Sales managers and reps are a lot like squares and rectangles -- all squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares. A great sales manager was most likely once a successful sales rep, but not all reps end up -- or enjoy -- being team leads.
In my years building sales teams, I’ve learned a few things about how to spot a budding sales manager. Here are six traits that are essential to a sales manager’s success.
Can They Sell?
At the very least, a good sales manager must have a few years under their belt as a successful rep -- and the best reps have a few traits in common. These selling skills form the basis of strong sales management.
1) The right DNA.
Great sales reps are competitive and driven. If a sales rep doesn’t have a strong motivation to achieve their goals or a desire to win, they won’t be hungry to crush their numbers.
2) The right values.
Customers want to buy from people they trust, and your employees want to work with teammates they have faith in. If a rep has character -- integrity, a good work ethic, and the ability to be an unselfish team player -- they will be a great asset to your team and your business.
3) The right skills.
Reps should have mastery in three key areas: prospecting, qualifying and closing.
Prospecting: A great rep will generate a high level of prospecting activity, whether it’s getting leads on the phone or meeting in person.
Qualifying: A rep needs to suss out where a prospect’s biggest pain points are, and assess whether those problems are acute enough for the prospect to buy soon. Most importantly, a good rep must know whether the prospect has the right kind of pain -- that is, whether your business is ideally suited to address the problem.
Closing: Great prospecting and qualifying will set up a rep to close deals. To get across the finish line, a superstar rep will be familiar with the prospect’s buying process and understand how to negotiate the deal so that it’s a win for both sides.
Can They Lead?
All good managers were once good reps, but to transition into a leadership role, I look for traits that show me a rep will be able to motivate and coach a team.
4) The ability to communicate.
If sunlight is the best disinfectant, communication is what makes the sun shine. Open and honest exchanges between managers and reps build strong and trusting partnerships, but handled incorrectly, can be disastrous to a relationship. A manager must be able to offer guidance and feedback to their team. Leaders that can’t communicate well won’t be able to coach their reps.
5) The desire to teach and lead a team.
A great sales manager has to have genuine enthusiasm for helping others succeed. If a sales manager candidate is more drawn to the thrill of closing a deal instead of teaching their teammates, they’re probably better off as a rep -- and that’s perfectly okay. A manager needs to enjoy investing their time in others. Anyone can learn to teach -- it’s the desire to do so that matters.
Some of the most high-achieving salespeople I know can’t explain why they’re so good at what they do -- their raw talent means that selling just comes naturally. The best sales managers might not have been the best reps on their teams. They consistently hit their numbers, but more importantly, were very good at explaining exactly how they got it done. A sales manager should be able to unpack their selling process and have a deep understanding of what works, what doesn’t, and why.
Becoming a sales manager isn’t necessarily the next logical step for a superstar rep. There are always going to be reps on your team that live for the thrill of closing a huge deal, and that’s where they belong. The trick to building a top sales force is to find the reps that are solid sellers but truly flourish when it comes to leading and teaching, and promote them to management positions.
Originally published May 5, 2015 7:30:00 AM, updated July 28 2017