Being a sales manager is a demanding role, with an ever-changing set of priorities, skills and expectations. We reached out to 6 international sales coaches seeking answers to this question: What are your top 3 sales manager skills?
Top 3 Skills
Coaching is the number one quality/skill for sales leaders to develop. Early in my sales leadership career I was too focused on measuring and managing KPI's. Measuring KPI's are important and must be done but this wasn't coaching. I was fortunate to be a part of a world-class sales organization and the coaching model I was taught is one I continue to use to this day. The following is a glimpse into the process
1. On Boarding-This piece really began before a sales rep started his/her first day. We are setting the table throughout the interview process giving the candidate insight into what they can expect during their first year.
2. Day One--"It's All About Me". This is a one hour meeting that allows me to really get to know the sales rep. I know quite a bit already from the interview process but this allows me to take what I have learned even further and it shows I care about them. We review and establish goals (personal and business), mutually set expectations of each other, learn about their hobbies, and anything else that is important to them. Once I fully understand what is important to them or their "Why" it makes the coaching conversations even more impactful.
3. Set the coaching table. This revolves around 3 areas (Monthly Performance Development Meeting (PDM), Pre and Post Call Debriefs, Daily Hot Laps)
PDM-30 minute monthly one-on-one meeting that is scheduled in advance each month. We review KPI's, Skill gaps, and personal goals and we keep it simple on 1 piece of paper. However you develop this it is important for the sales rep to own this and come prepared. The goal as their manager/coach is to help them help themselves. Like raising children we want people to grow and become self sufficient!
Pre and Post Call Debriefs-I set the expectation that this happens before and after each appointment they have with a client or prospect. This is closely managed for the first year until the sales rep demonstrates they have command of our process.
Hot Laps-I do not believe in micromanaging but I do believe in being highly engaged. This is my chance to pop in and see how they are on a personal level, find out what their game plan is for the day, and ask what help they need from me. This is my way of ensuring we are on track to achieve our goals and just as important I am working to develop a solid relationship with my team.
Lastly, make all of this as fun and engaging as possible. Reward/acknowledge your sales reps when you see them making progress and growing...this really is the most rewarding part of coaching. If you don't have a coaching plan or need some help fine tuning your skills then hire a coach...I bet we know a few!!
Founder, Chief Sales Coach
The single most important aspect of a sales manager's job is to lead and develop their team. Yet according to data from Objective Management Group, only 7% of sales managers are capable of coaching their team. This is still happening despite research from the Sales Executive Council that shows coaching salespeople at least 3 hours a month yields an average of 7% over goal. If at least 50% of a manager's time isn't being spent coaching their team, then it's no wonder that barely half make their quota.
Coaching doesn't just impact quota, it also impacts the retention of the salesperson. According to research by The Bridge Group and ExecVision, the quality of the managers matters- a lot. When it costs so much to hire new salespeople and get them up to speed only to have another company steal the best ones away within 8 to 14 months- the front line sales manager role is critical. Salespeople who are coached are 45% more likely to recommend the company to someone else to come and work for. Imagine what would happen to your sales recruitment when more rock star sales people are telling other potential rock stars to come work with them. As Trish Bertuzzi wrote in Chapter 19 of "The Sales Development Playbook"; “Coaching is not a component within the sales manager role; managing is now a component of the new coaching role.”
But wait, there's more! Coaching also impacts customer retention. At HubSpot, when Mark Roberge analyzed customer churn with his team, he found that it wasn't an issue with customer success post sale, but found that the problem was with the salesperson. "We recognized that this customer success journey, is going to be largely depend on our ability to set good expectations during the sales process and seek out best fit customers for our company."
A recent SaaS sales team I worked with became the #1 team in their company and held a retention rate just over 98% after a regular coaching cadence was set up with a manager who was trained and coached themselves to be able to coach their team.
The next most important aspect to a sales manager's role is to motivate their team. It's not usually explicit in the job description but a sales manager's job is to create motivation, and to help a salesperson dig into their own personally meaningful goals and channel that and keep the accountable to it and remind them of it through coaching. For a manager to be able to motivate their team, they need to be able to understand how to dig into their own motivation. What motivates them and how much? Do they have the desire and commitment to reach their own personal goals? Do they have their own plan for reaching those goals? How do they track their progress? Can they motivate salespeople to do the same thing? Do they know what motivates each individual on their team? Do they have strong relationships with each team member? How do they give recognition?
