I was recently introduced to Kevin Davis, the author of The Sales Manager’s Guide to Greatness, a new business book currently available on Amazon. He is the President of TopLine Leadership, a sales management training company, and is an authority on the sales management topic. Davis identified 10 key traits of good sales managers, summarized below. He was kind enough to allow me to share them with all of you in this post.
Managing and leading a sales team requires a completely different mindset from selling.
It’s a common refrain from sales organizations: “We promoted our top salesperson to sales manager and it didn’t work out like we thought it would.” Being a leader of a sales team requires different skills and mindsets from being a successful sales rep. The first step is identifying sales instincts that may be holding you back as a manager. 1) I want to be a player. But sales managers are not put in the job to keep selling. They are put in the job so they can help others become the best salespeople they can be. 2) I’d rather close than coach. But that instinct for the chase and closing deals can lead us awry once we’re in management. 3) I’m very focused on getting stuff done. Not so fast. A sales manager who is overly task oriented can spend too much time making sure mundane to-do items get done while ignoring the development needs of their salespeople. 4) I don’t care how people get results, as long as they get results. The dilemma for sales managers, however, is that a constant push to reach a sales number can keep them and their teams so focused on end goals that they miss opportunities to identify problems with skills and processes so they can improve future results. To be a more effective sales manager, you have to replace those attitudes with more powerful leadership mindsets. Whether trained or untrained, novice or experienced, all sales managers run the risk of falling back on old habits and acting more like a super-salesperson than a leader. Learn how to think more like a proactive leader and less like a reactive firefighter.
Time = Priorities
The single most common complaint from sales managers: “I don’t have time to coach.” In one company, 85 percent of the sales managers’ responsibilities were related to sales coaching. In interviews, this company’s regional sales managers said that in reality, none spent more than 10 percent of their time coaching. These managers, like most sales managers, spend 90 percent of their time involved in activities unrelated to their highest priorities. Being able to manage time (and thus your priorities) effectively is a prerequisite for being a great sales team leader. You simply cannot achieve your full potential as a sales team leader if you spend the bulk of your time in reactive mode—solving everyone else’s problems, holding ineffective meetings, shuffling through papers, or dealing with any other number of timewasters. You need to make sure you have plenty of time to plan, coach, measure, and manage. These are the priorities for sales management leadership.
Drive Rep Accountability for Breakthrough Sales Performance
It is impossible to hold reps fully accountable for their performance unless there is a clear description of exactly what excellence should look like. High expectations that are well communicated to your team are an essential component of a high-performance culture. You need a success profile that captures both the skills and wills needed for success in your company, plus a third element: the performance standards you want to establish for sales results and activity levels. When you are clear about what reps need to achieve, you can communicate more effectively with sales reps about what they need to do to improve.
Address the fundamental dilemma all sales managers face, namely that the best coaching in the world is not going to rescue someone who is ill-suited for the job. You have to evaluate not just the skills and wills of likely candidates, but their cultural fit and their coachability. Why? While it’s true that some sales reps are naturals and likely will succeed in almost all situations, those self-driven top performers are more the exception than the rule. Most reps require sales coaching to attain top skills and performance levels.
Insert the Customer in Your Sales Process
Every company has a sales process whether or not it’s formalized. Ideally, a sales process provides salespeople with a consistent, repeatable path to follow that leads to a higher probability of sales success. But though many sales organizations think of themselves as customer-focused because they truly care about the customer, their sales process is seller-focused. Further, their systems—sales models, CRM, funnel structure, and pipeline—are set up to track sales rep activities, not customer actions. What too few companies realize is that selling activities are an inaccurate metric of progress because sales reps are so often out of sync with customers’ views. It’s not necessarily that salespeople are doing the wrong things. They could be doing the right things—identifying needs, delivering proposals, doing demonstrations—but at the wrong time in terms of the customer’s buying process. In short, any tracking or forecasts based on a selling-focused model are actually based on sales rep intuition, not on evidence that a prospect is making progress toward a decision. And it’s this disconnect between “sales rep actions” and “customer actions” that contributes to lost sales and missed forecasts.
