What I Wish I Knew Before I Became A Sales Manager

Brooke Freedman
Brooke Freedman



what-i-wish-knew-before-sales-managerYour first couple years in sales management is a whirlwind to say the least. Lots of managers I know were first really great reps, and found themselves ushered into a new leadership role as a reward.

For me, I learned more in my first year building and managing a team than I ever expected to. Hindsight is always 20/20, but there are eight things that are notable enough to share here.  

I wish I knew that ... process is everything.

When you are handling a lot of people and a lot of money, you'll need a lot of processes ...

  • The sales process that your reps follow.
  • Your forecasting and pipeline management process.
  • Your interviewing and hiring process.
  • Your process for diagnosing issues and coaching your people.

Without clear, trackable processes it can become impossible to balance, improve, and measure your team.

As a new manager, taking the time to consider and document the processes you will use is a great time investment. If you need ideas on how to do this, try enlisting senior managers at your company or even your VP.   

I wish I knew that ... the best way to help people is to help them help themselves.

There are some managers that are known as "super reps." These managers run the ball for their reps. As a result their people become dependent on them, hurting their confidence to sell independently in the long run.

It's tough for a manager to let their people fall on their faces -- or worse, even lose the game. I totally understand how a manager can end up going down this path. It's tempting.

Luckily, I had a lot of really great managers myself who consistently reminded me that this was not a sustainable way to manage a team. A sales manager's job is to mentor, develop, serve, and hold his or her players accountable.

Recently, at the suggestion of our Chief Product Officer, David Cancel, I familiarized myself with the philosophy of "servant leadership." I found that it has a lot of ties to great sales management.  Servant leadership is both a leadership philosophy and set of leadership practices. Traditional leadership generally involves the accumulation and exercise of power by one at the “top of the pyramid.” By comparison, the servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible.  

I wish I knew that ... I should always be hiring.

It can be very easy to put hiring on the backburner. You are so overextended in the day-to-day management of your teams that you don't even want to think about hiring until you know you have to. This is a mistake.

In hindsight, I would have started building myself a pipeline of talented people to join my team from day one. As a manager, if you can't or won't hire that person right away, having them bought into the idea of joining the company makes it easier for you to hire smart when you have to. There's almost nothing worse than having a spot to fill, and doing so hastily just to hit the goal. It is destined to bite you later, and the worst of it is ... you'll pay for that hasty hire for the bulk of the year.

The wrong hire ends up costing you, the company, and your team a ton of money and angst. Consistent networking is a great way to keep top talent interested in a conversation when the time is right.

I wish I knew that ... you can only pour water on so many fires at one time.

A smart man once told me that when you're managing, you'll have one bucket of water and many fires. The key is to learn where to bring the water.

Early on in management, I fell into patterns of trying to be everywhere at once, and all things to all people. This was not good for anyone. Not only is it a recipe for burnout, but trying to do it all hurts prioritization of where to bring "the water."

Truth is, there are some fires you should just let burn! Consider the difference between a small, contained fire in the middle of a field and one in a high rise that has 100 people at risk. Which one do you bring your water to?

Managing isn't much different. You've got so many hours in a day (plus a few more hours after dinner is done and the kids are in bed), and you can only help in so many places. A great manager knows where they are needed and where they can get the best return on time -- ROT is the new ROI! A great tactic to take as a new manager is to track a week's worth of fires and ask:

  • Who do they involve?
  • What are the issues?
  • Are there common threads?
  • Is it an issue that you can solve once and affect many fires or are they just everywhere and some are more critical than others?
Looking at a week through a lens like this will help you figure out how you can better manage fires.    

I wish I knew that ... it's not about me.  

This one goes back to the "servant leadership" philosophy. It's easy to fall into a pattern of saying things like "do this for me" or "help me hit the number" or "can't you see how much I need you to deliver right now?"

None of these are the right way to think about managing people. When managing a sales team, it becomes far less about you, and much more about your team. If you're truly skilled, you can help individuals feel empowered enough to not only deliver for themselves, but for their team.

As a manager you'll be successful if you can get your people into this mindset. I also think this is where a sales team is the most like a sports team. Major leaguers certainly play for themselves in many ways, but the best ones play for the team. The best coaches are the ones that drive this behavior across the roster.  

I wish I knew that ... there must be a shared level of accountability.

All of this servant leadership stuff doesn't really work without a healthy dose of accountability. At the end of the day, we're working for companies that need high achievers to consistently deliver. One of the most important things I learned as a manager was to balance the tough conversations with the support. Support without accountability can easily become enablement ... and not the good kind.

A manager's relationship with their reps must be a two-way street. That individual is going to get a lot out of you- consistently. As the manager, you're going to expect and require the same.    

I wish I knew that ... people work for a cause, not just a company.

Simon Sinek is an awesome speaker and thinker. He has a terrific TED Talk that I'm always trying to convince people to watch called "Start With the Why." This talk really does a nice job of communicating the importance of the "why" when leading people.

Leadership is not about what people do, it's really about why they do it. How do I show up everyday and help my team focus on the "why"?

Consider this: We humans are literally brain-wired to make decisions, act, and dutifully follow inspiration. Inspiration is not "make 60 calls per day, create 5 new opportunities, and close 3 new business deals." Inspiration is the guts of why we are selling what we are selling to the people we are selling it to. Inspiration is how we transform businesses for our customers. Inspiration (the cause) can also be the personal goal of the rep who works on your team. That goal might be to build a vacation home or put their two kids through college. Whatever it is, you have to know it and talk about it; it's the motivating factor for your team.

Inspiration is what makes the whole company tick, and it's made up of a combination of our customers and our employees motivations … not the activities themselves. This is a point worth fixating on, and will make it easier for you, as a manger, to answer the question of "how we doin'?"  

I wish I knew that ... your legacy will not just be the number you hit, but how you developed your people.

Maybe it sounds cliche, but wow is it true. I recently had lunch with a woman who used to work on my team. She said something to the effect of, "It's pretty amazing what a lot of the people who were on our team went on to do. Everyone is killing it."

This kind of almost knocked me off my chair. It was not only humbling to think that I was a part of that in any way, but eye opening. This is what its all about, right? You take relatively inexperienced, motivated people ... and you develop them. Over time you build mutual trust and respect. You inspire them, and lead them. Sometimes they move onto a place outside your team. You let them fly away, but they move on with so many more skills and abilities than they came in with. I've watched people move from my sales team to other awesome and important roles in our company, while others have moved on to become managers themselves. I can't quantify how important this is to me -- and when its all said and done, I guess it'll still be what's most important about the work I showed up to do everyday.

It's easy to lose sight of this in the day to day of managing, but worth thinking about if you are in or planning to be in a management role. If you love to cultivate, you'll love managing. 

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