Being a sales manager is one of the hardest jobs in the sales profession. You have a million plates in the air. You need to manage up the chain, and manage your sales team to get the best possible business results. Do you have what it takes to be an effective sales leader? Most likely, you’re giving me an immediate “yes.”
There’s no doubt that you’re passionate about your team’s success. However, many sales managers out there with the same good intentions fall short on execution. Then, it just becomes a bad habit. I still think about the managers I worked for, worked with or coached. Good or bad, it’s shaped who I am today.
Whatever you believe makes you a successful sales manager, or is keeping you from becoming one, here are the four key things that sales managers should do on a regular basis.
1. Don’t Become the Bottleneck
As a sales manager, you may have 8-10 direct reports and possibly more if your organization is matrixed. So, here you are, with 10+ people coming at you all day long asking you questions, making you stop what you’re doing to answer them. Great for the sales people. But terrible for you, because you’re not getting anything else done.
And what if you’re not available? That’s when you become the bottleneck. Your reps will just sit and wait, believing they cannot complete all the things on their action plans or to-do lists without you. Think about it. Is this a good utilization of your time or theirs?
Don’t condition everyone to come to you for the answers. Yes, you know more, but your reps want to learn on their own. If they ask you a question, don’t just answer it and move on. Instead, ask additional questions that provoke and get sales reps to think through the problem. Get them to come up with an answer or two to solve it on their own. This will not only empower them to make decisions, but it will also give you more time back in your day.
2. Know Your Boundaries
Avoid taking over too much of a sales rep’s responsibilities. When I was a sales rep, my manager at the time was brilliant in front of customers. If I was able to bring him in to meet with customer executives early in a deal, I had a high-percentage shot of winning that deal. If anything went awry, he could make a call to the customer executive and find out what was happening.
But with all the good came some bad. He would sometimes take over customer meetings or calls by taking over and doing all the talking, relegating me to the note taker. This diminished my credibility in front of the customer, and my relationship with them was never the same again.
Another time, I was in the contract stage of my first million-dollar-plus deal. I came up with a negotiation strategy to ensure a win-win solution to close. He told me to hold a firm position, which I did, but still the customer would not budge. So, he stepped in to assist, and guess what – he saved the day by giving in on the exact points he had told me not to give in on! Sure, I closed the deal, but I was left totally confused, and again, diminished.
Let your sales reps stand on their own two feet. Sure, give them guidance and step in to help as needed. But also know that this is not your deal; it’s the rep’s deal. And once it’s signed, he or she is going to have to manage that account and client relationship. Diminishing their role only degrades them morally and in the eyes of the customer.
3. Coach Your Team
Most sales managers know that telling their staff what to do is not the same as coaching. It might seem be faster and easier, but in the end it’s just not effective. You should be helping your team to figure out the fundamentals and give them a better chance at winning.
To be an effective sales coach, you must make it a priority. That means you have to commit to the time to coach, focus on what and who you will coach, and what parts of coaching you and your team will actually “own.”
Ask yourself what percentage of your time you spend on coaching. Sales and Operations research has shown that 3-5 hours per month is optimal for performance coaching. You’ll want to use your coaching hours wisely. Be aware that if you spend too many hours on coaching, you’ll end up suffocating your reps, which is bad for performance.
4. Be Fair
When people ask me the number one factor I attribute to becoming a successful sales manager, my answer is always “fairness.” As a manager and a coach, I always felt that everyone benefits from being treated fairly and receiving honest feedback.
As a sales manager, it’s your job to help your people be successful. But you cannot be available for everyone, every minute of the day, and also get your job done. Take the time to coach, not just direct. Help them grow rather than be the bottleneck.
Position yourself as a key resource to your team and focus your time on making it easier for your customers to buy and your sales team to sell. Make sure your reps have the skill sets they need to perform at the top of their game. The most important thing is to ensure everyone has the opportunity to meet or exceed their goals.
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