Getting any team together as a unit, aligning them, and getting them to focus on scoring winning goals is a tall order. For a sales team, the order is even taller. It’s tough out there. Competition is fierce. There is much at stake.
In an industry that frequently rewards its top performers with management positions, it’s ironic that many of those people don’t make good managers. It’s like asking an accomplished singer to usher a kindergarten class toward vocal greatness; just because the singer is a top-performer doesn’t mean he or she can bring out the best in others.
Being a good sales manager, however, is a skill that can be learned, and like learning to ride a bicycle, the more it’s practiced, the better a person gets at doing it. The question is: What skills does a top-performer need to be a great supervisor? Here’s a list of nine non-negotiables:
- Know what you’re up against
As the adage goes, people don’t quit companies; they quit managers. More than 2.98 million employees voluntarily left their positions in August 2016, so either the adage is wrong, or a whole lot of supervisors have a long way to go. If one assumes it’s the latter, it’s vital for managers to recognize their weaknesses. Being able to do so is the first step toward improvement.
- Recognize your importance
While it’s critical to avoid egotism, it’s also important to acknowledge the significance of being a manager. Sales managers are in the unique position of being able to empower and influence sales reps toward greater accomplishments. For supervisors that question the importance of their role, Harvard Business Review has a reminder: 69 percent of salespeople who surpass their annual quota rated their sales manager as either excellent or above average. In other words, management is key to success.
- Establish goals and expectations early in the game
If there’s any uncertainty about the roles and expectations for salespeople, there’s no better time to clarify that than right now. One of the most critical qualities of sales managers is the willingness to ensure that everyone knows what they are accountable for and when. Make sure everyone knows what the rewards are for meeting expectations, as well as the consequences of not doing so.
Now here’s the catch: for the goals to be effective, they need to be SMART. That is, they need to be 1) Specific, 2) Measurable, 3) Attainable, 4) Realistic, and 5) Timely. For a short list of goals, check this out.
- Carve out time with each individual in the team
Sales manager skills run the gamut, but every report indicates that effective managers take the time to spend time with each member of their team on a regular basis. Alone.
Depending on the size of a staff complement or the sales manager’s responsibilities, this may seem daunting. Nevertheless, the best supervisors thrive when conducting one-on-one sessions.
Schedule time consistently and in advance; stay centered on the job during the meetings, and make it personal. Recognize that each seller is an individual and has different needs. Spend enough time with each person to fine-tune the individual coaching sessions in a manner that will resonate with each employee.
- Build the team carefully
Although it takes more time and money upfront, it’s advantageous to carefully select the best sellers one can find to be on the team. The best results require the best employees. Seek out people who already have social goals that align with the organizational goals. Remember the phrase: Slow to hire, quick to fire.
- Get on the same level
It no longer works to call out orders from the ivory tower. Rather, contemporary sales managers are expected to get their hands dirty. Lend a hand when the need arises. Don’t be afraid to model what is expected of sellers, whether that is making a great sales pitch over the phone or vacuuming the carpet after hours. After all, the quality of a sales manager can be measured by the success of their team.
- Answer to the name “coach”
Perhaps the most difficult skill to master is coaching. It’s also the one that managers frequently have no time for. However, wrangling the skill of coaching is especially important. Highly skilled sales managers recognize that the key to building employee confidence is to rally team members. They don’t hesitate to help sales reps who need assistance, and they provide frequent feedback to help everyone excel. At the same time, they recognize when employees neither want nor need coaching, and they focus on other tasks.
- Focus on strengths
There are few professions that rely more heavily on positive feedback than sales. A skilled sales manager must pay close attention to each member of the team and provide encouragement tailor-made for each person. Though an average sales manager may use a one-size-fits-all approach, a stellar sales manager will take the time to recognize every individual’s strengths.
Not only should feedback be personalized, but the tasks assigned should be too (as long as there is room for flexibility). For instance, if there is an employee who exceeds at nurturing relationships and building loyalty, it is better to have them focus on developing renewal and growth strategies rather than seeking out new business.
Play to each person’s strengths so that everyone on the team can contribute according to their strengths and feel good about doing so. A 2016 Gallup poll revealed that 90 percent of groups that implemented a strengths-based intervention at any level had increases at or above the ranges identified below:
- 10%-19% increase in sales
- 14%-29% increase in profit
- 3%-7% increase in customer engagement
- 9%-15% increase in engaged employees
- 6- to 16-point decrease in turnover (in low-turnover organizations)
- 26- to 72-point decrease in turnover (in high-turnover organizations)
- 22%-59% decrease in safety incidents
- They Need to Usher Employees from Good to Great
It takes a distinct type of person to thrive as a sales professional. It isn’t for the faint of heart. By nature, top-selling employees tend to be competitive and outspoken. Successful sales managers know how to reign in this temperament to minimize conflict, while also nudging it along enough to achieve great results. Clever managers strive to leverage the high performers so that they motivate others and help drive the whole team from good to great.
Sales managers who master these nine essential sales management skills will always be on the podium with the top performing team. Like any desirable trait, it may take practice to perfect and regular check-ups to maintain, but the result is absolutely worth it.
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