Don’t assume a good salesperson will naturally be a good manager. Sales managers can and should be playing a very key role within your sales organization. In fact, they may be having a much bigger impact on your bottom line than you realize.

The Importance of Having the Right Sales Managers in Place

Now that the New Year is in full swing, how are sales? Up? Down? No movement? Whether or not there has been a shift, to what would you attribute the change or lack thereof?

Many companies will look to outside factors like the rebounding economy, or perhaps point the finger at executive leadership. Others will go straight to the bottom of the food chain to blame a few lackluster sales reps or praise a handful of superstars.

The point is, the light is all too rarely shined on a key group within the organization – your sales managers.

Sales managers can and should be playing a very key role within your sales organization. In fact, they may be having a much bigger impact on your bottom line than you realize. But somehow, the sales manager role often becomes overlooked, underutilized, or both.

This article will talk a little bit about the characteristics of a good sales manager and the best ways to assess their performance. We will also share tactics on optimal ways to manage, train and inspire future performance from these key players within your organization.

Don’t assume a good salesperson will naturally be a good manager.

We know how this situation often evolves. You’ve had a great sales rep on staff for some time; they’ve consistently led the pack, surpassed their quotas and may have even displayed positive management attributes. So, when it’s time to expand and find a new sales manager, this standout sales rep seems like the perfect and most logical fit.

Well, logic doesn’t always pan out, especially without preparation.

The skills necessary to manage and coach sales professionals are much different than those required to close sales, and very few individuals are instinctually equipped to do both. Take the time to determine where the new sales manager is in terms of skillset, and provide the right level of support. Although they may be able to create connections with their new sales reps; the fact that they have done the job and have done it well can only last so long.

Think of some of the world’s best athletes…Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Michael Jordan. Both are widely considered to be two of the best basketball players of all time and both had challenges performing the job of head coach.

Bottom line, understand what skills your new manager needs and support their development in this new role. Don’t assume a good player will naturally be a good coach.

Do their values align with the organization’s values?

Another benchmark for the hiring process – or something to observe for those managers already in place – is a commitment to upholding the values of your organization. Do they embrace your company culture and do they inspire others to do so as well?

Keep in mind, that your sales manager is truly a middleman. More often than not, they are tasked with being a communication liaison between leadership and salespeople. This means they have the ear of the sales team so it’s important that they are communicating the appropriate messages. And, as most messaging comes from the top down, it’s vital that leadership is setting the right example. If not, and your sales managers don’t communicate in a way that upholds company values, it can become an issue for everyone involved.

Consider the overall responsibility mix of your managers.

When you’re assessing the performance of a sales manager, take into consideration their range of responsibilities. For example, are they free to devote all of their time to the coaching and development of their reps, or are they expected to divide time between managing and performing sales in some capacity? There are actually pros and cons to both situations.

It stands to reason that, if a manager is free to focus on sales coaching and development, they can drill down to determine the true strengths and weaknesses of each of their reps. They can also take the time to work together with reps in strategically moving toward solutions for those weaknesses or challenges.

On the other hand, when a manager maintains at least a small amount of actual sales responsibilities, it can serve to help them keep their finger on the pulse. Once they get too far removed from firsthand sales interactions it can be harder to relate to what their reps are experiencing.

We mention this point mainly so that expectations can be realistic. Playing a dual role can be challenging for managers and many times one or both of the responsibilities may suffer as a result. From an executive’s perspective, it should be determined where your managers’ time is best spent. This way, mutual expectations can be maintained.

Never stop developing managers.

To revisit an earlier point, sales managers tend to get overlooked in many areas: accountability, praise and even improvement. There is plenty of buzz around executive training and sales rep training and development, but what about the further development of sales managers? After all, when other departments change or improve, how can managers be expected to manage and coach to those changes if they aren’t trained to do so?

Sales coaching is critically important, but it’s also critically important that it’s done correctly. Coaching and managing are unique skillsets that need their own brand of training and reinforcement. Where sales reps benefit from enhanced selling skills, managers benefit from coaching skills and increased business acumen. Remember, these individuals are placed right in the middle because they’re expected to have the knowledge to deal with executives and the resources to relate to their sales team. Don’t assume a good salesperson, makes a good sales coach.

Identify and develop managers as early as possible.

When we said that great salespeople don’t always make great managers, there is another angle here worth mentioning. Sometimes there are sales reps (regardless of whether they are exceptional or they fall in the middle of the pack) that exemplify or embody the attributes of a great manager. Perhaps they have a knack for giving advice or delivering constructive criticism to their peers. Maybe you’ve observed peers asking them for help with particular sales challenges. It could also be as simple as someone standing out because they have exceptional communication skills.

Whatever form it takes, managerial promise tends to surface early on in a sales career. Even if it’s too early to think about promoting these individuals, don’t lose sight of their development. Do whatever you can to nurture and improve their skills. The sooner you can put them on the path to becoming a great sales manager, the better.

Above all…value and develop your sales managers, as they are often the tie that binds within the organization. Honestly evaluate the sales managers you have in place and figure out what it is you expect from sales managers of the future. It’s too important to ignore, as it’s your bottom line that could ultimately benefit or suffer as a result of their performance.

About the author

Nick Kane

Nick Kane is a Managing Partner at Janek Performance Group. He has trained more…

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