What Makes a Great Sales Manager?

By Alex Bartholomaus

As an ambitious company owner and/or leader, you know all about the difficulties of planning and leading growth efforts — and you’ve probably had the unfortunate experience of getting burned by a mediocre (or downright bad) sales manager and/or VP along the way. At some point you’ve probably wondered, “What can I do to make my sales manager better?”

The logical follow up to this question is: “What skills and/or traits should I look for when I recruit my next sales manager? What are the signs of greatness?”

In a previous two-part article, “The Four Crucial Elements of Success in Sales Development,” I explained how desire, commitment, responsibility and outlook were essential traits for success in sales development. And, although these elements also apply to sales managers, they’re not enough. Truly great sales managers must possess additional characteristics.

We’ve all seen star salespeople fail miserably as sales managers. The reason for these failures? Salespeople often don’t spend enough time developing the core skill sets that make for great sales managers. That means acting as motivator, performance master, coach, mentor, and recruiter. Let’s look at each of these skills sets a little closer.

A motivator inspires the sales force to rally when they are discouraged. This person is adept at understanding what motivates each salesperson on their team, and draws on this source of inspiration in times of need. The fact that salespeople get paid and incentivized to do their job isn’t enough for greatness. They also need consistent doses of motivation from their manager.

The performance master holds people accountable — the team, as well as himself (or herself). Whenever sales managers feed you an excuse, it keeps them from addressing the real problem. Also, in order to hold the sales force accountable, this person has to analyze key data like the pipeline and sales figures with regularity.

The coach has to be a base of knowledge to help the sales team grow. Coaches have to consistently coach and debrief in a short time span to close the learning loop. They have to be willing to let their people fail in order to drive growth. If they rescue their salespeople on a sales call, then they often become part of the problem rather than creating the solution.

The mentor is often confused with the coach. But there’s a big difference: The mentor’s prime focus is growing his or her people first. Mentors take an active interest in their team’s career trajectory, while coaching is more focused on addressing a short-term need to deliver immediate results. Mentoring is about the long haul, and helping salespeople realize their dreams at work, and, in some cases, outside of work, too.

A recruiter is always working to stay aware of where the good talent is lurking. This person networks actively with the clients, the prospects and the competition to see where the best talent is currently working. It is this proactive work that gives this person “a bench” to call on when they lose someone to attrition.

The last variable to pull these five skills sets together is the ability to spend enough time among them collectively. Sales development research done on more than 7,000 sales forces has determined that 80 percent of the sales manager’s time should be spent on these five skill sets. The simple reasoning driving this time allocation is the immediate and most effective impact it has on revenue.

So, drive revenue, or work on product strategy? I’ll leave it up to you to decide which of these is the more important factor for your sales manager to focus on.

For more info on maximizing your sales process, check out “The Four Crucial Elements of Success in Sales Development, Part 1” and “Part 2.

Alex P. Bartholomaus is managing partner at People Stretch Solutions and works to help small to mid-sized companies drive growth and profits. He combines a non-traditional approach of psychology, behavioral science and emotional intelligence to help sales forces and leadership teams perform at higher levels.
Originally published: Oct 3, 2011

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