Sales managers make a difference to your company every day in many ways.
They help top producers produce even more. They help high potential sales people develop into stars. They help the consistent, steady producers keep chugging away. They weed out the underperformers who can’t make the grade and they help others to improve.
You would think that you’d want to pick the best sales managers you could find, give them the training they need and support them. But, in many companies, that simply doesn’t happen.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics tells us that 2.2 million Americans have some kind of sales management job. They work in all kinds of settings, large and small, retail and business and industrial. The majority of them have three things in common.
They were promoted for the wrong reasons.
They received no training in supervisory or management skills.
They have people working for them. That means that if they sink instead of swim, they can take a whole sales team to the bottom with them.
It doesn’t have to be this way. To change things, you need to pick people who have a shot at being successful managers, give them training in supervisory skills, and give them the support they need to grow and develop as managers.
Pick people who have a shot at being successful managers.
It’s almost a cliché that top salespeople often make poor sales managers, yet that’s exactly who many companies promote. Instead of looking at sales success alone consider the following.
Pick people who like helping others succeed. That’s a big part of any manager’s job. Select candidates who’ve gone out of their way to help others and seem to be good at it.
Pick people who are willing to talk to others about behavior and performance. This is a tough one.
Many salespeople have a strong need to be liked. In management that can be deadly. Select people you’ve seen deliver tough messages to their colleagues and customers without setting off a nuclear conflict.
Pick people who are willing to make decisions. You can’t teach this. You can teach techniques to improve decision making, but your candidate needs to show up willing to make decisions and be held accountable for them.
Pick people who are credible. Almost all promotions to sales manager are from inside. That means that a person’s reputation follows him or her. Part of that reputation involves sales skills.
I’ve found a difference between retail and industrial selling here. In industrial sales management, the manager spends less time with his or her salespeople than the retail sales manager, who works the floor and usually sells.
The difference is important when you’re considering someone for promotion. In retail, you want a person who delights in helping others and who is also a great salesperson. That’s because he or she is on the floor all the time. How the sales manager sells sets the example for everyone every day.
Pick people with integrity. This is another one of those things you can’t teach, but it’s essential. You have to be able to trust your managers. Their team members have to be able to trust them.
Pick people who like to learn. A good sales manager will always be learning. He or she will learn about technical matters, about sales techniques and about supervisory skills. That learning starts with training.
Give them training in supervisory skills.
Get a bunch of top company executives and ask them what they do to train their salespeople and the noise level in the room rockets upward as they describe one thing after another. Ask those same executives what they do to train their sales managers in management and the room goes silent.
Supervising salespeople is a distinct kind of work. To do it well, you have to shift your thinking from being an individual salesperson on a team to being the leader of the team. And you have to master some specific skills.
Help them understand their new role. New sales managers need to spend time clarifying their new role. As sales managers they are responsible for making goal through the group. As sales managers they are responsible for helping their people succeed and develop.
Help them develop skills necessary to talk to people about their behavior and performance. New sales managers need to learn the basic tools. They need to practice them in exercises before they go back on the job.
Help them identify good role models and possible mentors. Initial training should point out the importance of role models and mentors. It should help new sales managers identify good ones. And it should teach the new sales manager how to use them.
Help them put together their own development program. New sales managers will leave their first training with most of their learning still in front of them. Give them tools and connections that will help them learn on the job.
Give them the support they need to grow and develop.
Supervising others is an apprentice trade. You learn a small portion of it in classrooms and from books. You learn most of it from others and on the job.
Give your sales managers lots of feedback. Feedback is the key to improved performance. New sales managers, especially, need lots of feedback on their management work in the months immediately following promotion.
Help them connect with peers. Strong peer groups can help a new sales manager get advice, feedback and support.
Bring them back for frequent training during the transition period. My research says that it takes twelve to eighteen months for most new sales managers to settle in to their new role and their new job. During that time, training on analyzing performance issues and talking to people about performance can really help.
Sales managers don’t just have an impact on the top line by increasing sales. They also have an impact on the bottom line by reducing turnover and keeping selling expenses under control. They’re important you need to select, train and support them like the valuable assets they are.
By John Vaughan