Even the most seasoned, effective salespeople can struggle when hashing out how to lead a sales team. Taking the reins doesn't come naturally to everyone, and even born leaders might need a little guidance when transitioning into a sales management role.
That's why we put together a list of some key tips aspiring sales leaders can refer to as they find their footing as managers. Let's dive in.
How to Lead a Sales Team
- Be thorough and thoughtful when hiring.
- Determine an effective org structure.
- Get to know your team.
- Be involved without being overbearing.
- Be clear when assigning responsibilities.
- Clarify how your reps will be compensated.
- Create a healthily competitive atmosphere.
- Leverage relevant technology, and make sure your team buys in.
- Provide detailed, actionable feedback.
- Clearly articulate how your sales process works.
- Pick a sales methodology, and instill it in your reps.
- Celebrate individual and team wins.
- Acquaint your team with other departments.
- Set SMART goals.
1. Be thorough and thoughtful when hiring.
Even the strongest, most refined sales leadership skills can only take you so far if the team you're leading is unruly, unmotivated, and underqualified. If you want your team to thrive, you need reps that have the skills and disposition to buy into your culture while effectively handling their responsibilities.
That starts with you being involved and thoughtful in the hiring process. Look for qualified reps who reconcile potential and sales acumen with humility and motivation. Don't breeze through this step — you can't lead a team of reps who aren't prepared or willing to contribute to the team dynamic.
2. Determine an effective org structure.
An effective team is rarely some undefined, "everyone for themself" chaos pit where reps are left up to their own devices when trying to collaborate. You need to set parameters to dictate where everyone stands in the broader team dynamic.
There are a few org structures you can choose from, including:
- The Island — a model where reps are delegated specifically responsibilities and mostly operate independently.
- The Assembly Line — a model where reps work on designated responsibilities, specific to a certain pipeline stage.
- The Sales Pod — an extension of the assembly line model where some combination of SDRs, AEs, and CSMs work together — with each salesperson fulfilling a specific responsibility that enables the level after them in the pod's sequence.
The structure you choose will rest on several factors — like the roles you're managing, the size of your team, and the nature of your sales process. Once you've determined the one you find most appropriate, acquaint your team with how it works, their roles within it, and how they'll be expected to collaborate with their colleagues.
3. Get to know your team.
If you want a sense of how your team wants to be managed and the leadership tactics that will resonate with them most, you need to have a feel for who they are. Schedule regular one-on-ones with them — especially when you first take over.
Connect with them. Try to get a sense of how they learn, and let them get to know you as well. You don't want to seem unfamiliar and overly imposing. Remember, you're managing them — not commanding them.
You don't want them to be reluctant to come to you with issues or concerns they might be running into. You don't have to be too "buddy-buddy," but you still need to be approachable. Acquainting yourself with your team helps you strike that balance.
4. Be involved without being overbearing.
I just said it, but it bears repeating — you're managing your team, not commanding them. That means you have to be actively involved in their efforts without micromanaging. Those one-on-ones I mentioned will be a big help here.
Give your team the space and security to air out certain aspects of their roles they might be struggling with. And when that happens, make sure you help guide them through those processes without doing their jobs for them. You never want to be too distant, but you don't want to deprive your reps of growth opportunities by holding their hands for too long.
5. Be clear when assigning responsibilities.
Obvious as this might sound, reps need to know what's expected of them if they're going to do what's expected of them. You need to clearly articulate what your team members' responsibilities are, when they need to fulfill them, and the results they should see if they're successful.
Open and thorough communication is key here. Make sure you connect with your reps and give them specific instructions. That way, you can set them on the right course and provide a solid basis for identifying where lapses in understanding might stem from if they occur.
6. Clarify how your reps will be compensated.
Compensation is the most fundamental, powerful incentive for reps to perform. After all, it's literally the reason they're working in the first place. If you want to get the most out of your team, they need to know how they're being compensated — with respect to base salary, commission, and any other financial incentives you might be offering them.
Make sure you have a clearly defined commission structure in place — and familiarize your team with what they can expect to see if they meet or exceed quota. Establishing that understanding could be the difference between a rep taking their foot off the gas come end of quarter and them pushing through to drive the results you're looking for.
7. Create a healthily competitive atmosphere.
Sales is an inherently competitive field. It rests heavily on individual effort, and while cohesion and collaboration are necessary, results still often amount to how well each specific rep can perform. If you want your team to be as successful as possible, you can't neutralize that element.
But competition can be fickle. There's a fine line between productively competitive and toxically confrontational, and crossing it can take a massive toll on morale. You want your reps to challenge one another — not resent each other.