The third most important thing for a sales manager to do is to measure performance and keep their team accountable. Will they hold salespeople accountable? What daily and weekly metrics will be used? DO they believe it is ok for some salespeople to barely, or not, make quota if others make up the difference? Do they believe their salespeople need to like them? Do they make excuses or take responsibility themselves? Do they tend to jump in to manage the sale, or the behavior of the salesperson? Do they ask enough questions of their salespeople? Do they listen enough to know what their salespeople need from them? How do they manage the pipeline with their team? Which part of the pipeline do they pay attention to?
The ultimate goal of sales management is to simply create self sufficiency. The common challenge among most sales leaders is they fail to accomplish this and create a culture of learned helplessness vs self sufficiency. There are 3 key skills that help accomplish this
1. Managing behavior- if you manage results you manage the past, if you manage behavior you manage the future.
2. Debriefing-truly dissecting what milestones were achieved in sales conversations to help uncover blind spots in conversations.
3. Pipeline Management-The understanding of how many opportunities exist and where they are in the sales process.
The skill of effectively managing pipelines are crucial to sales leadership. It simply starts with identifying the stages of the sales process within the organization. From here, objective milestones to be achieved for each step must be set and agreed upon. Too often stages are subjective (I feel like this has a 70% chance to close) vs objective (I have answers to A, B and C). Once this is accomplished the sales leader can more consistent with their debriefing since everyone is on the same page and also understand what behavior their team should engage in to reach their desired goals.
Founder & B2B Sales Coach
Buyer Aligned Selling
So who is the most important person in a company’s chase for meaningful revenue growth?
A good argument can be made that it’s the front line sales manager. After all, she is the connective glue between corporate strategy and the front line team that’s responsible for interacting with buyers daily, and closing business. She influences up and down the ladder, and can have a tremendous impact on attitudes, focus, behaviors and ultimately results.
So what skills are the most important? Well, there are many such as…
+ Ability to set and model a high standard
+ Translating company goals to the individual
+ Guiding & coaching effectively
+ Managing to accountability
+ Recruiting & hiring top talent
+ Emotional intelligence
+ Ability to focus on the important things
+ Ability to help the team uncover the truth about their buyers and opportunities
But in my experience the three that really set the top managers apart from the rest are…
Top managers make an individual connection with every member of the team
Top managers advocate for the needs of the team
Top managers keep the team buyer-focused
I could write a book on any of these three critical skills but let me zero in on the one that I believe rises to the very top, and should be not only the focus of sales management but also of the entire enterprise.
Keeping the team buyer-focused
Today’s reality is that the buyer is more informed and empowered than ever, and buyer expectations are at an all-time high. Relentless customer focus is today’s #1 business strategy, and the truth is that it begins with the sales team.
So what are the best ways to keep your team buyer-focused?
I recommend three strategies:
1. Help your team prepare for important buyer meetings:
Every meeting should have three components: (1) what to present, (2) what to ask, and (3) what to close for. The sales manager should regularly schedule time to review these three things for every important meeting that their team members are attending in a given week.
Help them think through the information that will connect most effectively with a given buyer; what are the key things the selling team would like to come away understanding; and what are we closing for. On this last point it’s a good idea to think about three potential outcomes that are “good enough”, “great” and “fantastic”. Help your team shoot for “great” or “fantastic” next steps and more of your opportunities will progress intentionally, rather than accidentally.
2. Model effective active listening skills:
When sales managers sit in on calls and meetings they have a great opportunity to model the kind of listening, qualifying and questioning that gets to the heart of the buyer’s concerns and motivations. One must peel not only the business onion, but the personal motivation onion as well.
Help your reps go into each meeting prepared for the questions to ask and the issues to uncover, and pick a few (very few) spots where you can ask a very insightful question that drives understanding to a much deeper level. Then review the insights gained after the call so the sales professional can see the impact of deeper, more thoughtful curiosity.
3. Make sure your team is spending adequate time with their buyers
One of the biggest crimes in selling today is that many companies are allowing their teams to spend less and less time with buyers. Sometimes this is driven by over-bureaucratic processes and systems, and other times it’s a lack of top-to-bottom accountability to the number one objective of sales teams: developing, maintaining and growing buyer relationships. The sales manager serves a critical role here and should be managing to specific goals for the percentage and amount of time spent with early, middle and late stage buyers. Nothing is more important than the buyer, and time is a great yardstick to measure that commitment.
