So you’re a sales manager. You probably didn’t start that way. If I were guessing, you probably got promoted because you were a sales super-star, but your new position isn’t anything like frontline sales…

How can you truly excel as a sales leader? Where should you turn for training materials?

These are some of the many questions that often go unanswered for new sales managers. Fortunately, you’re in the right place to get some of the answers you need to ease your transition and become a high-impact sales leader.

The Infantry and the Officers

If we were to use a battle metaphor, most sales organizations are comprised of two primary groups: the infantry and the officers. The infantry are those ground troops that are out fighting on the frontlines, making sacrifices, making gains, and driving the end results. The officers are the command centers that build strategy and provide guidance so that the infantry can execute plans and win. In other words, these are our frontline sales reps and our sales managers.

Unless you’re Brad Pitt in Troy, a single troop in the infantry cannot win the entire battle. The troops in the infantry need training, they need guidance, and they need to be well aware of the overarching strategy behind their actions. If sales managers are unable to meet these basic requirements, then (much like in combat) their team is unlikely to succeed.

On the flip side, these officers are unlikely to execute on their goals or strategy if they are unable to earn a high degree of respect and commitment from their reps. But where do officers go for training? How can they guarantee outcomes?

Here’s what you officers out there need to know.

Top 13 Tips for Sales Manager Success

Before you get too invested in this article, know that I did a podcast episode on the same topic if you’d prefer to listen to that.

If you know me, then you know that I’ve been through the trenches, fought on the frontlines, and had to learn most of these lessons the old fashioned way: at the School of Hard Knocks. Fortunately for you, it’s 2019 and you can save some time by attending the School of George Leith to learn these 13 tips that are sure to revolutionize your management process.

1. Focus on Talent Development

In the words of my CEO, “Your number one job as a sales manager is to work on the business, not in the business.”

This is the trouble for many sales managers is that most grow into their positions as a result of exceptional performance on the frontlines, but were never groomed into great leaders or sales coaches. Making the transition to a teaching and facilitation role can be difficult.

strengths based sellingOne of the best strategies that I’ve found comes from a great book called Strengths Based Selling. In this book, the premise is that rather than trying to fix a person’s every weakness, instead work to enhance their strengths. Consider that you have a rep that has 5 things that they’re exceptional at, and a couple things that they are much less than exceptional at. Instead of giving them the gears every time they make a mistake, try to minimize those weaker qualities and allow them to focus on further improving those areas that they are already excelling in.

2. It’s all about Well-Being

People often forget that team morale is one of the strongest predictors of performance. Keeping your top performers, building a high-performing team, and keeping that team aligned with your strategy (and the broader organization’s strategy) can very well prove to be the greatest challenges you face as a sales manager.

To build a culture of appreciation, recognition, and support, there are a few tactics that you should employ:

  • Give your troops a noble sense of purpose. Purpose is a key determiner of happiness and well-being in the workplace. By actively involving your reps in key decisions, and tying team objectives back to a sense of contribution towards the common good, you can drive a much higher degree of commitment
  • Reward performance. Commission systems and performance incentives are great, but it doesn't have to be strictly financial. Performance rewards can be as simple as sending a top rep home early so they can pick their kid up from school. The personal touches will contribute more than anything else to the overall well-being of an organization's employees.

Pro-tip: Make a point of knowing the little things. Nothing will blow away one of your team members quite like knowing the names of their kids and their ages. It’s these small touches that make a world of difference.

3. Coach Constant Learning

Listen, it took me a lot of years to realize that I needed to pursue constant learning if I wanted to continue growing and succeeding at my craft. By becoming a reader and avid podcast listener, I was able to learn a lot of valuable lessons that aided me in my career growth. But, once I became a sales manager, something dawned on me—it was now my job to ensure that my team was pursuing that same growth.

Here’s how you can make constant learning the norm in your organization:

  • Put together a reading/listening list so that interested reps can check out some of your favorite books, podcasts, etc.
  • Give your team opportunities to develop leadership and management skills. Some examples might be having different reps hosting sales training every week so that they can live and die in-front of their colleagues and really develop those presentation skills.
  • Use initiatives like daily learning activities, like challenging reps to use certain techniques on at least one call.

If you’re looking for some inspiration on a reading list, here are my recommendations:

4. Develop a Results Orientation

What is your sales organization measuring? I’m going to let you in on a little secret: if everything you’re measuring has a dollar sign attached to it, then you’re using lagging measures. What you should actually be measuring are all of the actions that contribute to hitting or missing those overall measures.

leading measures for sales managers

MY AIESEC AUSTRALIA

Some leading measuring are:

  • Calls/day
  • Bookings
  • Presentations
  • Closes

Once you’ve established your leading measures, you have to do the hard part, which is to keep your team accountable for meeting their goals. Part of this might be as simple as sitting down with reps to discuss potential problems or blockers that might be preventing them from hitting the mark.