Recognizing individual achievements, leaderboards, and competitive initiatives like spiffs can help set an air of friendly, constructive competition. If you want to get more from your sales team, maintaining that kind of atmosphere can really help your case.
8. Leverage relevant technology, and make sure your team buys in.
Nowadays, virtually every successful sales team is supported by a well-constructed tech stack. Resources like CRMs, sales automation tools, and conversation intelligence platforms can help your team stay organized, efficient, and constantly learning. If you want to get as much mileage out of your leadership as possible, you need to supplement your operations with that kind of technology.
A CRM can provide a shared repository for customer data to make for more cohesive sales efforts. Conversation intelligence platforms can offer you more perspective on where your reps might be struggling on the phone. Sales automation resources can streamline outreach and take unnecessary strain off your salespeople.
And that handful of examples is barely scraping the surface of the technology at your disposal. Leading a sales team involves a lot of burdens and moving parts — leveraging sales technology to help lighten the load will suit you and your reps alike.
9. Provide detailed, actionable feedback.
Vagueness won't do you any favors when leading a sales team — detailed feedback benefits both you and your reps. It provides them with the necessary direction to develop while helping set the proper course for your team as a whole.
Make sure your praise and critiques are specific, constructive, and actionable. Don't just chastise an underperforming rep and tell them they need to pick up the slack. Give them context, be sensitive but frank, and provide some kind of action they can take to improve their performance.
If a rep is struggling to convert cold calls, don't tell them, "You need to do better on your calls." You're much better off saying something like, "I listened in on a few of your calls, and you have our messaging down — but you're letting prospects dominate the conversation too much. Don't be reluctant to take a little more charge and offer a bit more monologue once they agree to talk."
10. Clearly articulate how your sales process works.
Having a clearly defined, well-articulated sales process in place can offer your team some invaluable guidance when conducting their efforts. Detailing the nature, structure, and progression of how a deal works its way through your sales org can help reps better understand their roles and responsibilities.
If your team members have a solid understanding of how they contribute to an ultimate close minimizes confusion and promotes efficiencies — both in the context of their specific positions and the team's operations overall.
11. Pick a sales methodology, and instill it in your reps.
A sales methodology — an underlying framework or set of principles that guide your sales reps through your sales process — can be a major asset to any sales leader looking to promote cohesion and get more out of their team.
If you have a philosophy that helps set the tone for elements like your messaging, outreach cadence, discovery questions, and general approach to interactions with prospects and customers, you can have more direction and perspective when trying to manage your team.
12. Celebrate individual and team wins.
Your team needs to know their contributions and accomplishments are valued, respected, and appreciated. That kind of acknowledgment can provide a major boost to morale and keep reps motivated. That's why you should always call out team and individual wins — even if they don't exactly move mountains.
A quick shoutout in a Slack channel, email thread, or team meeting can go a long way in letting your reps know you're paying attention and appreciate their hard work. Professional recognition flat-out feels good, and it could be the "x-factor" that pushes a rep to work that much harder.
13. Acquaint your team with other departments.
Keeping your team siloed from other departments at your company creates unnecessary friction and prevents your reps from having a fully realized picture of who they're selling to. You want your team members to have some acquaintance with your marketing, customer service, and customer success departments.
Helping your team establish those relationships and maintain active lines of communication with those connections gives them perspective on why leads are interested in your business, the issues customers run into with your product or service, and how your audience leverages your solution — among several other elements.
Understanding all of that makes for more thoughtful, fleshed-out sales efforts — setting that process in motion for your team starts with you.
14. Set SMART goals.
Goal-setting is central to effective sales leadership. Your team needs to know what they're working towards if they're going to be inclined to work at all. Reasonable but ideal expectations will give your team a reference point for how they should conduct their efforts — and tracking your progress against goals can let you know whether you need to rethink elements of your sales strategy.
As with most business objectives, the goals you set for your team should be SMART — or specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. If you want your team to act on your objectives, you need to check those boxes.
For instance, if you lead a team of SDRs, you shouldn't call a meeting to tell them, "Book more meetings." Instead, you would want to go with something like, "We want to improve our overall meeting acceptance rate by at least 2.5% over the next six months while maintaining our current call cadence."
As I said at the beginning of this article, sales leadership doesn't come naturally to everyone — and while figuring out how to lead a sales team can be an imposing challenge, it doesn't have to be an insurmountable one.
With these tips, some dedication, adaptability, and a commitment to consistent learning, any new manager can figure out how to shape and guide a productive, effective sales team.