Do you know what it takes to succeed as a Sales Manager? Being a great salesperson would seem to be a good foundation, but the truth is that managing the overall sales function, including the sales team, requires skills beyond those of being great at selling. From communication to motivation to problem solving and more, being a superior Sales Manager takes the right skill set and dedication to make the sales department a high-functioning unit. Let’s explore some of the key traits, skills and capabilities it takes to become an excellent Sales Manager:
When you think about it, great Sales Managers are balanced with keen capabilities in essential areas. So, let’s take a deeper look …
Superior Sales Managers should have the ability to:
Frankly, the ability to communicate is essential to success in any field of endeavor. When dealing with a team of salespeople, the Sales Manager must not only communicate in the special language of “salesspeak”, but also understand each team member well enough to communicate in the ways they need, individually. Some people learn best with words, others with visuals, others with hands-on examples. The Sales Manager must be able to read these communication needs and respond accordingly.
The successful Sales Manager must be able to inspire sales team members and motivate them to maximize their potential. To do that, the Sales Manager must be able to instill in each team member a sense of purpose and an unabashed belief that they are solving the customer’s problem, filling a void, satisfying a need, and curing a pain.
The abilities to communicate, inspire and motivate are hallmarks of leadership. When these cornerstones are in place, the Sales Manager earns respect, and respect is essential for being viewed as a leader. Leadership could be seen as the professional “It Factor”. As such, it can be difficult to quantify. Suffice to say if all the skills in this list are embodied in the Sales Manager, you probably have a true leader.
The ability to lead is not the same as the ability to manage. And vice versa. The ability to manage – the sales function, the sales team, the day-to-day nitty gritty of sales operations – is where the rubber meets the road for the Sales Manager. Management requires oversight and accountability. It also requires the “softer” skills that support, encourage and empower the team.
Consider the ability to manage as the baseline. If the Sales Manager can’t use the tools at his or her disposal to manage the sales essentials, the rest won’t matter.
The successful Sales Manager must be able to involve the team in both sales philosophy and sales process. The Sales Manager must be open to new ideas and be able to make each sales person feel as if they are a key part of the team and the solutions they provide to customers. The manager must be able to get team-wide buy-in even if certain team members would prefer a different direction. If the Sales Manager can accomplish that, productivity follows. Yes, this ability is also in the wheelhouse of a true leader.
The proficient Sales Manager will experience setbacks right along with the team. But the resourceful Sales Manager sees these setbacks as learning opportunities, training opportunities, and as opportunities to refine the sales process, realign resources, and even change course when necessary. The superior Sales Manager doesn’t panic and doesn’t dwell in despair when a big account is lost. Rather, the resilient Sales Manager acts as a role model to inspire the team to learn from the experience, apply those lessons, and “go get the next one”.
Sales teams are made up of individuals with different personalities and talents. When the “chemistry” is right, it’s professional bliss. But when two or more team members clash it is a never-ending nightmare that affects morale and acts like a poison to kill the work culture. The astute Sales Manager sees the warning signs early and acts to correct the problems. This could include firing a particularly disruptive member of the sales team – even if that person is the top salesperson.
In addition to making sure the work environment is positive and supportive of teamwork, the effective Sales Manager knows that team members must feel fulfilled – personally and professionally – in order to remain productive. They must feel a sense of purpose and growth. They must believe their future will be one of achievement and personal pride and recognition. They must know that the Sales Manager will support them when they seek opportunities. As is true in most smaller sales organizations, it is not always possible for those opportunities to be realized in-house. In other words, for individual sales people to reach their potential, they might have to look outside the company. Even knowing that, the insightful Sales Manager should support skills development and make those resources available to team members.
Respect for the Sales Manager ultimately comes down to the question of fairness. “Do I think the Sales Manager treats me – and everybody else – fairly?” If each salesperson can answer that with a yes (even if there are moments they may think differently), the Sales Manager is doing a good job of earning respect from the team.
To be seen as fair, Sales Managers must be open, transparent and communicative. Above all, they must genuinely care for the personal and professional well-being of each team member and treat each team member with the same level of care.
There is nothing so inspiring as reaching a tough-but-realistic goal or as dispiriting as failing to reach one that was always out of reach. Goals should not be so easy that effort is unnecessary, of course; neither should they be so difficult and far beyond what has been achieved before that they are impossible. Even if goals are raised each year, the Sales Manager should take appropriate measures to make it possible to reach them. This might entail bringing in administrative support to free the salesperson to spend more time selling, or upgrading the CRM to deliver more actionable data, or even realigning territories to reduce travel downtime. The successful Sales Manager expects great things and makes them attainable.
Leadership and management and respect stem largely from the ability to solve problems. And I’m not just talking about putting out fires. Rather, I’m talking about the ability to address issues in the moment and make wide-reaching adjustments when it appears the problem is not isolated. When the Sales Manager solves problems, he or she ultimately makes the salesperson’s job easier and improves the company’s bottom line. Many believe the single most important task we can undertake as a Sales Manager is to “clear the runway for our sales team.”
Even if the Sales Manager inherits a sales team, eventually new team members need to be added. The effective Sales Manager needs to be able to recruit and hire proven sales performers, but also address specific needs within the organization while being keenly focused on finding a personality who will enhance, rather than disrupt, the sales team culture.
Being a Sales Manager is tough. As you can see from this list of a dozen key capabilities, it goes beyond the scope of what makes a great salesperson. In other words, when you need a new Sales Manager, it is not as simple as promoting your top salesperson. You’ll need to find someone capable of leading, inspiring, motivating, supporting, and yes, managing.
At Sales Xceleration, we know that many organizations struggle with filling the role of Sales Manager. We can help. Whether you need assistance recruiting and hiring a Sales Manager, or want to outsource that function, Transcendent Sales Solutions can provide options. To learn more, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org