Many sales organizations are dealing with a surge of new front-line managers. This could be the result of the Great Resignation creating open positions, an increase in retirements, or simply rapid growth generating opportunities for new sales regions, divisions, or districts.
Front-line sales managers are some of the hardest (yet most necessary) positions to fill, too. They are responsible for hiring talent, onboarding new sales reps, motivating and collaborating with senior sales professionals, setting strategies, helping bring deals across the line, and possibly even managing certain key accounts.
Sales managers can make a real difference in driving growth and team culture. Or, if left to their own devices and not developed, they can become guilty of micromanaging, getting involved in too many sales opportunities, not coaching, and, worst of all, creating confusion and division within teams.
After making a hire, organizations must have a plan to onboard, train, and continually develop their new sales leaders. As the timeless saying goes: “There are no bad teams, just bad leaders.” So, no matter if a company has one sales manager or 100 sales managers, it should have a sales management strategy and methodology to which it adheres. This can be the difference between long-term sales growth and long-term sales headaches.
Here are three areas of focus for new or transitioning sales managers:
You can establish your foundation by asking yourself: What drives my sales professionals, and what are my expectations of them?
Focus on understanding what your team members’ goals are (hint: Not every salesperson is in it for the money). Some people are looking for a certain company culture; some are motivated by promotions and growth opportunities within an organization; others want job security.
These goals and priorities can change over time, so it’s important to constantly ask your team members, “What are your goals for this year?” or, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” Sales managers are responsible for supporting their sales professionals’ goals through coaching, training, mentorship, and performance evaluation while maintaining an authentic interest in their personal growth.
Conversely, understand that you must properly communicate what your organization needs from each team member. Your reps can meet their own goals if they help the organization fulfill its goals. So, what are the things they need to focus on? It’s not uncommon for sales professionals’ pay plans to conflict with the business’ goals (for example, reps can be paid on top-line revenue growth but be scrutinized for profitability). Not properly communicating expectations and why the expectation is a big deal to the overall success of the company can trigger frustrating misalignment for every team member.
Front-line sales managers are the first people sales professionals call when issues arise. This can become a huge obstacle for new managers if they aren’t properly equipped with a discipline to handle these problems. If a sales manager isn’t careful, most of their day will be spent handling problems for their reps. There is a wonderful HBR article titled “Management Time: Who’s Got the Monkey,” which outlines this dilemma very well.
Establish the expectation that your team members must think through a problem before bringing it to your attention. Essentially, you need to empower your sales professionals to show independence, exercise their judgment, and come up with solutions before approaching you. This takes time, discipline, mentoring, and a problem-solving model.
An often overlooked yet critical aspect of developing managers is the ability to articulate what a “master” sales professional in your organization should embody:
Establishing, articulating, and documenting a master sales professional’s knowledge, skills, and attributes gives you a roadmap when developing your team. Use this information to create a strategic development plan for your reps. What aspects of product knowledge do they need to improve upon? What sales skills do you need to observe and coach to? What qualities should you be looking for in the hiring process?
New or transitioning sales managers should not be left to figure it all out on their own – this can create mixed messages, overlooked skill development opportunities, and burnt-out sales managers. Focusing on these three techniques will allow new managers (and the organization as a whole) to create a healthy atmosphere of growth, communication, and teamwork. These are timeless practices that should be focused on consistently.
Jeff Seeley is CEO of Carew International. To get yourself or your front-line managers speaking the same language and focusing on the right leadership strategies and tactics, contact Carew International or click here to learn about our award-winning leadership development training program.