Another strategy that I’ve found to be highly effective is to do quarterly reviews of the job description. Remember that document that you looked at once when you were hired and never touched again? Yeah, take that and make it a living, breathing document. Take the responsibilities listed therein, and make them measures on which you grade each of your reps each quarter. As a manager, this allows you to gauge performance, progress, and set new goals and objectives for ongoing development.

5. Turn the Knobs

This one’s simple. Every sales organization has some room for making adjustments to improve performance. Isolate those key problems or opportunities that you can dial in on, and make quick fixes to either spike performance or improve the bottom line.

Here are some sample quick wins:

  • Cutting costs. Nothing will make your CFO happier than a reduction in the sales budget. The easiest way to cut costs is by taking stock of all of the apps and solutions that are being used by the team, determining which aren’t being used effectively (if at all), and then cancelling those subscriptions.
  • Patching skill gaps. If you start combing through sales data for the team and find that the presentation-to-close ratio is lower than historical data or industry standard, then you may need to provide skill training on “asking for business.”

6. Practice Pipeline Management

If you’re a B2C sales manager, then you can tune this section out. B2B sales organizations live and die by their pipelines and their pipeline management systems. If you don’t have a rigorous process in place, you are going to have a hard time identifying holes and making improvements to your sales funnel.

Here’s what you need to be tracking in your B2B pipeline:

pipeline management for sales managers

  • Prospects (pipeline leads). These are accounts that may have been identified as target accounts, or may have downloaded some content, but haven’t demonstrated any real purchase intention
  • MQLs (market qualified leads). These are leads that have demonstrated some interest or intent in your organization. Perhaps they submitted a demo, filled out a Facebook form, or converted on a paid ad landing page.
  • SQLs (sales qualified leads). These are the resulting MQLs that have been assessed by sales and are deemed to be viable clients with real purchase intentions.
  • Bookings. The number of SQLs that proceed to book a full presentation or demonstration with your organization
  • Closes.
  • Ratios. You need to be keeping track of all of the ratios between these hard numbers, and you need to be doing it on a per-rep basis.

7. Aim for a Target

Remember the whirlwind? The enemy of sustained productivity?  If you don’t find a way to combat the whirlwind, then you won’t be an effective sales manager. Your troops need clear direction, a clear target, and a clear strategy to get from “a” to “b”. If you get too caught up completing HR requests, calling delinquent clients, following up with recent closes, etc, then you just won’t meet your targets.

Here are the 4 steps you need to stay on track (from The 4 Disciplines of Execution):

  1. Clarify your wildly important goal
  2. Determine the things that you’re going to measure
  3. Get a scorecard so that you can actively measure key indicators
  4. Hold your team accountable

8. Watch for Warnings

Behavior and results speak volumes, and sales managers need to be aware of everything that’s going on within their team. Like Al Pacino says to the defence in the movie “Any Given Sunday,” “I don’t care what you do, but you need to keep your head on a swivel.”

Here are some key warnings to watch for:

  • A major performance dip. If one of your top reps falls off of a cliff one month, you best be checking in. It’s possible that it might just be a sales success hangover, but it may also be signs of burnout, or serious personal issues.
  • Team members dishing out too many deals. This largely applies in a B2B context, but the reality is that if your team is relying too heavily on discounts to close deals, the long term impact will be hugely detrimental to the organization's brand equity as well as retention.
  • Reverting to old habits. The thing about constant learning is that it has to be just that: constant. Make sure your team are putting new skills to the test and continuously looking to improve themselves.

As a sales manager, you're responsible for recognizing these issues, and you're also responsible for best remedying them. Constant training and constant reinforcement are generally the answers. You also have to build a culture of support and encouragement so that your troops want to improve and don't feel the need to cut corners. Another great trick is to have a CRM in place that helps to keep those reps accountable with automated help, notifications, and powerful analytics.

crm for sales manager success

9. Make Time for Time Management

The more troops you’re responsible for and the better their performance, the less time you’re going to have. Nomatter how large your team grows to be, you need to ensure that you still have adequate time for the basics.

Here are the items you cannot neglect:

  • Listening in on calls (for tele sales organizations) or getting in the car and going on sales meets (street-level sales).
  • Allocating time for 1:1 meetings with your reps to track growth and discuss important personal matters.
  • Planning and goal setting so that your team is aware of (and tracking) their key performance indicators (KPIs).
  • Hosting sales training sessions to drive home the value of continuous improvement.

