The first-line sales manager is one of the most rewarding, yet overworked positions in the sales chain. Client and team meetings, account and territory planning, financial and administrative work, management requests, and sales rep coaching are just a few of the sales manager’s responsibilities.
With so many diverse yet intertwined activities to deal with throughout the day, sales managers often find themselves in a perpetual juggling act. Here are six things sales managers can do to focus on the right things and become a top performing sales manager.
Time management is essential. As a sales manager, you may have 8-10 or more direct reports coming at you all day asking questions and making you stop what you’re doing to answer them. You may think you are being helpful. But in reality, you become the bottleneck, limiting your sales reps (and yourself) in getting anything done.
Rather than conditioning everyone to come to you for the answers, encourage reps to learn on their own. Empower them to make decisions. Instead of directly answering their questions, ask additional questions that provoke them to think through the problem and get to the answer or solution themselves. Your coaching will make them better sales reps and it will give you more time back in your day.
Sales managers set the standards for their teams. As an example, your presence during an internal sales meeting sends the message that the activity is important and that you expect everyone to attend and actively participate. By routinely contributing to the meeting and participating in team discussions, others most likely will follow the same behavior.
At the beginning of any meeting or workshop, begin with a statement about your expectations for all participants. Then, follow it through by setting the right example. Ignore your phone, computer or iPad, and participate and engage with your team. While there may be urgent deals to close and key client executives to call back, most things can wait unless a deal is closing imminently or an important call was scheduled.
It’s your job to help your people be successful, so coaching your team is imperative. It also takes time, focus and ownership. It may seem like coaching takes more time than you have, but once you teach people how to think and empower them to make their own decisions, you’ll be able to address other priorities. Coaching will be hard at first since you’ll be in the habit of immediately answering their questions, but don’t. Help them grow rather than be the bottleneck.
It’s not uncommon for sales managers to look at the pipeline and spend time only on the deals that are forecasted to close in the current quarter. What’s the problem with this? For starters, it’s too short-sighted. It is almost impossible to come in just when a deal is about to close and formulate the right relationships and figure out where your solution fits in with the bigger picture.
Get involved earlier in the sales cycle. Typically, executive buyers get involved both earlier and later in the sales process. Become part of the discovery process and get a seat at the table to assess executive business problems, priorities and timelines and/or provoke innovative ideas. By establishing executive relationships earlier in the sales cycle, you’ll be in a better position to develop and nurture executive relationships, and validate client priorities and goals in case changes occur. And, with these insights, you’ll be able to generate a more accurate sales forecast.
Working collaboratively with other sales managers will allow you to think objectively. As a sales manager, I always found that talking to my peers helped validate what I was doing, get new ideas, think outside of the box, and create a genuine sense of camaraderie.
The best sounding board can be either a peer or someone who held your position previously. They have the experience behind them to understand the nuances and context to some of the most difficult decisions sales managers like you must make on a daily basis. Remember, you are not in this alone. Ask those you trust for advice and listen without jumping to conclusions.
Sales managers must continue to learn and grow to be successful. Stay ahead of the curve to be relevant. Keep investing in yourself. Look for training and reinforcement to help you and your sales team do better qualification, work with executives, build quality pipelines, and achieve other goals. By getting better at your job, you can pass this knowledge on to your sales team.
Being a sales manager is one of the hardest yet rewarding jobs out there. You cannot make yourself available to everyone, every minute of the day and also get your job done. Spend your precious time focusing on the right things. Participate throughout the sales process and don’t stand in the way of your sales reps’ growth. By always setting a high standard for professionalism and effectiveness, others will quickly follow your leadership.
Janice Mars, principal and founder of SalesLatitude, is a senior business and sales executive with more than 30 years of experience helping companies build successful sales teams. She has parlayed that experience to help her clients to improve their sales processes, accurately forecast revenues, ensure focus on winnable opportunities, and attain consistent results.