Be more strategic about your coaching time
When it comes to coaching, most sales managers have natural instincts to either rescue the worst players (because obviously they need the most help) or gravitate to the best players (because they will likely have the biggest, most exciting deal opportunities). If either of these sounds like you, the results of a study reported in the Harvard Business Review might come as a surprise. “In research involving thousands of reps, we found that coaching—even world-class coaching—has a marginal impact on either the weakest or the strongest performers in the sales organization.” That’s right. Your biggest payoff from coaching will come from working with the people you might think of as your “B” players. Your mindset needs to be focusing your one-on-one coaching time on the people with the biggest potential, not those with the biggest problems or biggest deals.
Commit to consistent coaching
Think about the best manager or coach you’ve had, whether in or out of sales. The answer that occurs to most people is someone who was truly committed to their success. People don’t remember a manager or coach so much for the step-by-step coaching process that person used (though they probably had one). They remember coaches more for how those managers interacted and communicated and the effort they put in to connecting with their team.
Motivate the Demotivated
The vast majority of sales managers that I deal with think as high as 75 percent of the performance issues on their team are due to bad attitudes or “willingness problems”. Deﬁciencies in will—a rep’s attitude and mental approach to the job—are much more difﬁcult to solve, and this is perhaps one reason why they get ignored so often. Yet taking action is imperative. Just one bad apple can bring a team’s performance down by more than 30 percent, no matter how good the rest of the group is. Poor behavior has a much stronger negative effect on a team than the positive effect of good behavior. Dealing with this wide range of willingness problems takes ﬁnesse. You can’t send someone to a class to improve an attitude. You can’t force someone to be more motivated simply by telling them what to do or cheerleading from the sidelines. Instead, you have to think about what will motivate—or what has demotivated—the person. Focus on the difference between motivators that raise the natural level of motivation (providing incentives for people to improve and get better), and things that rob people of their enthusiasm for the job. As a manager, you have to be able to distinguish between these two so you know whether your job is increasing motivators or trying to diminish the impact.
Increase Win Rates with Buy Cycle Coaching
When a company adopts a buying-process focus, part of a sales manager’s responsibility becomes reinforcing that perspective in their dealings with sales reps. See the process through the customer’s eyes. Learn to appreciate the steps a customer goes through when making a buying decision and resist the urge to “prematurely pitch.” Talking about features and benefits of a solution does no good if the customer has not even decided to buy yet. Pitching benefits too soon is one main way that reps get out of sync with customer buying. And, do so as a “helper”, not a “critic”, to not make your sales rep defensive and preserve your relationship with them. Usher the person to the intersection of choice. Be very clear about consequences: negative if the person does not change, and positive if they do. Focus on questions that get at the customer’s go-forward actions. Ask reps the questions those reps should be asking themselves, such as “Where is this prospect at in their decision-making process?” and “What does this customer need to learn in order to take their next buying step?” and “What action do I want the customer to take after this call (or meeting)?” You can’t improve closing ratios by going in at the end of the sales process. You have to fix what your salespeople are doing at the very beginning—what they are doing to understand the customer’s buying process. Those first few meetings are when a customer decides whether they have a problem that you can fix and whether it’s worth their time to fix it. It’s also where, from the customer’s perspective, the size of the sale is determined.
Think and Act Like a Champion
David Epstein, author of The Sports Gene, has devoted much of his career to studying the behavior of elite athletes and champions. He discussed a pattern he noticed in how champions set their goals. Epstein said all of the champions he studied have major goals they want to accomplish, such as winning a race or an Olympic medal. But on a daily basis they aren’t thinking about that end point. Rather, every day will be devoted to something very specific, such as “today in my workout, between mile three and four, I’m going to push hard.” In other words, these champions are really good at setting proximate (near-term) objectives that tell them what to do today. How can you do the same?