There are a lot of tough jobs in business, frontline sales manager is one of them. Those who succeed tend to have the right characteristics. While different sales managers may require different competencies, the following 10 are relatively universal in B2B sales.
- Knows each individual on their team
- Develops individuals
- Loves coaching
- Focuses on effectiveness
- Teaches principles
- Uses positive accountability
- Transfers their relevant experience
- Reads books
- Provides structure
- Protects their sales force
Knows Each Individual on Their Team
One of the mistakes sales leaders and managers make is believing that everyone on their team is motivated by money. The best sales managers know the people that make up their team and what motivates them. By knowing what each person cares about, great sales managers can speak to each salesperson’s individual goals and ambitions, instead of using a more transactional approach, like the promise of more money. There are other good reasons to know your team as a sales manager too, but understanding how to keep your people engaged and motivated is vital to everyone.
Every salesperson, regardless of how long they've been in sales, is capable of improving. The very best salespeople continually seek an edge, a competitive advantage. A great sales manager knows what areas each member of their team needs to develop to improve their results. Because different salespeople need to work on different competencies, a great leader helps them identify the most important aspects to focus on.
There are sales managers that spend most of their time on what we call internal work, the work the sales manager does inside their company. There are other sales managers who find ways to spend their time with their sales force, usually as a form of coaching. Right now, there is a lack of coaching, even though salespeople ask for more. Great sales managers coach their salespeople individually, and as a team, while using every question and scenario that will help them develop their skills.
Focuses on Effectiveness
Let's make two categories of sales managers. The first group believes that the only thing the sales force needs to do to improve their results is to increase their activity. This is a poor, short-sighted, and flawed assumption. The second group works from the assumption that improving results means increasing the sales force's overall effectiveness. It isn't easy to improve a sales force's effectiveness, but it’s the surest way to improve results. Improving effectiveness requires development and coaching on the individual and team levels. (You might be noticing a theme by now.)
Great managers teach their salespeople principles. They have a philosophy that outlines what is good and right and true about sales and their team's obligations to their clients and prospects. They teach principles about the value of the salesperson's time and priorities, creating value for clients inside the sales conversation, and how to engage in consultative sales. They also explain how these things lead to greater success in sales. As it turns out, these sales managers do better than those who seek the magic bullet in sales, not realizing that effectiveness is the Holy Grail.
Uses Positive Accountability
Why some salespeople succeed and others fail can be explained by the autonomy granted to those who lack the self-discipline to do the right work in the right way and the right order. The salespeople who succeed do so because they are mature enough to do the right work in the right way at the right time. There are plenty of salespeople who are talented enough to hit their targets but fail because they are missing the guardrails of accountability from their sales manager.
Sales managers that produce great results do so because they create a positive culture of accountability, one that is not punitive. These leaders tend to intervene before an individual fails.
Transfers Their Relevant Experience
It would be impossible for a person who hasn't sold to be a great sales manager. There are so many different challenges and scenarios a sales manager will need to address that they need the relevant experience to transfer what they know works. Strong sales managers know that some of their experience is relevant, and they leave out what isn't going to be useful. They don't believe they know everything, and they know that there is often more than one way to produce a certain result.
The sales manager has been in the salesperson’s place. This fosters trust among their team and in their results.
The idea that leaders are readers is accurate. Much of what one needs to know is already known by others and published in books. Great sales managers don't believe they know everything they need to know, and they continue to seek answers and ideas that will help them help their teams to improve their results. Some of these books are sales and leadership books, but others are nonfiction books that can provide a new lens or something that would benefit their teams and their results.
I’ve mentioned doing the right work in the right way at the right time. Sales managers who end up being great create structures that help salespeople succeed, from planning territory and accounts, their weekly routines, sales calls, and how best to create and win new opportunities. The structure does a lot of work to make sure that those who struggle with their autonomy succeed.
Protects Their Sales Force
One of the most important characteristics of a great sales manager is their willingness to protect their sales force. This includes rejecting recommendations from people who are not in sales, and anything that might compromise role clarity among the sales force. Both of these are critical to net new revenue growth. When managers protect their sales force from distractions, their teams can do the work of creating and winning opportunities.
Acquiring or developing these characteristics can improve your leadership and your team's results. It takes time and the willingness to change, but it's worth the effort to build and lead the best team possible.