Training Magazine: Promoting Sales Leadership

Training Magazine

August 04, 2016

by Mark Donnolo, Managing Partner, SalesGlobe

Sales managers aren’t just good salespeople. So what does it take?

Top salespeople don’t always make the best sales managers, but this is often the path companies lay out. In a large percentage of cases, those newly minted sales managers struggle with their role in leadership beyond selling.

Jeff Connor, chief growth officer for ARAMARK, says, “Managers were often successful salespeople before they became managers. But they were almost never the most successful salesperson. The person who fights to be No. 1 all the time as a direct seller usually does not make the transition to leader very well. But by the way, they were never average, either. You can’t have just an average salesperson suddenly thrust into a leadership position.”

The skills needed to be an effective sales manager are different than those needed to be a successful seller. Look for the following qualities when selecting a sales manager, and recognize that some skills can be developed over time.

1. They understand how to lead effective selling. A manager has to learn to make the transition from doing the selling to leading the team. If a manager uses her sheer talent at selling and ends up just selling alongside them instead of leading, she’ll soon be limited by her physical capacity to sell. A good manager pulls up above the personal selling and disseminates her talents to her team through leadership. Some companies use a hybrid selling/sales manager role in which the individual leads and sells. While this can be a good transitional strategy, in the long run, the organization is breeding flightless birds. Organizations that continue to allow their sales managers to run rather than to fly above the troops never get the leadership leverage that will take the team to a next level of sales productivity.

2. They strategize the growth of their organizations. A successful rep in a field sales role may reach his quota through 20 percent strategizing and 80 percent hustle and execution. However, a sales manager has to flip that ratio. Running harder won’t help the team reach its goal as well as an effective strategy will. While the sales strategy may have been decided by the organization, the manager has to plan his sales process and deploy his team, and support them with the right teaching and tools.

For most new sales managers, this type of thinking does not come naturally. Good sales organizations coach their managers to plan, giving them the tools they need to prevent trial and error.

3. They are creative when solving customer problems. Planning requires a creative problem-solving approach, as well as flexibility and adaptability. Most salespeople either operate analytically, working the pipeline and numbers, or shoot from the hip, working according to their gut. As a salesperson progresses in her career—for example, from a transactional seller of small accounts to a strategic seller of major accounts to a leader of a sales team—she also makes a gradual transition from left-brained analytical thinking to a combination of left-brained and right-brained creative problem solving.

An effective sales leader develops the ability to creatively solve customer problems and differentiate from competitors. If a sales organization merely repeats what it has done before or copies competitors, then it merely repeats the status quo and blends in with the white noise created by competitors.

4. They coach and develop their teams. Coaching is a critical role for sales managers. However, companies talk about it more than they do it. In a recent survey of sales leaders conducted by SalesGlobe, 84 percent of companies ranked coaching as either “very important” or “one of the most important factors of sales success” for their organizations. But the fact is coaching is a challenge for most managers. Sales managers don’t put the necessary time into coaching due to time constraints, priorities, habit, or avoidance. When we asked sales leaders how much time sales managers should spend coaching their team, most leaders (63 percent) say their sales managers should spend between 30 percent and 40 percent of their time on coaching. But the reality is most sales managers spend about 15 percent of their time coaching.

To get managers to coach, sales leadership has to make a clear mandate for coaching, build a coaching program and methodology that fits the organization, free up time for coaching, and make the process transparent and measurable so the team can see the actions and results from effective coaching.

5. They sell in the right places. Yes, sales skill is still a big part of the sales manager’s role. As the sales team decides which team members face off with which customers, it needs to match all the way up the organization chart like good man-to-man or zone coverage on a basketball team. While the sales manager should resist jumping in and selling for the rep, he should play an ongoing role in building relationships at and above the level where the sale rep is working.

The sales manager also plays an important sales role internally at his own company. One of the important roles of a sales manager is removing barriers for the sales team. This means finding ways to allow salespeople to maintain their focus on selling, rather than other non-selling roles and distractions, so they can meet the goals set out for them. Often, removing barriers involves selling internally, making the case, and sometimes persuasively laying out the arguments for why the organization must do something differently than they’ve always done it. So sales mangers do continue to act as sellers, although it’s just one important part of the total job.