The importance of the sales manager’s job function cannot be understated. The sales force drives the company’s revenue, and it the sales manager’s job to drive the sales force. Simply put, if the person who is handling the sales manager’s job function does not perform, the company does not generate cash, and the company does not survive! So given how critical the job is, what are the key skills a sales manager must have to be effective?
Top Skills for Sales Managers
Sales expert, Brian Tracy wrote that the 3 top skills to being an effective sales manager include recruiting, training and managing or coaching. Salesforce expanded this further in their 5 essential skills sales managers should have to include leadership and the ability to meet company sales targets.
Top producing sales managers also avoid making common bad management practices.
I think every successful sales manager, myself included, would agree with these lists outlining the key skills for a sales manager. However to truly know the key skills for a sales manager, we need to delve into some of these skills in more detail.
Recruiting – One of the Key Skills for a Sales Manager
In order for you to be a sales manager, you first must assemble the right sales team to manage. Believe me, the first time you have to fire someone is when you realize the true importance of being able to recruit the right people as a key skill for a sales manager.
Turnover in your sales team happens when there is no longer a fit between the employer and employee. The relationship is no longer a win-win, and therefore must end because both parties are not achieving their goals. The better you are in your recruiting and hiring practices, the better able you are to assess fit before the relationship starts.
When you need to hire your next sales rep, your need to advertise where your idea sales candidate is most likely to see your ad. For sales, that means dedicated job boards like the B2B Sales Connections Job Board. Are you looking to recruite sales professionals? Post your job to 100+ Job Boards with just one submission. Post a job for free!
To help get you started pre-screening and assessing sales candidates, download a free copy of our white paper, How To Recruit The Best Sales Professionals which includes “11 Telephone Interview Questions to Find Top Performers“, from our B2B Sales Free Download Centre. For more detailed information, check out these interviewing yips for sales recruiters.
Once hired, training maximizes the chance of success as it puts everyone on the same road, further securing the fit between the employee and the organization. The better the fit, the more likely the relationship can be successful in the long term, therefore reducing “churn” in your sales force overall.
Remember as Jim Collins, “Great vision without great people is irrelevant.”
Coaching – The Key Skill for all Sales Managers
Most sales managers would agree that coaching their sales teams is key job function contributing to their success. However, when it comes to actually defining what the term “coaching” means, how best to do it, and what are its affects in the long term, each sales manager would probably have a different opinion.
What is coaching? Is training and coaching the same thing? How much time should a sales manager spend coaching? How much time do they actually spend? What type of sales rep benefits most from coaching? Do top performers need it? What are the best ways to coach? Does it affect sales staff turnover?
Proof that Coaching is a Key Skill for a Sales Manager
Leslye Schumacher of Talent Bits and Bytes addressed these issues in her blog post, “How Much Time Should Sales Managers Spend Coaching Their Salespeople?” Schumacher quoted several studies that give much clearer answers to these important questions. Here are some of the highlights:
- To maximize sales results, the optimal amount of coaching is 5 hours per month per sales rep.
- Salespeople that are coached daily outperform other salespeople by 30%. This stat alone proves that coaching is a key skill for a sales manager.
- What prevents sales managers from coaching is the time spent on administrative tasks, the time spent direct selling, and lack of training in proper management techniques.
- Only 7% of sales managers were found to be effective at coaching without training.
- Core salespeople receiving ineffective coaching averaged 83% of goal attainment. Their performance rose to 102% when they then received effective coaching.
- In regards to retention, top performers were 50% more likely to stay if they received good coaching
The conclusions are clear. These statistics prove what the top sales managers have been practicing for years; coaching works and you have to plan to make time to do it! Not just any coaching, mind you, it has to be effective. Take the time to learn how to “show how, not do for” properly. You will be a better sales manager for it.
Better the Coach, Better the Sales Manager!
Selling has been compared to sports for years. So much so, that salespeople have even often been called the elite athletes of the business world. The reason for the comparison probably stems from the fact that both professions are performance based, and that the incomes earned in each are in direct proportion to the ability to consistently over-achieve.
So why is it in sales, we don’t do everything that professional athletes do to maximize our performance? If athletes use advice from expert coaches, to help them earn incredible incomes, regardless of their level of experience, shouldn’t salespeople?
Show How, Not Do For!
Continuing the analogy, as sales manager, you are not a player on your team; you are the coach of your team! You must teach what needs to be taught, you must lead where they need to be led, and you must motivate so they follow you there. As I said earlier, the sales force may drive your company’s revenue, but it is your job as sales manager to drive the sales force!
The best sales managers know their primary responsibility is to develop their people, not themselves. Would Scotty Bowman, the record holder for the most wins as a coach in the National Hockey League, strap on a pair of skates with 30 seconds left in the third period of the Stanley Cup Final? Of course not, and neither should you. Did you know that due to injury, Bowman never played professional hockey himself? Interesting, don’t you think?
Everyone, regardless of their experience or skill level, can benefit from having access to expert guidance. As sales manager, that guidance comes in the form of coaching, and it should come from you. Remember as the Chinese Proverb says, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”
Delegation – A Key Skill for Sales Managers!
Most would say that the best test of a sales manager’s abilities, or any manager for that matter, is what happens if he or she is no longer there. In other words, ask youself one simple question. If you were to leave the organization tomorrow, could your sales team carry on and still produce at the sales level they are now?
Can the Sales Manager Afford to Take a Vacation?
To help you answer that question, think back to your first day at work after your last vacation. Did you return to the office to find that everything came to a grinding halt while you were away? Or did they barely miss you while you were gone? I am asking about the last time you took a real vacation; one where you set your auto-reply email, changed your voicemail message and left the iPhone at the office.
If you answered everything came to a grinding halt, then you need to be better prepared before you go away this year. Make sure that you delegate all your managerial duties before you leave. This includes who can sign paperwork on your behalf and when are they authorized to do so. Also, ensure that your substitute knows all the important deadlines that will come due when you are away and how they should act on your behalf.
You may be thinking there is no one who you feel comfortable leaving in charge. Or even worse, you may not be able to even remember when you took your last real vacation. Then you need to start improving your coaching skills and start to develop your team. To help you get started, check out my book, Action Plan for Sales Management Success.
Remember, if you want to move onto bigger and better things in your career, you must train your replacement first! Or as Gen. Omar Bradley once said, “The greatness of a leader is measured by the achievements of the led.”
The Real Key Skills for a Sales Manager
Simply put, there cannot be a bottom line unless there is a top line. This is why many consider sales to be the most important function with any company. This is also why a skilled sales manager plays such a key role in the organization’s success because they are the ones that drive the sales. Sales managers are not born with the skills they need to succeed, however. They are learned, either from a mentor, or from a proven sales management training program.
Over and above the learned skills however, it is important to note that successful managers, those that really move the organization forward, all practice their profession while holding to two beliefs:
- They know that their job is to “show how, not do for”.
- They know that they will be more successful if they help others get to where they want to go, as opposed to only focusing on where they want to go.
In other words, successful sales managers know who they really report to. Here a hint. You need to turn your thinking upside down!
Remember as Ray Kroc once said, “The quality of a leader is reflected in the standards they set for themselves.”
“… what I can tell anyone, is simply this – If you want to learn and understand sales, talk to Susan.”