You might be a horrible leader, but if you stay in sales long enough, you will be promoted to management.
However, your chances of ascending higher -- to a VP or Director of Sales position -- are zero. Only successful sales managers become sales executives.
To excel as a manager (and someday make it to the C-suite), avoid these four significant failures.
1) Communicating Change the Wrong Way
Sales managers must frequently hand down directions from above to their reps. The problem is, most managers completely miss the mark when they do.
Rather than allying themselves with company leadership, they try to take their team’s side.
Suppose the C-suite decides to shift from a geographic to vertical-based territory system. The sales manager wants to show she “gets it,” so she echoes what she thinks her salespeople are feeling with statements like:
- “I know this is hard but … ”
- “If it were up to me ... ”
- “I’m asking for quota relief … ”
This is an extremely dangerous path to go down. After all, the manager can’t reverse the change. Her attitude makes her team members resistant to something they can’t control.
Instead of taking an “us versus them” stance, sales managers should represent change as positive. The manager in this example might say, “Great news. We’re moving to verticals -- which will make lead assignment much easier and open up new accounts. This is one of the best moves the company has made all year for us.”
Now, her reps are far likelier to embrace the change.
What if you truly think leadership is making a bad decision? It’s fine to question an idea before it’s been realized. Once it’s in action, you must publicly adopt it no matter how you feel. Have a private conversation with other managers and executives, but never communicate your uncertainty to your salespeople.
The reality is, great sales managers aren’t transparent. Your ultimate job is marshalling your team to hit an aggregate target. If you broadcast every concern you hold, you won’t be able to achieve that goal.
2) Not Proactively Coaching Your Reps
Some sales managers are reluctant to, in their words, “micromanage.” When they were on the floor, they didn’t need reminders or motivation to make enough calls, set a certain number of meetings, ask for referrals, etc.
In fact, as reps they may have resented managers who tried to coach them. The common mentality is, “I already know how to do my job.”
Now that they’ve been promoted, these managers only get involved with a deal when it's 75% likely or higher to close. They don’t realize most of their salespeople actually need reinforcement to hit those leading metrics.
With that in mind, don’t ignore your reps because you’re hesitant to be too controlling. Shadow your salespeople, pinpoint their weaknesses, and give them the support they need to improve -- whether that’s saying, “Spend the next hour emailing prospects” or “Let’s work on your questioning strategy.”
3) Neglecting Your Firing Skills
There’s no doubt recruiting is a huge component of the position. I recommend dedicating an hour per day to filling your candidate pipeline: Searching for potential hires on LinkedIn, asking your network for referrals, having coffee meetings, and so forth.
What many sales managers never grasp? Your firing abilities are even more critical than your hiring abilities. Every low-performing rep harms your team’s potential to hit or exceed quota; plus, they’re bad for morale.
Devote time and energy to recognizing when people aren’t succeeding or don’t have the right skills. The sooner you part ways with them, the healthier your team will be.
If you’re not sure how to spot these tells, look at the last 10 salespeople who were terminated. Did the majority of them lack a specific ability? When and how did they start showing signs of poor fit? (This is also a good exercise to identify areas for coaching and training.)
4) Championing Hopeless Causes
Grab a pen and paper and write down the top three internal campaigns you’re waging.
Most sales managers are fighting similar battles: They’re trying to get more (or better) leads, redistribute the marketing budget, secure certain features in upcoming product releases, and so on.
These are the wrong conflicts. You’re never going to win the lead, marketing, or product wars. If you want to be a great sales manager, channel your time, energy, and resources into ones you can win, like running competitive analyses, getting more training, and rewarding your salespeople for their victories and progress.
Steer clear of these four mistakes, and you’ll be ahead of the game. There may be a corner office in your future.
Learn more about Jeff’s sales strategies to keep your career moving in the right direction. Check out his public workshops in Menlo Park, CA on 2/21 when he’ll be exploring prospecting techniques and negotiating and closing tactics.