What Makes a Great Sales Manager

What makes a great Sales Manager?

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What makes a great sales manager?

1. What is a sales manager?

A sales manager is responsible for managing a territory, and or, a team of salespeople. The sales managers job is to maximise the potential revenue and profitability using the resources available to them. In sales the salespeople and sales team are just as important as revenue and profits, and part of the managers role is to support, coach and manage the salespeople. The sales manager is responsible for creating a sales plan and setting clear sales goals for the company and their team.

Great sales managers do two things really well:

1. They do everything they can to help salespeople sell more.
2. They do everything they can to develop their salespeople.

Whilst on the surface this may seem very simple, there are many Sales Managers who struggle to do these things. The first point to note in our definition is the absence of the word “Manage”. That doesn’t mean that they don’t manage their team, moreover, they have built a sales team that to a large degree manages themselves.

Salespeople who manage themselves are more productive, happier and stay with the company longer. For most Sales Managers getting to this stage is a journey and doesn’t happen overnight.

Even great sales managers can struggle to create an effective sales team as it requires them to spend more time making sure every member of the sales team gets support and mentoring from them and time is never in abundance.

The good news is that once salespeople see that the Sales Manager is genuinely trying to help them they will start to get on board.

No job is perfect and salespeople understand this so most will happily stick with you through that journey as long as they feel supported.

If you’re reading this and wondering what do to with Salespeople who don’t want to be on the journey with you then jump to the end of this article.

What Makes a Great Sales Manager
What makes an effective sales manager?

2. The challenges of every Sales Manager?

If you’re reading this and wondering what do to with Salespeople who don’t want to be on the journey of sales improvement with you, then jump straight to the end of this article.

Often what’s required to create successful sales teams is out-with the authority of the Sales Manager, and they are then trapped between the Leadership of the company and the Sales Team.

Add to this the fact that the vast majority of sales managers enter sales management due to prior success in a sales role, not because of any managerial skills and you can see why things start to get bogged down.

Successful sales reps who constantly hit their sales targets, will be offered a management role at some point, whether they apply for one or not.

In most cases it’s a natural progression, however, for many, this is their first managerial position.

Success in sales can be very different to success as a sales manager and learning this can be an uncomfortable experience for some.

3. Do great Salespeople make great Sales Managers?

One of the drawbacks of being welcomed into management due to your sales skills is that you may have little or no experience in managing a team.

Not all great salespeople make fantastic sales managers as the skills required can be very different.

Nonetheless, there are steps you can take to become a great manager even if you don’t have any prior experience in this area.

Here’s an example of just some of the skills that differ between the two roles:

Sales Management SkillsSales Skills
StrategyLead Generation
PlanningBusiness Development
Managing PeopleSales
CoachingObjection Handling
Goal SettingAccount Management
Data AnalysisPresentation
Sales ProcessBuilding Relationships
What makes an effective Sales Manager?

4. Listening to your Sales Team

Finding out what motivates your sales team is a very important first step as contrary to what many people believe, not all reps are primarily driven by money.

Although money can be a big driver, there are likely many other aspects of their job that keep them motivated.

Don’t hesitate to ask them which parts of their jobs they love the most and what parts demotivate them. Ask them what they feel their strengths and weaknesses are and what they would change about the role if they could.

The sales manager must understand what interests and motivates your salespeople the more you can help them.

Salespeople rarely get out of bed feeling motivated to drive shareholder value. What does however motivate them is their own personal goals.

So if you’re sales team aren’t feeling motivated it’s because they may not have made the connection between their personal goals and their professional goals.

A simple example of this is a programme we helped a client put in place who had a team of graduates, none of whom had passed their driving test.

By offering to pay for driving lessons for those who wanted to pass their test, we quickly got the teams attention and motivated them in a way that was more powerful than money.

5. Give consistent feedback whenever possible

Feedback is an extremely important part of any sales management role. If sales reps don’t receive feedback, they have no way of gauging how well they are performing.

Most companies schedule staff reviews as part of an annual review process. For salespeople this gap between reviews is too long and simply doesn’t work.

Sales is the lifeblood of your business and as such the salespeople should have monthly, structured reviews to help keep them on track.

Most Sales Managers avoid this as they have no formal review process, or they fail to see the value in reviews for them. The reviews are not for the manager they are for the sales reps.

It’s important to praise reps when they are performing well but to also let them know when improvement is required.

Sales goals must be realistic and achievable or this could damage morale amongst your team, which will in turn hamper success considerably.

Don’t set impossible targets for any member of your team. Though reaching a challenging but realistic goal can be a euphoric experience, missing a target that was never likely can be hugely demoralising.

If a goal that you have set does seem particularly challenging, the Sales Manager should take all steps necessary to help the salespeople achieve those goals.

6. Be the best version of you every day

As a CEO or Managing Director most staff members would accept that there are skills and roles within the company that you can’t do. After all this is why they were hired.

Being a sales manager is very different in that your Sales Team expect you to not only be better than them, but they expect you never to make mistakes.

On top of setting the strategy, creating and updating the sales plans and managing their commissions and bonus payments they expect you to be a better salesperson than them.

So as the sales manager you’ll expect your team to maintain the highest standards, you in turn mustn’t let your own standards fall. Your team is unlikely to hold you in high regard, and they will lose respect for you if you don’t maintain high standards yourself.

