The Only Guide to Sales Team Management You'll Ever Need
It’s a common belief that being a front-line, cold-calling sales representative can be one of the most grueling jobs out there.
I’d like to propose there is one position that’s more challenging: The front line sales manager.
As a sales manager, you’re responsible for every aspect of your team’s performance. You’re the go-to person for coaching, territory management, recruiting, and onboarding — this is only the beginning.
Sales managers also often find themselves in tricky spots, stuck between executives’ expectations, sales professionals’ abilities, and shifting markets. Sometimes, it can feel an awful lot like you’re already juggling one too many balls, and someone is primed to throw another one into the mix.
When it comes to sales team management the goals are to crush your team’s goals, keep your team motivated and flourishing, and manage your executive team like a boss. This guide will give you the tools you need to reach your full potential as a sales manager.
Key Disciplines of Sales Team Management
When discussing sales team management, the conversation should always begin with a definition of a sales manager. What does it mean to be a sales manager? What is a sales manager’s role in your organization?
Ideally, you’d know what the role should be like - not necessarily what that role looks like now.
Let’s go over some important notes to sales managers; you must keep three key things in mind:
Your salespeople choose to follow you:
Regardless of your organizational chart with all its neat little boxes and lines, no one has to follow you. The fact that your sales force reports to you in no way suggests your sales force accepts you as their leader. If you aren’t worthy of their respect, you may find yourself faced with resistance, whether it’s passive or outright, vocal opposition. For your sales force to truly choose to follow you, you need to be someone worth following.
You should care deeply about your salespeoples’ success:
To produce strong results in other people, you need to care enough about your sales force to help them achieve success. Part of this is working to help ensure they have all of the tools, technologies, and training that success in sales requires. The other piece of this puzzle is standing side-by-side with your sales force in difficult times—only by ensuring the success of your salespeople do you succeed yourself.
You must embody the standard to which you hold your salespeople:
Lastly, if you want to lead, you need to set the standard for your team. In other words, you should be a living example of how the job should be done. For your sales force to follow, you have to provide them with the meaning and the mission. Setting the example for your team is another way to help you become a sales manager worth following.
As a sales manager, you may find yourself pressured to keep the status quo and manage your sales force the way it has always been managed. This may involve sticking to metrics that measure activity instead of outcomes.
A good sales manager should challenge any metric that does not make sense. For example, measuring the number of cold calls each salesperson makes is not a helpful metric on its own. Instead, you should encourage the use of metrics that measure outcome rather than activity. Measuring for outcome rather than activity gives your people the flexibility they need to work toward their maximum potential.
As a sales manager, you will also need to focus on three key disciplines:
1. Ensure a Healthy Pipeline:
One of the three primary disciplines of a sales manager is to ensure they have a healthy pipeline. Without enough opportunities, you cannot make your number. Without the right opportunities, you also can’t make your number. Ensuring the pipeline is healthy and that it will produce the results you need is a discipline. You have to continually inspect the pipeline to ensure your sales team is producing and managing the opportunities you need to succeed.
2. Embrace Coaching Opportunities:
Sometimes, opportunities fall through. Coaching these opportunities is a primary discipline of a sales manager. Coaching opportunities is a discipline that must be done continuously. A sales manager must spend time coaching their team, helping turn ‘failures’ into lessons, building their capacity to move opportunities through their funnel on their own, and helping remove the obstacles that stall or kill opportunities.
3. Develop Your Sales Team:
The better your sales team is, the easier your job becomes, as a sales manager. In other words, you improve your sales results by developing the only real asset you have producing sales results: Your salespeople. Without investing the time in developing your sales team, you will never create enough margin to catch up. Instead, you will create a set of dependents who need you to help them with challenges they could have been trained and developed to handle independently.
Management vs Coaching in Sales
As a sales manager, you aim to guide your sales force to achieve specific results and meet certain goals. To achieve these goals, you may need to help develop, train, and coach your team. And so, the question arises: What is the difference between these three things? What do they have in common?
Sales Coaching focuses solely on performance. A sales coach is on a mission to create the best possible results in sales reps as efficiently as possible.
Sales Management requires you to focus on many goals at once. You must keep track of performance, of course, but must also deal with client issues, onboarding and hiring, scheduling, and more.
Sales Training aims to arm sales reps with the skills and tools they need to improve their own sales performance.
