So you’ve just been promoted to sales manager -- congratulations!
You were a top-performing individual contributor in your previous position, but in your new role you won’t be able to do everything yourself. Making that transition and becoming an effective coach and leader aren’t easy.
In your first three months as a manager, you’ll have to learn an entirely new set of processes -- some related to sales, some not. You’ll have to accomplish three primary tasks:
- Learn to empower your reps
- Scale your own management process
- Foster team growth
The most important exercises you’ll need to undergo in each area are outlined below. Good luck, and happy managing!
How to be a successful sales manager
- Assess your strengths as a manager
- Get to know your team
- Understand how your team wants to be managed
- Create a team-wide weighted pipeline
- Schedule forecasting meetings with each rep
- Set a weekly optional meeting with each rep
- Set a weekly, monthly, and quarterly cadence for your team members' sales activities
- Define your hiring process
- Create a peer mentor program
- Foster peer-to-peer learning environments
- Don't solve your team's problems for them
- Always solve for the company first
If you don’t get to know them, you will have no idea what scares them, what inspires them, what motivates them. -- Bo Schembechler, football coach
1. Assess your strengths as a manager
Before you became a sales manager, you should have thought hard about why you wanted to be a front line manager. A great book that I would recommend to anyone in leadership is Peter Drucker’s On Managing Yourself, one of the Harvard Business Review’s 10 Must Reads. The book focuses on knowing yourself.
“One cannot build performance on weaknesses, let alone on something one cannot do at all," Drucker writes. If you understand your strengths, your team will follow your lead.
A few questions to ask yourself as a new manager are:
- What is your leadership style?
- What is your management style?
- What is your coaching style?
- What are your strengths and areas of improvement?
Once you understand your strengths as a leader, share them with your reps so they know how best to communicate with you and how your work styles mesh.
2. Get to know your team
Your team has a collective goal, but each of your team members are unique individuals and should not be treated the same. This might sound challenging, but it’s one of the coolest aspects of a managerial role. Each person on your team will have their own set of motivations, goals, challenges, and way of thinking. If your company offers a training around situational leadership, I would highly recommend it.
Caring about your team as individuals will go farther than you think. If you believe in each rep for their unique strengths, chances are you’ll be in the back of their mind the day they doubt themselves. And believe me, that day will come sooner than you think. We all need guidance and empowerment.
3. Understand how your team wants to be managed
One of your first acts as a sales manager should be to set up meetings with each person on your team.
Eventually, you’ll have two weekly meetings with each of your team members: one for forecasting and pipeline review, and one for coaching, career discussions, or any other topic determined by the rep (more on that later). But for now, your top priority should be understanding the shape your future meetings will take, and that means figuring out what your team members need out of their professional relationship with you.
Below are a few questions that you can ask in your initial meetings with your team members:
- What does success mean to you?
- What is your biggest strength?
- What is one thing you would like to improve on?
- What would prevent you from achieving your goals?
- What do you think makes a good leader?
- How do you like to be managed?
- How do you like to receive feedback?
- What do you look for in a coach?
- What motivates you day-to-day?
- How can I help you be better?
4. Create a team-wide weighted pipeline
One of your responsibilities as a sales manager is to roll up a weekly or monthly forecast to your head of sales.
A weighted pipeline, which assigns a value to each potential deal (a combination of the deal’s value and its stage in the sales process), serves as a snapshot of what your total pipeline is “worth” at this point in time. Deals in early stages are weighted less than deals that could close this week, and no deal is weighted at 100% until it closes.
To build a weighted pipeline, group all potential deals by their stage in the sales process and sum their value. Then, multiply the total value of each stage by the weight assigned to that stage (your company should have standard weights you can use).
Here’s an example of how to put together a weighted pipeline:
Discovery call with an influencer (5% weight)
- Deals: 50
- Potential value: $100
- Weighted value: $5
Discovery call with a decision maker (7% weight)
- Deals: 33
- Potential value: $66
- Weighted value: $4.62
Presentation/demo with an influencer (20% weight)
- Deals: 17
- Potential value: $34
- Weighted value: $6.80
Presentation/demo with a decision maker (40% weight)
- Deals: 8
- Potential value: $16
- Weighted value: $6.40
Budget approval (60% weight)
- Deals: 12
- Potential value: $24
- Weighted value: $14.40
Legal approval (70% weight)
- Deals: 10
- Potential value: $20
- Weighted value: $14
Contracts sent out (80% weight)
- Deals: 12
- Potential value: $24
- Weighted value: $19.20
In this example, although the total potential value of all your team’s deals is $284, the weighted pipeline more accurately represents your pipeline’s current value -- $70.42.
Even for deals in late stages, things can go wrong. So I recommend generating a pipeline that’s four times your goal. Read on to find out how to accurately assess your reps’ pipelines.
5. Schedule forecasting meetings with each rep
To build a weighted pipeline, you’ll have determine which deals to include and which to omit. Set up a weekly forecasting meeting with each of your reps to assess their pipelines and offer guidance.
