When sales managers gather after a long day at a national sales meeting, it is common for them to swap stories from the road and share recent experiences with customers. Inevitably, the conversation turns to the things they wish they would have known before moving up the ladder to become a sales manager. More often than not, strong sales performers are elevated to management without any preparation or training. As a result, a new sales manager must learn on the job. Here are five things many sales managers wish they would have known before joining the ranks of leadership.
1. As a sales manager, your success is achieved through the performance of others.
Most sales managers were previously highly successful individual reps and have often mastered the skills necessary for driving results through their own efforts. In transitioning to management, it can be challenging for some new managers to realize their success is defined by the success of their team. Even once the new manager comes to this realization, they often fall into the trap of trying to take over for their reps. In the end, the manager has to learn to step back in order to lead their team to strong performance.
2. Being “great” does not come naturally to most sales people.
Again, many sales managers were strong individual performers. Undoubtedly, as an individual contributor, the new manager worked hard. They likely possess great talent, intelligence and process. However, by the law of averages, most salespeople are…average. And being great does not come naturally.
Think about the greatest professional athletes. Most never become coaches or managers. These special athletes have incredible talent. This incredible talent is supported by an incredible work ethic and drive. However, the internal wiring that drives the strong performers to work their craft 14 hours per day is unique, and the highest achievers can have a hard time relating to someone who does not have that high level of skill, talent, or drive. The role of the sales manager is to help all people (regardless of their ability) reach their highest potential.
3. Coaching is the most important activity of a sales manager.
Many studies have indicated the correlation between reps who achieve their quotas and the amount of coaching time they receive from their manager. The SEC Portrait of a Star Sales Manager indicates (on average), “Reps who receive 2 or less hours of coaching per month achieve 90% of their quota. Reps who receive 3 or more hours of coaching per month achieve 107% of their quota.” Front-line sales management is tough. There are so many tasks and demands and many struggle to help their team achieve broad-based performance. The single best thing a front-line sales manager can do for their team is provide each and every person with dedicated quality coaching time every week.
4. Every sales manager has a default leadership style, and your default style may not be the most effective style to use with your direct reports.
Some sales managers may have an authoritarian leadership style; others may be directive or collaborative, and some may be hands-off. Most often, the sales manager does not give a thought to their natural style when they should. Doing so brings a sense of self-awareness that opens the manager up to consider the need to flex from their default style and use the style that is most effective given the situation and the direct report.
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5. A top-performer with a corrosive attitude is not worth their results.
Sales organizations so often define performance by numbers exclusively. Doing so is dangerous. Sales managers can be caught tolerating corrosive, destructive, and negative attitudes in return for performance. It is common to hear a sales manager reflect on the destructive impact a high-performing rep with a negative attitude can have on the rest of the team. The sales manager needs to address attitudinal performance immediately. Tolerating negative attitudes, even from the highest performer, creates a cancerous environment. The sales manager cannot claim to establish a culture of accountability while tolerating destructive behavior.
The role of the front-line sales manager is one of the most challenging in the company. The demands are numerous and the challenges can seem overwhelming. This is especially true if you have not received any training for your role. It’s also exactly why you should seek out development opportunities if your organization has not provided them to you. Doing so will allow you to see that the role of the front-line sales manager is also one of the most rewarding jobs in the company. The opportunity to help others achieve their full potential and realize success can be the most fulfilling thing a sales professional can experience!
Avoid these common pitfalls and learn from experienced managers and your peers by joining Accelerating Sales Team Performance by Carlson Executive Education. This three-day program is designed to help sales managers drive broad-based and sustainable productivity. Return to work reinvigorated and ready to apply proven leadership skills to drive profitable growth.
About the Author
Tony Ennis is Vice President of Business Development with IMPAX, a nationally recognized sales consulting and training organization and a 2017 Selling Power Top 20 Sales Training Company. Tony’s sales leadership career, with companies such as Jostens, spans more than twenty years. At IMPAX, Tony is responsible for business development, client delivery and the development of the IMPAX strategic alliance network.
He is passionate about the opportunity to accelerate the success of sales professionals around the world. Tony lives in suburban Minneapolis. He enjoys spending time with his family, running attending live music events and is an avid Minnesota Twins fan.
Connect with him on LinkedIn.