When I talk with B2B executives about their sales department, what keeps them up at night? It’s the frontline managers. Sales manager is the most pivotal role on the team, and most execs are having a tough time finding the right people to fill it. There’s a sense that, somehow, sales managers just aren’t as good as they used to be.
So, what’s changed? I sat down with Nancy Maluso from Forrester Research to find out. Nancy is a brilliant analyst with years of selling experience – from carrying a bag, to working her way up through the ranks as a salesperson, and finally managing and leading sales teams. Nancy sees two big challenges facing sales leaders today:
The first challenge is being dictated by our customers, but the training issue is entirely of our own making. In the ’60s and ’70s, companies like IBM, Procter & Gamble, and Xerox all had sales schools. Rookie reps spent six months just learning the job. When they were promoted to management roles, they went back to manager school. In the ’80s, businesses stopped making this investment. We got away with it for a few years, but, when a generation started retiring or moving out of sales, we lost that legacy of knowledge and skill.
The good news is that individual organizations can do a lot to fill that void. During our conversation, Nancy outlined four specific things executives can give their sales managers so they’re equipped and ready to win: time, culture, skills, and tools. Let’s look at them one by one.
Forecasting is important, but a sales manager’s real job is driving numbers, not analyzing them. Unfortunately, most sales managers waste entirely too much time compiling reports or answering questions for execs (this means you!). This is a big problem, but there’s a simple fix. Your data systems almost certainly have reporting capabilities that are robust enough for someone in operations or administration to pull this information. In fact, most of this process likely can be automated.
Remember: You hired the sales manager to drive business. The single greatest thing you can do to support them is to take everything off their plates that doesn’t directly empower reps, find leads, or help buyers make the right decision. This one is simple and powerful. Do it today!
Most sales managers earned their jobs as “battlefield promotions” because they were the best seller on the team. That’s great, but it doesn’t mean they’ll be any good as a manager. First-time managers need to be taught what their job is. In fact, time prioritization problems start with new managers not knowing how they should spend their time.
When they were sellers, they were focused entirely on serving their customers. As managers, they’ve got to learn to serve their team. That means:
Top sellers really know their customers. When you promote top sellers to sales manager positions, sit down with them and talk about this. Their first job is to help every one of their reps know and understand the customer as well as they do themselves. In the process of working with each rep, they’ll get a better sense of that person: How do they react? What motivates them? What are their blind spots? The better you know your rep, the more you’ll understand what they need from you.
When you commit to supporting your managers by helping them gain time and skills, you’re demonstrating what you value – and you’re giving your frontline managers an example to follow. That’s what culture is all about. Salespeople are not robots, and that’s not what buyers want. Buyers expect them to bring their unique perspectives and capability to the table. Your managers can support this, but only if there’s a culture to support them.
Forrester research shows that the number one thing you can do is foster a culture of appreciation. This isn’t the same as recognition. Recognition says I’m rewarding an outcome, but appreciation says I’m rewarding or acknowledging the effort. It’s using positive reinforcement and feedback to recognize when people do the right thing.
Technology has put customers in control of the traditional sales funnel. Now customers can gather more information and talk to more people before we encounter them. Your sales team must become more tech-savvy to meet them where they are, foster this new conversation, and give them the knowledge to make a purchase decision.
That means including sales when defining requirements, testing systems, and rolling out any new tech systems. Train them alongside enablement and operations so they can see how your tools bring value to their team. Even tools for improving forecasting accuracy can help managers get better at helping our reps. There’s a lot of insight in there.
This all sounds like a lot, but taking the first step can be simple. Sit down with your sales managers and ask where they’re spending their time. Better yet, follow that up by including the whole sales team in an activity study. What produces the most value? What is a waste of time? Are there tools that can help? You can also ask questions about culture. Dig into this because it’s not soft. It impacts engagement, productivity, and passion. And simply by devoting time to it, you’re showing your team that you appreciate them.
Want to hear Tim and Nancy talk more about shaping successful sales managers? Listen to our corresponding podcast episode here.
Tim Geisert is the executive on the leadership team that crafts the vision, shapes the product strategy, and inspires teams to grow the business. That – and more than 30 years of experience growing companies through marketing and sales – is what Geisert brings to AuctusIQ.