The sales management role continues to be one of the most critical roles in an organization, yet is treated as a step on a ladder that some people shouldn’t be on. What makes a great sales manager is a question that was asked in one of Linkedin’s groups and almost 1,000 people have responded. Answers are all over the board which reflects the level of confusion about how to identify who could be a great sales manager and if you are one, how to be the best of the best.
Here are my thoughts after 30 years of leading sales organizations for global and national organizations.
Hone existing skills and developing new ones is one of the key areas of responsibility for a leader in sales or any cross-functional organization. Stimulating them to think differently, ask questions, consider the possibility of doing things in a way that creates a different result, is key to keeping people and teams growing. Educating them so they can educate customers and be positioned as the industry expert is critical to being and staying competitive. Leverage all communication to reinforce and enlighten using relevant, educational content to contribute to your team’s growth and competence. Bring in outside resources to augment your areas of experience and expertise to provide greater growth and exposure to new ideas.
A Problem Solver
You want to empower your team to problem solve on their own. When they bring you a problem the first thing you want to know is the facts, e.g. what have they tried, what resources have they used, what results have they realized. Listen, ask questions, and reflect what you’re hearing. You can brainstorm with them, invite others to participate in coming up with new ideas, and sometimes, as a leader, you can suggest solutions to help them solve the problem. Then watch for how they use these suggestions and if they are integrating this new knowledge and applying it to other customers or challenging situations. You want to foster innovation and creative thinking to lift them personally and collectively.
Leveraging people’s strengths and helping them to shape and integrate new behaviors is the heart of being a coach. Providing new insights, perspectives, strategies, and supporting them as they try them out helps people to create a new way of operating. Focus on the qualitative, as well as the quantitative, tangible and the intangible, get beneath the surface to make a lasting change in their ‘operating system’ that serves them, the team, and their world. If this isn’t an area of expertise, hire a coach for you or them. Coaching is a skill that requires your focus in your role as a leader. It is your job to create the culture for your team.
A Thought Leader
Your ability to create new ways of approaching the business, using new strategies for penetrating the market, and new tools or techniques will contribute to the top and bottom line. Your credibility is based on your knowledge of the industry, the competitors, the solutions, and how you can accelerate your people’s ability to be successful. You are the role model for their next step and you earn their respect by walking the talk in ways that resonate with them.
You are in partnership with your team. Everyone has a role, responsibilities, and will be held accountable, including you. Scheduling regular 1:1 meetings, respecting their time with agendas, going on calls, and owning executive relationships in top accounts sets the tone and communicates that together everyone achieves more. Sharing leadership opportunities with them enables them to see what it feels like in your shoes and vice versa. For example, letting them run a meeting, take the initiative in bringing in outside speakers, or run a strategy session will give them a chance to stretch and provide them a different perspective on how you contribute to the team.
The Sales Manager role is one that is the most critical to an organization’s success, yet often there is little training offered and usually the best sales person is given the role. The skills necessary to be the best in sales is not the same as the ones needed to be the best manager. Using assessments often provides information about how well someone will do a job and can predict job performance. Before you promote, assess to ensure your observations are aligned with the role’s requirements. Assessments are also a great coaching tool because you can laser focus on their strengths and use them to stretch the areas where they’re not as strong. With today’s technology and tools, understanding who is on your team is the best way for you to be the best guide for them in mastering their job. Isn’t that your job? To accelerate and facilitate their ability to be successful. Their success becomes yours. And that’s the name of the game. Everybody wins!
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