10. Use Your Tools

Clear the clutter and use the tools that save you time and best enable your team. I can’t even count how many sales organizations I’ve walked into where there are dozens of sales tools that are being paid for and completely under utilized. With so many software solutions out there it is critical that you find the right tools for your needs.

Some of my favorite sales tools include:

  • LinkedIn’s Sales Navigator. A pricey add-on to your LinkedIn account, but also a powerful tool for sales outreach if your team has the budget for it.
  • Calendly. My agency team at Vendasta are big fans of this one, allowing them to book meetings with ease and save time.
  • Loom. This app allows sales reps to instantly record and share video that features a screen capture as well as a front facing camera.
  • CrankWheel. This powerful tool allows inside sales reps to sell more, by giving website visitors the option of an “instant demo,” bundled with screen sharing and phone conferencing tech.

crankwheel for sales teams

CrankWheel

11. Foster Your Communication Skills

If you’re a sales manager, you have to be an expert communicator. Sales is often one of the most volatile and emotional departments within any organization, and this makes your job particularly intricate. You need to be able to gauge people and situations so that you know when to be stern, when to apologize, how to deliver a message clearly, how to say it like it is, how to be humble, and how to do it all with a high degree of passion and conviction.

Here are some tips for becoming a better communicator:

  • Learn to listen. The best way to build an understanding of your team is to simply listen. It is often difficult to remember when entering a leadership position as it seems like the bulk of your role is to be listened to, but the more you listen, the more effectively you can respond.
  • Be confident in all you say. Whether you’re having a tough conversation with a team member or dishing out some praise, leave no room for doubt. One of my favorite tricks here is to use lots of action verbs and work to cut back on your filler words.
  • Relax. You’ve been placed in a management position for a reason, so be yourself and let your messaging flow.

12. Always be Prepared

The whirlwind of injected tasks wears more heavily on leadership than any other group in an organization. As a sales manager, you need to be ready to combat the whirlwind and ensure that you still have time to enter your meetings organized and prepared. Don't get caught up in the trap of urgent, but not important tasks

time management for sales manager success

i-nexus

There’s nothing worse than a manager that walks into a scheduled meeting with no presentation and no agenda. Remember, your job is to work on the business, not in it.

A couple pointers for maintaining preparedness:

  • Create a bank of training materials that you can always fall back on if the whirlwind eats up your scheduled prep time.
  • Place “do not disturb” or “do not book” blocks in your calendar at the beginning or the end of each day so that other members of the organization don’t add events that eat up your planning time.
  • Learn when to say “no”. Sometimes you have to prioritize, and sometimes that means declining a request from others in your organization.

13. Become an Expert in Your Industry

Whether you’re selling cars, software, or homes, you should be the top resource and knowledge center for all of your troops. When have you ever spoken to a car salesman that didn’t know all of the details and specs of the competition?

Your team is counting on you to deliver all of the information they need to excel at their jobs and to continuously improve. And when your team encounter tough questions, they turn to you.

Here’s how you can become an expert in your industry:

  • Read major industry publications. If you’re a sales manager at a car dealership, you best be keeping up with the latest articles from sites such as Car and Driver and MotorTrend. If you’re in the tech sector, TechCrunch and The Economist might be better fits.
  • Stay on top of your sales reads. From age old titles like The Art of War, all the way to the latest best-sellers like Extreme Ownership, there are some valuable lessons to be learned. Check out my personal list of recommendations here: No Time Wasted: 20 Elite Sales Books to Read.
  • Listen to podcasts. Check out industry leading shows like The Advanced Selling Podcast and The Sales Evangelist can be excellent resources for acquiring key knowledge to share with your team. My show, the Conquer Local Podcast is also a great resource for sales leaders—and I’m not even biased.
  • Follow leading sales influencers on social. Folks like Jill Konrath and Gary V love to drop tidbits of gold on their social media channels.

Conclusion

Whether you’re a young officer or a veteran, I feel like we all have some of our own constant learning to do.

The key lessons learned today are that:

  1. Sales leadership is the top determiner of overall team performance.
  2. You’ve gotta focus on the well-being of your team and keep an eye out for warnings
  3. Success lies in the data and the numbers speak volumes
  4. There’s almost always some room to trim some fat and improve team efficiencies
  5. Sales management is all about self development; constantly work to improve your industry knowledge, your communication skills, your time management, etc.

Use these lessons to help grow your skillset as a sales manager and continue inspiring your troops for battle each and every day.