sales manager

Transitioning a sales person to a sales manager

Transitioning A Salesperson To A Manager’s Role

One of the most costly mistakes in business is to promote your most successful sales person only to find that they fail as a manager.  What makes this even more disheartening is that you may also lose some of the revenue from that producer’s territory. Sales people are promoted because they have performed well and management mistakenly believes that the super star sales person is also a great manager and trainer.  Too often, the great sales person doesn’t even realize what they are doing different.  They may be intuitive or just particularly committed to cold calling or business development.  It is not uncommon that the sales person doesn’t really understand what behaviors have lead to above average results.

Being a super sales person and being a great manager often have traits that are diametrically different.  The successful sales person is usually easy to engage and empathetic with customers.  The really great ones are excellent listeners.  The exceptional sales manager is more analytical in that they can evaluate how effectively a sales person is executing their sales process and then provide concrete, specific feedback and exercises that will lead to improvement.  The listening skill that might have made them a great sales person is often a trait that enhances success as a sales manager. Larry King is credited with saying “I never learned anything while I was talking” and his words are well worth considering.

The sales manager that says, “Watch how I do it” is often using his personal skills to role model behaviors and that field experience is valuable but of only limited value.  Sales managers need to be coaches to be successful.  Few football coaches are world class quarterbacks, kickers or tight ends.  The way that a coach is able to field a winning team is to be able to assess the strengths and weakness of each player, to be able to diagnose the appropriate development and course of action and to be able to communicate the recommended changes in a manner that is clear and compelling.  If the sales manager is not able to change the attitudes and the behaviors of the sales team, it is questionable if the performance of the team will improve.  Think about the skill set required to change attitudes and behaviors.  That skill set may not be the same one that was able to close enough deals to get the salesperson promoted to sales manager.

Transitioning managers to a coaching role is the key to upgrading the collective results of the team.  Is the manager providing the appropriate development for the team and addressing individual needs?  Is the manager asking the right questions?  Is the manager effectively listening?  Is the manager good at making accurate assessments?  Does the manager use a sales process as his playbook and work with the team to practice the process?

The manager as coach analogy is a good one although there are many playback videos of sales people performances to assess.  Start by asking sales people specific questions:

  1. What does a qualified prospect look like?
  2. Who needs to be involved in the final decision that will lead to an order?
  3. What’s the cost to the buyer of not making a change?
  4. What value does the buyer/prospect see in your offering?
  5. How are we positioned against our competition?

The answers to these types of questions will enable the manager to make an assessment of how best to coach the sales person to success.  Increasing the overall effectiveness of the sales organization is the primary goal of the sales manager.  A sales manager that is a good coach is most likely to lead his team to greater success.

Frequently I am asked by management teams to attend their sales meetings, to give feedback, and to participate in how my customers are developing their revenue engines. These meetings are often designed around team building events on a beach or at a resort with a golf course. Sometimes they are dialed down meetings, designed to set the vision for the company; others are an opportunity to relax with their colleagues. Some are both (my favorites, indeed)

Recently, I’ve sat back to consider what makes a good sales manager great. A manager’s primary role is to develop the sales rep. The sales rep’s primary role is to develop the opportunity and win the business. There are four competencies that a manager needs to master to become great.

1. Set Objectives: I’ve seen managers set objectives based on their own personal experiences with no buy in from the rep. It looks like this: “All sales reps must call on 5 opportunities a week and make 20 cold calls a day.” This approach may work, but the better way would be to set objectives with the sales rep. It looks like this: “Here are the revenue objectives we are trying to meet this year. What do you think we need to do to achieve that objective?” Managers who can get buy in from the rep and set clear objectives will garner amazing performance.

2. Schedule Reviews with Agreed Information Share: Once the objectives are set and the expectations are clear- now what happens? Don’t just leave it up to your sales rep to “wing it”. If the objective is to win $500,000 new business, then discuss with the rep what types of customers they should be talking to. How many of those customers will they need to talk to reach their goal? Have them send you the follow up correspondence they are sending their customers as a checkup. Walk them through the process and the expectations for follow up and you will have repeatable success.

3. Evaluate and Coach: In my experience you can learn a lot about a sales rep’s performance from the prospect’s replies to follow up correspondence. Are the customer’s goals clearly stated? Can the capabilities provided move them closer to those goals? Are enough letters going out to show an ample pipeline? Are they talking to the right people at the company? These letters should tell all these things and more. After the evaluation, choose 1or 2 things to coach them on. It can’t be too many or the little time you have to spend with the rep will seem crowded and your coaching will be overwhelming. Tackle one skill to help them improve at a time. For example, role play with them and listen to how they position your product’s capabilities. Then tackle another skill the next time you talk or meet, soliciting their feedback on how the reinforced skill is developing.

4. Feedback and Reinforce: Look for what the sales reps do well. You’ll need to constantly reinforce the positive and maintain the foundation you’re building on. If the objectives are not being achieved, then focus on what’s going right and how that skill got you 50% there. Then work together on skills that will to get you the rest of the way. If a manager can master this skill they will not just be a great manager but a great leader as well.

As John D. Rockefeller said, “Good management consists in showing average people how to do the work of superior people.” By mastering these 4 skills managers will get superior people with superior results. My management workshops are an in depth development of these skills, and I welcome an opportunity to discuss them with you.