Following these keys will help every sales manager maximize his results and make sure that buyer alignment is the number one focus area for success.
VP Business Development
Kurlan & Associates
Coaching: Coaching has become 50% of a sales manager's role. The problem is that nearly every sales manager in the world has no idea what coaching really means, nor do they have any sense of what coaching conversations sound like. To make matters worse, sales managers (and sales leadership) generally think that training and coaching are one and the same. (Richard from Refract and I wrote about this issue here) . The only way to develop into a sales coach is to hear the difference between a coaching conversation and everything else. Once learned, it's all about achieving mastery through practice and having the right tools to enable that practice. (i.e., tools like Refract)
Motivating: The right word here might be leadership, because far too many sales managers think motivation is like cheerleading or lecturing or yelling, none of which is what I mean. I'm talking about the ability to motivate people to change a behavior, put forth more effort, push through their comfort zone, or rally around a goal. Unfortunately, the cheerleader (or professor or drill sergeant) style is how most sales managers operate. The reason for this is that sales managers generally don't understand that effective motivation is about empowerment versus enablement or, worse yet, punishment. Compounding this problem is that sales managers typically don't have any idea about the motivational makeup of each individual sales person. Without this knowledge it is simply not possible to know what motivational approaches are likely to work. The way out of this mess is to use time-tested tools (such as OMG evaluations) to find out.
Holding reps accountable: This is a persistent and widespread weakness among sales managers. True accountability cannot be achieved simply through assigning annual quotas, quarterly business reviews, or pipeline discussions. The common scenario is that three-quarters of the way through the year a sales manager realizes that a sales person is not likely to hit their quota and puts them on a performance plan that generally doesn't do anything but guarantee that the sales rep leaves. Sales managers need to review forward-looking indicators, such as near-term goals and objectives, versus lagging indicators, such as activities logged. The only way to do this, in my opinion, is to hold sales people accountable to measurable progress through a clearly defined sales process, on a daily or at least a weekly basis.
We’re all human… which means we’re all uniquely different! So why manage your sales team members the same way? Some are naturals in some areas of the job and some not. They aren’t motivated by the same things - motivate them in ways specific to them! Manage them uniquely to the same outcomes.
Skill 1: Behavioral Intelligence
Sales managers who have the ability to observe and understand how emotion and behavior drive outcomes will innately communicate and manage their sales reps differently than those who believe a one-size-fits-all approach works. I’ve seen sales environments where every rep is managed the same, yet outcomes vary. For example, the manager assumes the whole team is motivated by money. The manager causes burnout with a high-pressure, high-expectation culture that is driven with monetary incentives. Successful sales managers manage each rep based on who they are as a person. They use awareness and social / emotional queues to adjust their approach in communication, tone, and types of incentives offered. Sales managers who rank high in the behavioral quotient create high-growth sales teams because everyone feels valued, heard, understood, and cared for. In return, they are inspired by their sales leader and motivated to perform and reciprocate the gesture.
Skill 2: Strengths-Focused
Sales managers who take the time to learn about each team members’ strengths and weaknesses have the opportunity to mold and shift the individual rep roles to accommodate productive behavior and experience high-growth sales. If a sales role requires 3 main duties, but each rep struggles in one of the 3, and that one lacking area drives down productivity, would it not make sense to carve that out, build a role of their strengths, and enjoy 2x or 3x productivity? We are often asked how this is scalable; individualized sales roles. Look at this example.
Rep A: consistently makes 60-70 outbound calls per day, converts 10% to sales conversations, struggles closing.
Rep B: no matter how many times you tell them to prospect, they never do. Yet, they close at 75%. If only they had more at-bats.
Shift Rep A to a prospect and qualify role and shift Rep B to a propose and close role.
Skill 3: Empowerment
Sales managers who dictate the rules and expectations constantly, potentially creating a toxic culture where reps feel micro-managed and feel they’re never good enough, will lose an opportunity to create a high-growth sales culture. Building on skills 1 & 2, once the manager understands who their sales reps are, how to communicate, how to motivate, and how to shape their role, they must create a culture of ongoing empowerment. A sales manager empowers their team by influencing the environment. They help everyone learn to diagnose and solve their own problems, build positive relationships with others in the organization (especially operations), and create a team that helps and supports each other. By empowering the team to take on these tasks, it frees up the sales manager to focus on coaching and mentoring their reps, not being stuck managing all their problems.