When Should Sales Managers Step in to Close the Deal?

By Lain Ehmann

The hardest part of sales management may be knowing when to step in and when to take a back seat as your reps learn the ropes, particularly in front of the customer. As tough as it is, it’s often critical for the development of individual reps – and your team as a whole – to let them pave their own way.

Colleen Honan knows this from experience. As senior VP of global sales support services for sales intelligence services provider OneSource, Honan has a history as a top-notch salesperson. In her early managerial days, she accompanied a rep on a call. Afterward, she told her boss how she had played the hero and made the sale. “He said, ‘You’re not the sales rep anymore. You’re the manager. Your job is to make sure the sales rep does what you used to do.’ It was kind of a wake-up call,” she recalls.

As a result of this tough love, Honan revamped her approach, coaching her reps to their potential. Here’s how to determine when it’s time to open your mouth and give your team the best chance at success.

Assign roles. Decide beforehand who’s taking the lead on a call and when, if at all, you’re going to join the discussion. Let your team members know you’re there to help. Something as simple as, “Colleen, why don’t you expand on that point?” can be an unobtrusive signal for your involvement.
Practice. Brainstorm possible objections, questions, and sticking points and how your rep will respond. The better prepared he or she is, the less likely you’ll be needed.
Know your objective. Agree with all team members on the desired outcome of the meeting.

Watch the customers. Instead of scrutinizing your rep, observe how the customers are responding, recommends Honan. If they’re on board, let your team member continue. But if things are veering off track, it’s time to step in to gently guide the conversation back.
Give leeway for stylistic differences. No one’s going to handle the meeting the same way you would, so focus instead on outcomes. If the salesperson’s getting the job done, don’t worry about style.

Perform a postmortem. Ask your rep how he or she thinks the meeting went and what can be improved upon for next time. Include questions about your own performance as a coach during the call.
Set future goals. Based on the meeting’s outcome, define goals for your team member – and for you – going forward.

In the moment, it can seem easier to simply take over when a meeting hits a rough spot. But sometimes short-term discomfort leads to long-term benefits.

As Honan learned, being a good manager is as much about focusing on your team’s future as on letting reps know where they fit into the bigger picture. “Getting people to understand the larger vision and mission – ‘Here is why we’re doing what we’re doing, and here’s what’s in it for you’ – is a key motivator that translates to extracting more output and higher-quality outcomes.”