In short, these three roles are not the same, however, they are inextricably linked and benefit from being used in combination with one another. If you are a sales manager, you will have more varied goals than simply improving your reps’ performance. However, that doesn’t mean you should abandon coaching efforts altogether.
Coaching is vital to the success and efficiency of your sales team. Now, enter the most common complaint of sales managers regarding coaching: I don’t have time to coach my sales reps. We offer an alternate statement:
You don’t have time not to coach your sales reps.
The simple fact is that, in the long run, not coaching your reps costs you far more time than coaching them would cost. If you have to spend time working your sales team’s deals, you are doing two jobs at the same time. You are both a sales manager and a sales rep. Closing deals for your salespeople takes time.
If you and only you are able to solve every problem and challenge for your team, you will spend the majority of your time in reactive mode. When you invest time upfront into coaching, you empower your team to work more independently. The more independent your sales reps become, the less of your time they will need.
Coaching requires that your salespeople exercise their resourcefulness and initiative to solve their own problems. The more they can work through their challenges on their own, the more time is returned to you.
In short, if you believe you don’t have time to coach… it truly means you don’t have time not to coach.
Sales Coaching Template
If you’re just getting started with sales coaching, you may find it helpful to work from a template. Let’s take a look at the steps that make up my ultimate sales coaching template.
- Start with Data:
You'll need to establish baseline data before you can begin coaching your team. Start with your CRM and sales reports to review key metrics and identify coaching opportunities for each sales rep.
- Employee Self-Evaluation:
The next step is establishing a baseline of your sales reps’ perception of their performance. This can help you set the right tone for your coaching session. You can use this self-evaluation to identify gaps between the rep’s perceived and actual performance or to invite them to choose their own weak points to work toward improving.
- Performance Reviews:
Once you’ve begun coaching a rep, you will need to regularly review their performance since the last coaching session. Use this opportunity to discuss challenges and potential solutions.
- Employee Input & Discussion:
The best coaching efforts involve teamwork. Ensure the sales rep feels involved in the discussion. In any coaching conversation, the person being coached should be doing most of the talking. The coach is there to provide prompts, offer feedback, and facilitate the exploration of new beliefs, potential new actions, and new and better outcomes.
- Training Exercises:
With the right platform, you can provide your team with the strategies, tactics, and talk tracks that give each salesperson a starting point for improving their results. We built the Sales Accelerator to provide the right content for the traits and skills salespeople need to succeed in today’s environment.
- Establish Next Steps:
Coaching is an ongoing process. Every sales rep should leave their coaching meeting or call with a strong plan for what changes they need to make before the next coaching session.
- Make Coaching Organic:
A great sales coaching experience is more than just a series of meetings—it’s a relationship. Check-in with your employee to ensure they’re armed with the tools they need to meet the goals set in the last coaching session. If they are missing any resources, provide them with the strategies, tactics, and talk tracks they need to succeed.
Pitfalls of Sales Team Management
Like any position, there are many different ways in which you can be a great sales manager. However, there are a few key traits and challenges all poor managers have in common. To become an incredible sales leader, you must know what not to do. Start by avoiding these seven pitfalls.
Pitfall 1: Needing To Be Liked
We’ve already discussed the need for you to be a leader worth following, but that is not the same thing as being a well-liked leader. There is a difference between being liked and being respected.
You are not part of the group you lead, and you are not a peer. You are the exemplar, the model, and you set the standard—you don’t allow anyone to lower that standard. You enforce the standard. Your team will be what you see in them and what you demand of them.
You may not be the most popular or well-liked person around the office, but as long as you are a leader worth following, that is okay.
Pitfall 2: Lack of Accountability
Setting expectations and doling out tasks and missions is worthless without accountability. You cannot be a leader without ensuring your team is doing what is necessary—and enforcing consequences for not doing so. Without consequences, there is no accountability.
You can tell people what you need them to do. You can give them the mission, the mindset, the skillset, and the toolkits… but for your team to succeed, you also need to hold them accountable.
Pitfall 3: Leading From Behind
Leading from behind is a recipe for failure. But what does it mean to lead from the front? You must be willing to do the least pleasant tasks on the roster. You need to lead by example, showing your team what a strong sales professional looks like.
