The shift from being an individual contributor to leading a sales force isn't an easy transition. The character traits are different, and so are the required skills. While it's helpful to have experience in a sales role, by itself, it's not enough to ensure success. Few sales managers are provided the training and development that would enable them to lead their team and reach their goals. Instead, most new sales managers model the sales manager they worked for when they sold, a manager who also wasn't provided any real development opportunities.
The Fundamental Challenge of Sales Management
Identifying the fundamental difference in the sales manager's role is to recognize that what made them successful in their prior role isn't going to lead to success in their new one. Often new sales managers decide the best thing they can do is to help their salespeople win deals, going so far as to close deals for their team. While closing deals may help with net new revenue, it distracts the sales manager from the more important outcome of developing salespeople who are capable of closing their own deals—though few salespeople would complain about winning a new opportunity.
It's both easier and faster for sales managers to close deals than it is to build a sales force that is effective enough to reach their goals. The pressure to create net new revenue is great enough that new sales leaders forego leading their sales force. Instead, they choose to reach their goals at a steep cost: stunting their sales force’s development. The longer it takes for a new sales manager to recognize they are not going to reach their goals by closing deals, the more they will fail in their role as a sales manager.
The Difficult Shift to Sales Leadership
Sales management is a leadership role, and all sales managers must approach it as such, with all the responsibilities required of one who leads others.
The shift to leadership is difficult for everyone who takes responsibility for a team. The sales manager needs net new revenue, a result that requires the sales force to create and win new opportunities. The shift is difficult because the sales manager must lead their team in pursuing the two critical outcomes, neither of which is easy to accomplish.
A new sales manager requires time to recognize what they need their team to do to succeed. This is a very different responsibility than working as a salesperson, and it’s challenging. Salespeople have autonomy to pursue their work in the way they prefer, even when their choices could harm their performance, their team, and their company. If a sales manager does not put up the guardrails to discipline a high-performing sales team, they may be disappointed in the team’s outcomes. The counter-balance to autonomy in sales is always the discipline provided by accountability, which is why it is critical that sales managers impose a positive culture of accountability.
Adopting the Fundamentals of Leadership
The fundamentals of leadership start with a vision, the goals, the outcomes, and the high standards that support high performance. Without a vision to guide their team and the communication that conveys the leader’s priorities and expectations, the sales manager will falter. Recognizing that they haven't established or communicated what they want, why they want it, and how the team is going to deliver the vision, the sales manager starts to do what every good leader does eventually: sharing a vision and raising their standards.
To be fair to new sales managers, as salespeople working to reach their goals, they didn’t spend a lot of time worrying about what other people on the team were doing. Before becoming a manager, their individual results were their main concern. Over time, they learn that teams perform much better with strong leadership, high standards, and accountability.
Engagement, Development, and Effectiveness
Engagement with your team is less about doing their work for them than it is about shaping how they think about, pursue, and approach their work. Because the sales manager can't do their team’s work themselves, they have to ensure each individual has the competencies to succeed in their role. Many believe you need to know your team well enough to know how to motivate them, but it's more important to be engaged enough to know their strengths, their weaknesses, and their vulnerabilities. Even Superman had an allergic reaction to kryptonite.
Ensuring each salesperson's success means recognizing what they need from the sales manager leading them. Developing a sales team requires the sales manager to know how to improve each person’s competencies and show them what they need to learn to be more effective in their role. The best leaders help each person reach their full potential, even the ones who think they already know everything they need to succeed. These leaders can even help salespeople who aren't particularly interested in the personal and professional growth required by the complex work of helping clients change and improve their results.
A sales manager that focuses on their sales force’s effectiveness will have a much easier time pursuing their vision and their goals—and delivering the net new revenue that is a leader’s responsibility. The sales manager’s effectiveness is measured by their team’s results. The team's success is the sales manager's success, and it's equally true that the sales team’s misses also belong to their manager.
If you are a new sales manager, you would do well to work backward through this post, starting with the actions you need to take to ensure your team's success. By doing so, you will create your own success. When you reach the first couple paragraphs, you will be reminded of what to avoid as you settle in to your new role.