Behind every successful sales team is a sales manager with incredible leadership skills.
In the same breath, if your sales team is struggling to hit their targets, despite their best efforts, an effective sales manager can help make their goals a reality.
Coaching and developing sales leaders is just as important as coaching your team. Results and growth start with strong leadership, vision, and execution.
Whether you're a business owner looking to level up your sales manager or a sales manager looking to improve your skills, this article is for you. We’ll explore ten tips for building strong leaders and creating the sales managers to drive your business forward.
Why Coaching Sales Managers is Essential
Before we get into the specifics of my tips for building strong sales managers, let’s first reach an agreement on why coaching your sales managers is important in the first place.
Sales managers generally get into their roles by being talented and productive sales reps. While those skills will help your managers succeed, the role of a manager radically differs from that of a sales rep.
Your sales managers manage and lead your team, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Managers are also responsible for identifying areas of improvement for the team, motivating sales reps to crush their targets, implementing new strategies and tactics, and more. By providing coaching to sales managers, you are investing in the success of your entire sales organization.
Related Read: How to Make Time for Sales Coaching
In this post, I’ll cover 10 tips to help sales managers be successful in their role. These tips will focus on a variety of areas including leadership, communication, goal-setting, and coaching techniques. By following these tips, you’ll be able to coach your sales managers into skilled leaders who can identify areas for improvement, provide their team with the tools they need to excel in their roles, and ultimately lead your team to victory.
What Makes A Sales Manager Effective?
What exactly do we mean when we’re talking about “effective” sales managers? Effective sales managers share a few traits. Let’s outline a few of them:
- Has a clear vision: What goals do they have for the team? Sales team performance metrics they want to crush, skills they want to build in their reps?
- Maintains focus: A great sales manager doesn’t get distracted by “flavor of the month” initiatives. They maintain focus on their goals and see them through.
- Dedicated to growth and change: Embracing change is vital for a sales manager. They should also be dedicated to growth—both for themselves and their team.
- Creates a positive culture: Lastly, great sales managers know that without a positive culture, their reps can’t perform to the best of their abilities.
What makes an effective sales manager is their ability to lead their team, share a vision, have their team commit to their goals, and insist on high standards. These sales managers succeed by being more leader, less manager.
What Traits Does a Great Leader Have?
Being a great leader is not only about setting goals and providing direction, but also about embodying certain traits that inspire a team to follow their lead.
One of the most important traits is having a clear vision for their team, andt being able to clearly communicate that vision in a way that motivates and inspires them. When a team knows what they are working towards and why, they are more likely to be engaged and committed to achieving those goals.
Related Read: Three Traits to Speed Your Success
Another trait of a great leader is a desire to win. This doesn't mean being obsessed with winning at all costs, but rather having a competitive spirit and a drive to achieve success. When a leader models this attitude, their team will also be more likely to adopt it.
Unshakeable optimism is another vital trait, especially in the face of the challenges and setbacks every manager is sure to face in the modern sales environment. Great sales managers need to be able to see the silver lining in any situation and inspire their team to keep pushing forward.
What Makes A Sales Manager Ineffective?
We’ve established the things that make a sales manager a winner—now, let’s take a look at the flip side. What traits should we discourage in sales managers.
Though we’re discussing the importance of coaching sales managers in this post, I should also mention that a great sales manager also encourages their team members to engage in regular coaching and training. Sales managers have a lot of tasks on their plate, but coaching still needs to be a priority.
Ineffective sales managers focus on output not outcomes. This manifests itself in many different ways - they may highly incentivize making a certain number of calls or working a certain number of hours, but not focus on the outcome that those things should deliver. They might engage in check-box training to say that they’ve trained their team, but that doesn’t actually produce results rather than take the time to work one-on-one with their reps to identify strengths, weakness, and goals
Another factor that can make a sales manager ineffective is not being in the thick of the action. All great leaders lead by example; for good or bad, your sales people will emulate their managers. Having managers who are willing to step into the arena with their reps gives reps confidence and motivation to step up to the plate.
An effective manager will get involved in the sales process, make calls, attend meetings, and show their team how it's done. These practices will not only boost the team’s confidence but will also give the manager a better understanding of the team’s challenges.
Remember that a great sales manager isn't just a good coach but is also an active participant in the sales process.
1. Start With Culture
The sales manager is responsible for setting the culture in their team. A sales team looks to their manager for guidance and to ensure they’re treated well and provided with enough support and opportunities to make the job worthwhile.
Managers should learn to develop values that reflect how they want their team to operate. This approach will help them build a strong foundation from which they can work. Developing and maintaining business models that align with those values is also important.
The easiest way to accomplish this is for the sales manager to embrace their values fully, then lead by example.
2. Understand the Sales Manager’s Role
This one might seem obvious: Your sales managers can’t be effective if they don’t understand the purpose of their role. Still, it’s all too common for managers to charge into a position without clearly understanding their responsibilities.
When a sales manager clearly understands their role, it helps everyone on the team understand what is expected of them. A sales manager’s role requires them to ensure every team member can achieve their best work. This means knowing their reps, their potential, what motivates them to succeed, and more.
