term success
- Thinking critically to make sound decisions and to solve problems
- Anticipating change and incrementally improving systems/processes
- Leadership to engage, enable and ennoble employees
Additional skills for sales managers:
- Sales forecasting and trend analysis
- Setting sales goals based on territory/category potential
- Developing sales strategy and applying appropriate sales pressure in the marketplace
- Motivating sellers using compensation and incentive strategies
- Evaluating how seller time to reduce cost of sales and accelerate close rates
Of all those listed here, most new sales managers focus first on the ones that are most obviously related to goal attainment. They invest significant time and attention in analyzing trends and reviewing sales performance. Many fall into the common trap of becoming CRM desk jockeys who occasionally pop out of the office to deliver “hail and brimstone” messages to sellers about how much they need to sell.
Another common mistake is to ignore the management skills altogether and assume the role of “super” seller. New sales managers may believe their role is to sell – more, better, and bigger – than the sellers are selling on their own. These managers take over on sales calls and position themselves as mercenary closers.
Both options are short-sighted and self-limiting.
Using the basic skills of management alongside your knowledge of selling will make you far more successful. The idea is not to manage the numbers or manage the sales. It’s to manage people development. As you acquire skills, put people first.
Developing the Tool Set You’ll Need as a Sales Manager
The sales team relies on managers and senior executives for training, direction, enablement tools, and quality products/services that are viable in the marketplace.
As a sales manager, you’ll need the ability to assess and select tools that truly help sellers. You’ll also need to eliminate the ones that add little value but erode seller productivity.
The tools sales managers need depend, in part, on internal systems and reporting. Start by understanding how information you and your sellers provide is used and who needs it. Don’t run legacy reports or provide updates that no one is using. Don’t ask sellers for information that goes nowhere. And don’t duplicate data entry or manually input information that could be automated. Look first for the efficiencies that these tools are supposed to provide.
The tools you need most are the ones that truly produce more and faster sales.
Sure, there are advantages to tools that give you insights about seller activities and progress. But those tools are only of value if you and sellers use them to improve sales productivity. Don’t succumb to the temptation to get more data for the sake of having more data – you can accidentally waste a lot of sales time if you value data that reports on sales activities more than you value sales being made.
In other words, don’t let pipeline management supersede:
- Time management
- People management
- Sales management
These tools – your CRM and dashboard, productivity apps, tracking software, account planners, the LMS, content creation and sharing or other lead generation devices, etc. – are all a means to an end. The desired end is making more sales.
Tools for making more sales are only as good as the user’s ability to apply them effectively and efficiently. Over-use of tools hurts sales. When sales managers spend too much time with tools they neglect the most important of their job – developing people so they can sell more.
More than you need tools, you need good discernment about which tools and how to use them wisely. Your job is to make the job of selling easier and faster. Also, be sure you’re balancing sales enablement with sales ennoblement.
Once you’ve determined which tools are necessary and how to use them wisely, be sure you are proficient in the use of those tools. Don’t expect sellers to master and effectively use tools you don’t understand.
When new tools are introduced, evaluate them without getting enamored by what they promise. Instead, be sure to field test them for their actual impact on sales. Cool new features and shiny object syndrome can lead you astray, so beware!
Stay Tuned for a Deeper Dive into the Mindset, Skill Set & Tool Set You’ll Need
This 18-part series is only getting started! There’s also a companion series on the CONNECT2Lead Blog that is useful for first-time managers in any field. You can check it out here.
We’ll be offering links to additional resources, PFPS job aids for managers, self-assessments, and more throughout this series. You can subscribe to our weekly newsletters if you want to be sure you receive each week’s content for sales and leadership professionals.
If you want to accelerate your learning as a manager, you can also take our popular eLearning course, Workplace Conversations. As a new sales manager, people are counting on you. And you can count on us here at PFPS to help you meet and exceed their expectations.