The Definitive Guide to Sales Management

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The purpose of a sales manager is to provide their salespeople with everything they need to succeed, including coaching, training, and motivation. The actions of a successful sales manager can include anything from overseeing the onboarding of a new sales team member to firing a salesperson who wasn't ever going to cut it.

A great sales manager ensures their salespeople know how they're performing so they don't fall behind on their monthly quota or fail to sell according to the company's priorities. And if someone is lagging, the manager is capable of determining the salesperson's weakness and empowering them to fix it.

Coaching

The most crucial role of a sales manager is a coach for the members of their team. A salesperson who is suddenly not making enough appointments might not realize that their script has gone stale and they sound robotic during cold calls. In these kinds of situations, the sales manager is ideally placed to both identify the problem and help to fix it.

Coaching is a learnable skill—even for people for whom it doesn't come naturally.

Not all sales managers are good at coaching. Some prefer the administrative side of management, while others like to spend as much time as possible on the front lines selling. Fortunately, coaching is a skill you can pick up with practice.

Asking the Right Questions

In many ways, coaching is like selling. You'll need to figure out what is holding a salesperson back and then nudge them into realizing it for themselves. As with sales, this is often best accomplished by asking questions rather than directly telling the salesperson what they must do.

The sales manager might ask the salesperson who is struggling to make appointments questions about what their cold calling process is and what prospects say when they turn down the caller. These questions help your salesperson to identify the problem and the solution, which is a lot less confrontational than if you simply told them what to do. It also gives them a feeling of ownership of the solution, since they came up with it themselves.

Working With All Team Members

Good sales managers take time with every salesperson, not just the top and bottom performers. Every salesperson has both strengths and weaknesses; you should recognize the former and help with the latter.

Often the best way to evaluate a salesperson's strongest and weakest qualities is to accompany them on sales appointments and see how they operate with prospective customers. Ideally, shadow each salesperson on your team at least twice a year.

While it's important to spend time with each member of the sales team, realistically most of your time will be spent with the salespeople who are having the most trouble meeting their goals. A salesperson who is trying hard but hasn't been able to succeed may need an intensive coaching program involving several weeks of observation and assistance. It will be time-consuming, but if the result is a salesperson who exceeds their quota every month instead of failing or struggling to meet it, the time will have been well spent.

Coaching won't do much good with a salesperson who doesn't realize they have a problem. Any salesperson who blames their poor performance on outside factors simply won't take a coaching program seriously. In this situation, it may be necessary to fire the person before their bad attitude contaminates the rest of the team.

Providing the Right Sales Tools

Another important part of sales management is making sure your salespeople are equipped with the right tools. These tools can make all the difference between success and failure. At the very least, they'll make selling a lot easier and your salespeople much more efficient.

First and most basic, your team should have a profile of an ideal customer. Every company has an ideal customer. The ideal customer profile is simply a list of the characteristics that your best customers and prospective customers share. This profile is incredibly useful in qualifying prospects early on and enables your salespeople to focus their time and energy on the very best potential customers.

Second, set up a sales metrics tracking plan. Tracking your sales team's metrics helps both you and them. It helps you because you can see exactly where they're strongest and weakest in their sales abilities. If a salesperson hits a slump, you can use metrics to see where in the sales process they're losing those sales.

Plus, it helps your salespeople because they can identify potential problems before they start to cut into sales. If a salesperson knows they've booked half as many appointments as usual this week, they know they need to hit the phones big-time—before their pipeline empties out.

Third, take a look at your new hire training program. Even the most experienced salespeople will need training when they join your company. At a minimum, they'll need product training and training in your company's sales software and customer relationship management (CRM) program, which encourages customers to remain loyal to your products or services.

It's also a good idea to assess a new salesperson's basic sales skills and decide how you'll help with any weak areas. The faster you get your new hire up to speed, the faster they'll be earning revenue for your company.

Ongoing Training

Evaluate your continuing training program. If a sports team doesn't train regularly, you wouldn't expect them to win. The same applies to your sales team.

Like most professionals, salespeople need to broaden their skill sets and pick up new strategies on a regular basis. But just signing your team up for random training sessions won't help. You need a plan based on what skills they most need to develop so that you can look for the best training options to fit your team's specific needs.

Establishing Differentiators

Next, consider your product or service differentiators—the factors that make your products or services different from the competition. It may require a sales meeting to find out which differentiators your salespeople use and confirm that they're consistent across the team.

If your company's marketing department hasn't come up with some “official” differentiators, work with your sales team to brainstorm at least one for each product or service. Every time your company develops a new product or service or changes an old one, you'll need to come up with new differentiators.

Meeting Company Goals

Finally, you'll need to make sure that your sales team is aware of and working in line with the company's sales goals. Your company probably has certain products or services that it wants to push because they're the most lucrative, others that are less important, and a few that are loss leaders, meaning they exist to attract new customers but don't make the company any money.

Make sure your sales team knows which products or services to prioritize during sales appointments. And work with company executives to build a compensation plan that rewards your team members for making the highest-priority sales.

A sales manager is ultimately judged by the success of their team members, so leading them to greater rewards will bring rewards for yourself as well.