Handle each meeting a bit differently with each person while keeping your fundamental pipeline questions the same. Once you provide a pipeline cadence, your conversations will start to flow without even asking the questions.
A few forecasting questions are listed below to help guide you:
- Who is the economic buyer?
- What does the landscape look like when the contract is going to be signed? (Is your rep going to physically camp out at the prospect’s office? Will they walk down to Legal?)
- What stage is this deal in? (Use the deal stages in your CRM for uniformity.)
- Why would they buy now?
- Is there a cash flow or budget issue? How can we solve it?
- What is their timeline?
- What is the consequence if they don’t buy now?
- How many roles are you speaking with? Does this cover all the departments that need to be involved?
- Where is this initiative coming from? Will the CEO/anyone C-level need to give final approval?
- What is the purchasing, legal, and procurement process?
- Is there a deal size threshold that triggers a legal review?
- How strong is your champion?
- Do we have access to and the cell phones numbers of all people involved in this deal?
- How can I help?
Make it clear that the forecasting meeting is about collaboration. Your top reps will want to know that you’re there to help and provide guidance, not interrogate them.
6. Set a weekly optional meeting with each rep
As a manager in today’s fast-moving environment, I recommend setting two short meetings with your reps per week. The first, outlined above, is about deal forecasting. The second should function as a general meeting to help your reps grow. This can cover a range of topics, from career guidance to call reviews to specific coaching.
I like to keep these meetings to 30 minutes to keep them focused, and let my reps choose the topic. This ensures that we’re covering areas that are relevant for them and will actually be useful.
7. Set a weekly, monthly, and quarterly cadence for your team members’ sales activity
A weekly cadence for metrics in sales can promote effective behaviors amongst your team by giving them a concrete goal to work toward.
Some ideas for a weekly cadence meeting to drive accountability are:
- Weekly calls
- Meetings booked per week
- Qualification calls per week
- Weekly product demos/presentations
- Weekly goals
Have reps self-report on either hitting or missing these goals. If they miss, ask them to create a plan outlining their plans to get back up to speed.
To set these goals, compare your reps’ benchmarks to company benchmarks. On average, how many deals does a rep need to close to meet their quota? How many demos or presentations do they need to deliver to make that number? How many meetings do they need to book?
Work backwards until you know the average number of outreach activity each rep needs to complete per week, adjusting their individual targets as necessary. A rep who already exceeds these targets won’t need much hand-holding, but a rep whose activity level is a half of what it needs to be will require some ramping up.
8. Define your hiring process
As a manager, you’ll be directly responsible for hiring new members of your team, so you’ll need an interviewing and evaluation strategy. You should also think about what other resources are available to you -- for example, are there people on your team who could help you evaluate potential candidates?
Your company will have a hiring playbook, but you’ll need to develop a profile for your ideal candidate as well. Use the questions below to guide your interview process:
- What type of candidate are you looking to hire?
- How many years of experience are you looking for?
- What key attributes define your most successful rep?
Bonus tip: Even if you think you have an all star hire on your hands, don't skip the reference checks. You never know what you might find out!
9. Create a peer mentor program
A peer mentorship program can often serve as a leadership initiative path for the members of your team that show interest in taking their career to the next level. Assign each level you manage a peer buddy and create guidance for the mentor program. Whether it’s shadowing, reviewing calls together, or weekly check-ins, peer mentors provide an extra perspective that adds a valuable additional perspective to your coaching.
10. Foster peer-to-peer learning environments
Collaboration won’t just happen -- as a manager, it’s your responsibility to create situations that foster it. For example, a weekly team meeting is a great way to drive cross-team collaboration on deals in progress, where everyone is helpful and supportive.
Define your team incentives and what drives your team. Does a team dinner drive results? Do people get excited about spending time outside of work with one another? Find the events or activities that make your team “click” (and also improve performance), and then double down on them.
11. Don’t solve your team’s problems for them
This can be really hard as a first time manager. You most likely came from doing very well in an individual contributor role yourself, so it’s tempting to just do your reps’ work or tasks for them. Avoid this temptation! Your team will learn and grow with your help, but their effort should be in the forefront.
Allowing your team to solve problems on their own is also empowering. Ask them to explain to you the process of how they got there and provide feedback to them if you are asked. Letting them develop their own solution will build your team members’ confidence more than if you simply tell them what to do.
Remember: It’s never about you. Being a manager is about your people and how you serve them.
12. Always solve for the company first
As an individual contributor, you spend most of your time thinking about yourself -- whether you’re going to hit your number this month, what you need your manager’s help with, what you want your next career move to be, and so on. As a manager, you should be thinking more big-picture. Put your company before your team, and put your team before yourself.
Your legacy as a manager won’t just be about your performance and your number. It will be about the impact and and development of your people. The best days for front line managers are the days their people over-achieve and receive promotions for their hard work and dedication. This is what matters.
Sales managers empower, lead, support, and guide reps, but that’s not all we do. We get to make an impact on each individual’s day-to-day experience and overall quality of life. It’s not easy, but when you look back? Wow -- it is rewarding!