3. Help Reps and Leaders Develop a Growth Mindset
Developing a growth mindset is critical for sales professionals at every level and across industries. Without it, managers and reps alike won't be able to bounce back from setbacks and will stagnate.
A sales manager needs to cultivate a growth mindset to succeed.
4. Customize Coaching Plans
Effective coaching is never one-size-fits-all.
To be an effective coach, sales managers need to do the individual work to help each rep change and grow in the ways and areas that are most appropriate for them, their skills, and their challenges.
A sales manager might be able to benefit from the help of the customizable tracks and modular nature of the Sales Accelerator program. My Sales Accelerator is an online, self-paced training portal that allows reps to get the training they need without wasting time on the skills they’ve already mastered.
5. Develop Resilience in Sales Managers
Sales reps need thick skin to succeed in this industry, and sales managers are no different. Developing resilience is essential for navigating the ups and downs of sales management.
No sales manager will be adored by every team member. Sales managers need to have tough conversations, be prepared to take action when it’s the right decision, and hold people accountable when they’ve made an error.
However, it’s important to remember that managers need accountability, too. A great sales manager is respected, not feared. By holding themselves accountable to their own values, metrics, and best practices, sales managers can build this respect and craft strong relationships with their reps.
6. Focus on Communication and Feedback
Communication is a pillar of sales in general, but it’s especially crucial for sales managers. A strong sales manager communicates expectations, goals, and more to their team regularly.
The sales manager’s job is to communicate the mission, vision, and values of the organization and team to all reps. Additionally, a sales manager must be prepared to offer timely and actionable feedback to their reps.
Sit in on sales calls or run through role-playing scenarios with reps to get a sense of their strengths and weaknesses and provide feedback in the moment, allowing the reps to correct their behavior and improve their performance.
7. Help Managers Read and Use Data
Data-driven decision-making is critical in sales. Every effective sales manager needs to learn that data is their friend, and if they want to succeed in their role, they’d better make that friend a close one.
Managers should track vital KPIs like win rates, cost per acquisition, and more to ensure they are keeping their finger on the pulse of their team’s performance. They can watch for trends and catch challenges early, before the numbers take a nosedive.
It’s important to remember, however, that a great manager puts people first and data second. The data is vital, but your team will struggle if you aren’t taking care of your people first.
8. Teach an Other-Oriented Mindset
On a similar note, sales managers need to ensure that they don’t get caught up in the numbers and forget to manage the people on their team.
Let’s be clear, no one wants to be micromanaged, but people need accountability. Great sales managers know the importance of compassion and empathy for themselves and their team members. Other orientation means putting yourself in other peoples’ shoes and seeing the world through their eyes. This skill is critical in management.
Related Read: Why Leaders Need to Teach, Develop, and Train Mindset
An other-oriented mindset can help in sales as well as management. Reps should learn to be other-oriented to provide greater value to their prospects and build stronger relationships built on trust and understanding. By modeling this skill with the team, sales managers can help foster this mindset in their reps.
9. Train Them to Overcome Challenges
There will be problems in sales. Things will go wrong, people will make mistakes, and others will be negligent. It's important to focus on the problem and improve people. One way a sales manager can accomplish this is to ensure they always invest in their team. Focus on the problem and improve people rather than playing the “blame game” and pointing fingers.
I once worked with a sales leader who wanted to fire his entire, very large sales force. I asked him, “What will you do with the third group?” suggesting that if he simply fired his entire team because of a few challenges, he’d likely have to repeat that same approach and never see real improvement.
After a lot of discussion, I helped him see that his problems couldn’t be solved by wiping the slate clean and starting over with a new team. Instead, he needed to invest in his team to build the skills and mindset he needed.
10. Put Conflict Resolution High on Their List
Finally, a successful sales manager must have the ability to handle conflicts in a constructive manner.
Conflict is inevitable in any workplace, but it doesn't have to be a negative force. Encourage your sales managers to foster constructive disagreements and use them as an opportunity to find new solutions and ideas. Emphasize the importance of solving problems without dismissing individuals and valuing different perspectives.
To help sales managers develop their soft skills, it's important to identify which skills are most critical for success. These skills include self-discipline, optimism, caring, competitiveness, resourcefulness, initiative, persistence, communication, accountability, and influence.
By focusing on these skills and providing targeted coaching, you can help your sales managers build the competencies they need to be great leaders. Remember that these skills are not innate but are instead developed with practice and effort.
Coaching Sales Managers Starts With Establishing Priorities
Your sales managers can’t succeed if they don’t have the skills they need to lead. Coaching sales managers is just as important as coaching sales teams because leaders need specific skills to manage a team successfully.
When you develop a growth mindset in your sales managers, you set the stage for all the other skills and ideas to fall into place. Empowering managers to identify problems and have the willingness to learn and grow is crucial. It makes them more open to constructive feedback and helps them develop the traits they need to be a great leader.
It's important to put these tips into action, so I'm inviting you to take my Sales Manager Challenge. This challenge will help you assess your leadership skills and discover how to eliminate fear and friction for your team. By doing this, you'll become more self-aware and learn how to use your strengths to lead your team effectively. You'll also discover how to identify areas where you need improvement and develop a plan to address them.
You can also check out my free sales management eBook, Coaching for Outcomes!