4 habits of highly productive sales managers

Sales managers have one of the toughest jobs in any company these days. The line that divides the responsibility between marketing, customer services, and support has blurred and the responsibility to grow the business and retain customers are not held 100% on the shoulders of the Sales organizations. Every customer touch point transforms into an opportunity to understand pain points, educate customers and sell value, making the role of a Sales Manager more challenging.

Sales managers not only need to allocate time to coach their sellers, but they also need to manage  peers, executives, and partners setting clear expectations and helping the sales team to be more effective in closing deals.

Making the role transition

New sales managers spend most of their time in reactive mode dealing with multiple requests coming from all sides of the organization, from customer objections, upper management inquiries and customer support issues. This balancing act can take a toll, and often this struggle ends with that sales manager missing forecast, losing customers and top talents and a significant impact on himself.

The key is that new sales managers need to create new habits. Habits that they didn’t need as a top individual contributor, which require to be practiced and practiced all over again to master and sustain. It’s not about executing 100 best practices 4 times, it’s about doing 4 things right 100 times. There are my top 4 habits that I recommend for any top seller to develop and master as a Sales manager:

Build a clear vision and have an account based strategy

Every Sales Manager should invest in understanding and segmenting the customers under their territory. Building that customer profile and the subsequent plan will allow the team to focus their energy on the opportunities that will drive revenue growth. The level of detail of the profiling and plan will depend on the scope of the territory, but in any case do have a plan and be deliberate about the execution. The plans must connect with all the key players involved, like Marketing & Support teams, to design the customer journey, leveraging market data to define what’s the story you want to tell. I’ve seen sales teams often chase random deals without a north, leaving revenue and share on the table.

Smart, consistent Inspecting and Coaching

On average, a sales manager invests 1 hour in 1:1s with his sellers every week. This value exchange, is by far, the biggest lever you have as a Sales manager to improve performance. You need to have a set of success metrics to inspect and coach seller performance and skill development.

It’s fundamental to Inspect and coach sellers on what they should be executing against the sales process. This will drive short term performance gains, and control over forecast accuracy.  Coaching seller for development, which usually happens once a year during review time should be included in every 1:1 to ensure skill gaps are being addressed with baby steps.

These 1:1s require solid preparation and structure, at the start this will be a big effort. To create a habit,  these will require continuous follow-up. After several months, the time and money invested will pay off and you will have better control of your forecast and a more senior sales team.

Play the Role

Any new habit requires identification, definition and adoption. There are many ways to manage changes in your team. I believe every interaction is an opportunity to drive change, and the most valuable method is the role play. It will force individual contributors to practice in a safe environment and get them ready for real life scenarios because they will execute activities automatically without any hesitation. Use role play and test your people. Role play works beautifully, because is all about repeating the most commons scenarios in any customer engagement. Sales Managers have the experience and know-how in how to confront these scenarios and they can practice with their sellers until they feel confident to pitch the value and manage objections by themselves like a habits.

Look for the challengers

Many Sales managers believe that the top performers don’t need their time and that they are better left alone. Actually, coaching top performers in the right way can bring more deals and higher customer sat in your well targeted accounts. Top performers will be the source of best practices to write your sales playbook which will be shared with new hires. You should always hire top producers and there are many books that explain how. I like the model proposed by CEB called the Challenger Sale which encourages organizations to write clear Job Descriptions and interview questionnaires that help Sales managers filter candidates and uncover real challengers. Challenge sellers are top talent because they always has a different view of the world, they take time to understand customer businesses, they love to debate and challenge customer perspective, and they push customers to act. In other words, they teach a unique perspective in a two way communication, they tailor value drivers to connect with your offering and they take control of the process feeling comfortable in pushing customers to follow a call to action.

The power of habits

Who doesn’t want to earn more money with less stress and better control of your time?

These 4 habits can accelerate your growth plan, and are well documented in many books, podcast and web sites. I picked them based on my experience coaching many sales managers that made the transition from individual contributors. Research shows that Sales managers who invest more time in the field do not have necessarily have better results, instead focus on having well defined habits that can allow you to scale and empower your team. As a Sales manager you are the fundamental change agent to improvement sales performance.

Please, provide your comments. I’m curious of knowing your point of view and any new insights are welcomed.

About the Author

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Michele Lanzara is CoFounder at Convercio