Pitfall 4: Too Little Coaching and Training
Building off of the above section, you must make time for coaching and training. If you get stuck in the mindset of “I’ll just do it myself,” you will never have the time to make your sales team truly great. What’s more, you will be stripping your team of the resources they need to become independent sales reps capable of handling challenging situations on their own.
Pitfall 5: Breaking Your Team’s Trust
As a leader, you need to keep your word to your team. If you promise to do something for your people, you have to do it. If you don’t intend to do something, don’t promise to do it. And don’t ask people to do something you don’t really want them to do. Respect your team’s time and effort as much as you want them to respect theirs. Mutual respect is the only pathway to successful leadership.
Pitfall 6: Neglecting Team Culture
Team culture is essential to any workplace—especially one as steeped in rejection and pressure as sales. An environment of negativity and fear isn’t the kind of environment that produces the best results. Praise, gratitude, and a positive environment produce better results. Additionally, you’re more likely to retain better talent in your team if you build a culture that makes people want to stay.
Pitfall 7: Failing to Protect Your Team
As a sales manager, you are the link that connects upper management to your sales team. But it’s not enough to serve as just a filter between those levels of your organization: You need to protect your team from the organization. In other words, you’ll need to cover their six.
You have to protect the sales force’s time so they can do the work you ask of them. You have to protect their development and their future in the industry by ensuring they have the tools, the training, and the technology to do what you ask of them. You have to help them maneuver the politics within your company, getting them special treatment and favors when it means the difference between winning and losing.
Top Sales Team Management Books
Incredible sales managers don’t take their foot off the gas simply because they have reached a leadership position. The best sales managers continue to learn and grow, enabling them to better lead, coach, and train their staff while simultaneously improving their own sales skills.
Reading sales management books is an incredible way to learn from the successes and missteps of other sales leaders. By reading their accounts and advice, you can follow in the footsteps of successful leaders and avoid their mistakes—without first having to make those mistakes for yourself.
If you’re looking for a place to start when it comes to sales management books, here are three of my favorites.
The Sales Manager Survival Guide, Dave Brock
The Sales Manager Survival Guide by Dave Brock is a guide that can help front-line sales managers with coaching, team-building, recruiting, and more.
The book has 4.6 out of 5 stars on Amazon with almost 200 five-star ratings.
A portion of the summary reads: “Drawing upon decades of experience in sales, sales management, and sales executive positions from small companies to giant corporations, David Brock gives you invaluable insight, wisdom, and above all practical guidance in how to handle the wide array of challenges and responsibilities you’ll face as a Front Line Sales Manager. If you’re a sales manager, or want to become one, this book shows you how to survive—and thrive. And if you want to be a great sales manager, this book shares the secrets, tools, and best practices to help you climb to the top—and beyond.”
Read more about Dave Brock’s new book in our blog summary of the book!
Cracking the Sales Management Code, Jason Jordan & Michelle Vazzana
Cracking the Sales Management Code by Jason Jordan and Michelle Vazzana is a book for sales managers at all levels looking for greater control over the performance of their sales team.
The book has 4.5 out of 5 stars on Amazon with close to 250 five-star ratings.
A portion of the summary reads: “This book is effectively an operating manual for the sales force. It identifies the 5 fundamental sales processes that can be managed to create desired business outcomes, and it helps readers choose which of the processes are needed to achieve their own strategic objectives. It also provides examples of actual tools and frameworks for sales managers to use, and it gives straightforward advice on how to change sales force behaviors while avoiding common pitfalls. This book will further help sales forces maximize the usefulness of CRM by defining 3 distinct levels of sales metrics - those you can directly manage, those you can influence, and those that you can only hope to change.”
Elite Sales Strategies, Anthony Iannarino
Elite Sales Strategies by Anthony Iannarinoprovides philosophy and expert advice to guide you to becoming a commercially successful sales leader. Though not specific to sales managers, the information in this guide can help you guide your team toward sales success.
This book has 4.9 out of 5 stars on Amazon as a brand-new release!
A portion of the summary reads: “An incisive and eye-opening roadmap to commercial success. The book teaches sales professionals to approach every sale from a position of authority and expertise. Emphasizing an ethical obligation towards the client that demands nuanced and helpful advice, salespeople will learn to fully utilize their strengths.”
