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What Makes a Great Sales Manager? 5 Best Practices to Start Using Today

By Steve Bookbinder

What Makes a Great Sales Manager? 5 Best Practices to Start Using Today

What makes a sales manager great? Well, depending on who you ask, you’re likely to get a range of answers, but one thing is for sure, sales managers play an integral role in the success of their sales team.

According to a study conducted by HBR, 69% of salespeople who exceed their annual quota, rated their sales manager as being excellent or above average.

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In addition, the quality of the sales organization is directly associated to the quality of the sales leadership. 56% of salespeople who rated their sales organization as excellent also rated their sales manager as excellent, compared to only 3% who rated their organization as average.

Coincidence? I think not.

When working with sales organizations all around the world, we’ve discovered something special about successful sales managers and how they run their teams.

What is it? It’s not just one thing, but a combination of the right skills, characteristics, and attitude.

Here are 5 best practices that distinguish highly effective sales managers from the rest of the pack and enables them to help their team successfully hit, and surpass their sales goals.

1. Set Goals & Expectations Early On

Does your team have a clear understanding of their goals and what’s expected of them? And do they truly know what you’re responsible for?

If there’s any uncertainty around roles and responsibilities, now is the time to clarify.

When managing expectations, it’s better to over-communicate than to risk misunderstanding. Effective sales managers take the time to ensure everyone knows who is accountable for what results and when. They also make sure everyone understands the consequences of hitting the goal, or not hitting the goal.

To avoid the latter scenario, a highly effective sales manager emphasizes the importance of the goal setting process and encourages their team to create SMART goals, which is a commonly-used framework that stands for: (1) Specific, (2) Measurable, (3) Achievable, (4) Realistic, and (5) Timely.

The key to creating SMART goals is collaboration and questioning. Ask yourself and members of your team a lot of thoughtful questions to help fine-tune your strategy and ensure you’re not over-promising or being unrealistic.

Someone may even push you to make your goal SMARTER, which adds (6) Evaluate and (7) Re-Do to the acronym.

Just like everything else in business, things change, and these two letters signify the continual need to assess, adapt, and change.

So, whether you’re writing SMART or SMARTER goals, know that things change and you may have to adapt. Regardless, you’ll find that first having some clarity about what you and your team want to achieve will make all the difference between success and failure.

2. Schedule One-on-One Time with Every Seller

The idea of this may seem daunting, but the best sales managers thrive when conducting one-on-one sessions.

They create and follow a consistent schedule, stay focused, and make each session personal.

Regardless of the size of your sales team, the first thing you need to do is create a schedule that allows you to spend time with each and every seller. Once you’ve established what the right schedule is, make sure you stay consistent.

We know things “pop up” every once and awhile, but having these one-on-one sessions scheduled in advance, and on a recurring basis, will help you avoid other responsibilities from interfering.  

In addition, having a set agenda will help keep you and your seller focused and on point so you can keep the meeting moving while covering the essential information needed to strategize each sales opportunity or account.

Finally, coaching should be personal. Each seller is unique. They have different strengths and weaknesses as well as different ways of learning. Spend time getting to know each of your sellers so that you can fine-tune your one-on-one coaching sessions in a way that will resonate with each seller, on a personal basis.

3. Focus on Strengths

Building on the previous best practice, we know that the best managers don’t treat all of their salespeople the same. Why? Because there are a lot of different personalities and selling styles working for you that need to be managed differently.

While an average sales manager may try a one-size-fits-all approach, superior sales managers work on identifying and understanding the strengths of each seller.

For instance, perhaps you have a sales rep who is excellent at nurturing client relationships and cultivating loyalty; should their time be dedicated toward prospecting? Probably not. You would want them to focus on sharpening their renewal and growth strategies as well as make sure current customers are happy and serviced.

As a sales manager, your role is to guide your sales team.

Exceptional sales managers are those who allow their team members to focus on what comes naturally to them, which ultimately results in their sales reps being more engaged and energetic at work.

In addition, according to a recent Gallup study, implementing a strength-based management system can lead to a 10% to 19% increase in sales as well as decreased employee turnover. Now, I’d call that a win-win for both the overall company and the employees.

4. Share Success Stories with the Team

You are the eyes and ears of your sales team. So you get to see and hear about the challenges they are struggling with as well as stories of success to be celebrated and modeled.

Use this information by sharing your observations with your team and encouraging them to share with each other. For example, after big wins you should take the time to share with the team the things that made the deal work. Openly assess what the sales rep did well, what didn’t work and what could be done differently in future.

The sharing of best practices and examples across all sellers will help bring differing opinions and perspectives into the conversation. This creates healthy discussion and debate around particular topics that are important to you, your team, your company, and the overall industry.

5. Create a Culture of Training

Okay, so maybe we are a little biased on this one, but making ongoing learning and training part of your sales culture opens the door to continual growth and long term success.

Every successful sales organization has a training rhythm that consistently works to develop the fundamentals of product knowledge, competitive intelligence, prospecting, time and opportunity management, as well as territory planning and how to communicate professionally.

Training provides a competitive advantage that is often overlooked.

Even if you’re having the best year ever, it doesn’t mean you should stop looking for new ways to improve and build upon where you’re already having success. Ongoing training initiatives can help you keep a close eye on any new trends or emerging technologies that could quickly add ROI and value to your sales team.

The best sales managers are constantly looking to get the most out of themselves and their team. That’s why a key characteristic of a highly effective sales manager is their openness to feedback and learning. If they want their salespeople to accept and engage in training, then they are the ones who set the tone. You can’t expect your salespeople to do something that you’re not willing to do yourself.

The best managers work hard at creating a culture of training by setting the right tone, which helps to create an open and honest working culture where everyone shares the same mindset and values.

Be One of The Greats

Sales managers use many different best practices, but the tips we’ve shared here are tips used by some of the greatest.

You’ll be well on your way by remembering to: set goals and expectations early to ensure clarity among the team, schedule one-on-one time with every seller to help enable their success, focus on developing strengths of each seller, share success stories for healthy discussion and debate, and finally, create a culture of training to promote continual learning and development.

Join the IMPACT coaches for a deep dive on a new topic every month in our free virtual event series.


Inbound Sales
Published on September 21, 2016

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