Coaching and Mentoring can help you raise your team’s standards, but one of the most difficult things you must do is to allow them to fail.

Failure is the best teacher and stepping in to rescue a bad situation should be avoided unless it’s entirely necessary to do so.

Salespeople are more likely to improve and avoid repeating mistakes if they resolve their problems and challenges on their own.

7. Productivity and Development


In sales it’s easy to be busy. The top sales people and sales managers understand the difference between being busy and being effective.

In order to achieve any form of success in Management you will need to take your team with you on the journey. To do this every day you need to ensure you are being productive, accountable and supportive.

The speed of change in sales and marketing is fast and keeping one step ahead of the market is vital to the success of every sales person and sales manager.

Some of the world’s most successful salespeople are still learning new things, with some even employing coaches to ensure they are always up to date in ever-changing markets.

You should be fully committed to improving your own personal learning abnd development as well as those of your team.

Networking also remains important once you move into the management sphere. You must carry on forming new connections, expanding your network and continue conversations with those you’ve already established relationships with.

8. Communicating Effectively

Communication is a pivotal part of what makes a really effective sales manager. You must ensure that each member of your team feels able to approach you when they have a question or problem.

Wherever possible you should try to avoid “sales speak” as not every member of your team will be able to understand this.

If you cannot communicate clearly with your team then they in turn will struggle to communicate effectively with their customers.

Some team members may prefer to receive support via words, whilst others may prefer graphics or role-play.

It’s important to offer several approaches to ensure staff can get the support in whichever form they require.

f you’re not sure which methods your team prefer, ask them. Part of effective communication is the ability to challenge other points of view.

In sales, it’s important to learn the art of being able to disagree without being disagreeable.
Encouraging your team to Challenge you will only serve to help them when they need to challenge a prospect or customer.

9. Be Inspirational

The most effective Sales managers understand the need to inspire their staff. This inspiration doesn’t need to be centred on the sales manager.

Often the best way to inspire a sales team is demonstrating how their work is solving problems experienced by customers and satisfying their requirements.

Sales leadership will help you win the respect of your team, whilst providing the inspiration they require when things don’t go well.

It’s also important to be open to new ideas and ensure every team member feels that they can be heard and contribute.

Each team member should receive the individual attention that they need to be successful in their roles.

Great managers are also incredibly resilient and are quick to bounce back when things go wrong.

Try to see setbacks as opportunities for further learning and training to improve the calibre of your sales team as well as yourself.

10. Keep workplace friction to a minimum

Often times some of the best salespeople can be “difficult”. Whether it;s justified or not this needs to be handled and not ignored.

Allowing the star performers to “break rules” that others cannot will only serve to disrupt the wider team.

It’s therefore important to act quickly when friction within your team is identified. Once friction arises, it can continue to spread until productivity is hit hard.

It may even be necessary to let go even the most talented member of your team if they are affecting your work culture and general morale.

In the long term team values and culture are more important than short term results.

Great sales managers are always eager to not only improve their own skills, but to help team members achieve their full potential even if it’s unlikely they’ll achieve their dream role within the current company

11. Be fair and treat everyone equally

It’s human nature for some people to connect and get along better with some people than they do with others.

That said, it’s vital to avoid giving preferential treatment, with specific members of your team just because you get along better with them.

This could lead to accusations of favouritism, which will damage team morale significantly.

Each team member should receive the same level of time, support, care and respect.

This can also pose challenges when under performing staff take up more management time, some of which could or should have been spent with the high performing staff.

12. Salespeople who are square pegs in round holes

I’m going to borrow Jim Collins bus analogy here. Your sales team is like a bus.

It’s on a journey and the people you employ climb aboard your bus and hopefully help propel the bus towards the vision you set for sales.

These people take a seat on your bus fulfilling a presumably important role that you hired them for.

Sometimes the bus has to change direction and change how it moves forward along the way. This can end up with good people on the right bus but in the wrong seat.

Or good people that need support to help them keep their seat relevant. These people need and deserve your support.

Unfortunately, it’s a fact that many people are in jobs that they do not enjoy, and if you are not enjoying what you do, it’s difficult to perform, especially in sales.

As an employer if you hire someone and invite them onto your bus I believe it’s your responsibility to do everything you can to help them be successful.

However, life is a two-way street. If, as an employer you have genuinely done all you can to help an employee better themselves, and they don’t respond, you have a duty to the stakeholders in the business to resolve the situation.

This means they either have to change seats in the bus or get off the bus. There is no benefit to staying on a bus you don’t want to be on, that’s going somewhere you don’t want to go.

As a sales manager the easiest thing to do in these cases is nothing. Doing nothing resolves nothing and neither party benefits from doing nothing.

Part of what makes a great manager is grasping difficult issues and taking action.

What makes a great sales manager – conclusion

Sales management is not easy, and many great salespeople have failed to set the world alight with their management skills.

The best and most effective sales managers are able to not only sell products and services but motivate, lead and support too – even when morale is declining.

If you can do this, you can inspire those that were once in your position to reach their full potential whilst your own career progresses.

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Iain Swanston Klozers

Author Bio

Iain Swanston has spent over 30 years in B2B sales selling, training and leading teams both domestically and internationally.  In addition he serves as an Associate at Strathclyde University Business School where he has delivered the sales content for the Masters in Entrepreneurship since 2015.

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