Common Traits of Successful Sales Managers
The title of “Sales Manager” isn’t a monolith. Every sales manager is different in terms of their management style, sales skills, and overall personality. However, in my years of experience, I’ve managed to identify seven traits every successful sales manager has in common. Let’s explore those seven traits in detail.
Successful Sales Managers Take Responsibility
You cannot be an effective leader without first accepting that everything is your fault. That may not sound appealing, but as the leader, you are responsible for the people in your charge. If your team is lagging behind on their goals it’s your responsibility to remedy it. Successful sales managers recognize and embrace this mindset.
The price of being an effective leader is responsibility. You cannot blame anyone or anything else for any struggles or failings of you and your team.
Successful Sales Managers Expect Accountability
Taking responsibility is important, but successful sales managers don’t take the fall for their team at the expense of holding their team to high standards. That’s why the second trait shared by successful sales managers is expecting accountability from their sales team.
If you think back to the best leader you have ever worked for, one of the first things you will find true is they required you to raise your standards. Great sales managers believe their team are capable of great things. They don’t accept mediocrity: Instead, they push their reps to improve and perform to their highest potential.
You need to set a standard, and then you need to maintain it. Don’t forget: If you don’t decide what the standard is, it will be lower than you need it to be by default.
Successful Sales Managers Invest in their Team
Training and development are essential to the processes of successful sales managers. Instead of accepting your team as just a group of your employees, you need to view them as professionals you can build to be your organization’s dream team.
Give your team members the opportunity to learn, grow, and improve themselves. Successful sales managers give team members personal attention, helping them through coaching and training efforts.
If your team doesn’t grow under your leadership, then you have failed them as a leader.
Successful Sales Managers Set the Team Tempo
There is an old saying, “the speed of the team is the speed of the leader.” This means that even unsuccessful leaders set the tempo for their team: They just likely don’t set the tempo where they’d like that tempo to be.
Your work ethic influences your team’s work ethic. Your expectations for yourself—and your team—influence your team’s expectations for their own performance. This isn’t to say you should micromanage your team to keep the tempo up. On the contrary, you should focus on leading from the front and setting the performance standards, trusting the team to follow.
Successful Sales Managers Serve their Team First
Unsuccessful managers sacrifice focusing on team development, coaching, and other initiatives to satisfy the administrative requirements of the business. Successful sales managers serve their sales force first.
What does this mean? Successful sales managers realize the only true asset at their disposal is their sales force. Investing in your people will help the rest of your sales performance efforts come together.
Successful Sales Managers Embrace Vulnerability
You want your team to respect you. It’s easy to assume this means you should avoid vulnerability or any indication that your own skills have flaws and blind spots. Successful sales managers do the opposite. If you want to be a successful manager, you need to recognize the areas where you can grow alongside your team.
If your team can benefit from the help of a coach or mentor, you may benefit from that coach or mentor as well. Additionally, great sales managers communicate with their reps, letting them know what they’re trying to improve and inviting feedback on their performance and the changes that they are making to help their reps succeed in their roles.
Successful Sales Managers Share their Knowledge
Any manager who has the potential to be successful has a lot of sales knowledge and experience. Are you sharing this knowledge with your team? Don’t just let your team know about your efforts to improve your skills: Share your new knowledge with them to help them grow alongside you.
Let your reps in on the new tips you’ve learned from books or webinars. Ask them to share their thoughts and opinions on the changes you’re making. Start a conversation, encouraging your reps to share what they’re reading. Ask them to share their challenges and invite them to share ideas with the rest of the group about how you might all overcome challenges together.
Sales Team Management: Taking Your Skills to the Next Level
Whether you’re new to sales team management or you’re a seasoned veteran interested in improving your sales management skills, the information listed in this guide should give you the tools and resources you need to develop your leadership skills and become the best sales manager for your team.
To leverage the information in this guide to its full potential, you’ll need to identify your sales blockers and create a strategy to help your sales team overcome their greatest challenges. This way you can equip your entire sales team to crush aggressive sales targets.
In other words: You need to schedule a Sales Strategy Session.
In this free session, you’ll work one-on-one with one of my sales strategy experts, identifying your team’s greatest problems and coming up with an action plan to solve them. After this session, you’ll be ready to start the Sales Team Accelerator program and provide your team with the tools and knowledge they need to hit even the most ambitious sales goals.
What are you waiting for?
Learn more about the Sales Accelerator and book your free Strategy Session today!