Advice to New Managers from the Best in the Business

By Heather Baldwin

You just got promoted to sales manager and one thing becomes instantly clear: Sales manager doesn’t mean sales rep on steroids. It’s a totally different job with so many demands you hardly have a chance to breathe. How do the good ones make it look so easy? In their book, Discover Your Sales Strengths: How the World’s Greatest Salespeople Develop Winning Careers (Warner Books, 2003), Benson Smith and Tony Rutigliano report the Gallup Organization spent several years interviewing top performing sales managers with the aim of learning their suggestions for someone just embarking on the management path. Here are four recommendations on which top managers agree.

1. Rehire your best. This is at the top of the list because it should be your biggest priority after you’re promoted. There undoubtedly are a few sales reps who are producing the biggest percentage of sales. Figure out who they are, how they might feel about the previous manager leaving and how they feel about your promotion. Spend face-to-face time with them and get to know them in the field and at the office. “Don’t assume your best performers are best if they are left alone,” caution Smith and Rutigliano. “They may not need your help, but they do need a relationship that creates a bridge between them and the company.” Great managers recognize the role they play in retaining talent and aren’t afraid to become close with their best people.

2. Appreciate uniqueness. One mistake many new managers make is assuming that because they were successful with a certain sales style or formula, they must get everyone to sell that way. Talented people are different from one another, particularly in sales. “Excellence as a sales manager will not come from getting others to be like you. It will come from getting others to be more like themselves,” say the authors. “Discovering each person’s strengths and getting all their people to use those strengths every day is a secret shared by great managers.”

3. Lead from strength. Average managers subscribe to the politically correct equality myth – treating and assigning resources to everyone equally. Great managers lead from strength. They match talent with opportunities and resources and divide resources to produce the maximum result. Your time, for example, should be spent mostly with your best performers, building relationships and applauding their successes. Gallup found that the attention of a talented manager will improve a salesperson’s performance by about 20%, say the authors. A 20% improvement from your best performers is worth much more than a 20% improvement from an average or poor performer.

4. Manage your prima donnas. One of the biggest differences between great and not-so-great managers is their ability to handle stars and their idiosyncrasies. Smith and Rutigliano tell the story of David, a consistently high-achieving sales rep who used the stage while receiving his organization’s salesperson of the year award to announce he would leave the company if managers removed two products from the commission plan next year. The executives were horrified, but David’s manager handled it perfectly. The next morning he called David into his office, said they hadn’t yet made up their minds about the commission program and asked David to represent the sales force on the committee that would review the issue. Ultimately, the products were indeed removed from the commission plan, but as part of the committee David understood the rationale and supported the decision.