What makes a Sales Manager?


What makes a Sales Manager?

Mon, 9 Oct 2023 Updated By: Brett Lyons

This is a question that will generate answers like leader, coach, supervisor, motivator and more. Having had the opportunity to work with many sales managers the one certainty is that this is a role that differs from one organisation to another. Indeed, on several projects, I have found the role to be implemented in different ways in the same organisation.

So, what is a sales manager really meant to be, a leader, a manager, a coach or a sales person?

Analyse the role and you will find that in some organisations the sales manager is there to set strategy, manage performance, lead, manage, and coach their teams. However, in others, the role is a hybrid, and the sales manager has people responsibilities combined with a personal sales target.

My view is that the sales manager is there to lead, a view formed by my first-line management experience of leading a team in a formal corporate structure. However, the right answer is that the role is formed by the needs of the business. Consider

  • If a sales manager has a team of 8 salespeople and is responsible for managing performance, business analysis, field coaching, one-to-one meetings, team meetings and managing upwards. There will not be time to do this properly and achieve a personal sales target.
  • If a sales manager has a team of three people, then it’s reasonable to expect that the role would carry some sales responsibility.

So having established the role how do you know if you have the right person? These four actions make a good starting point:

1. Is it the ‘Right Role’

Does the individual really want to manage?  The title of ‘sales manager’ and the perceived status can be seductive for many sales people. However, when faced with the reality of managing people there can be a realisation that ‘management’ is not for me.

Some time ago I launched a 12-month leadership development programme for a very professional financial recruitment business. In the first group we had two people pull out as they concluded that management was not for them. They were good people who came on the programme because they wanted to be promoted to ‘sales manager’ but faced with the reality of the role decided it was not what they wanted at that stage of their careers.

The sales and sales management roles have different responsibilities and they need different skill sets.

The challenge here is to make sure that anyone going into a sales management role understands the expectation and responsibilities of the role, ideally spending some time with someone currently doing the job.

2. Is it the Right Person

We promoted X to sales manager because she was our best sales person.’

A common mistake that can seriously damage careers. A decision based on the assumption that the best sales person will be a good manager.

The reality is that top-performing sales people are often happier to develop their careers into senior sales positions where they can utilise their skills. Rather than being in management positions where they often become frustrated that direct reports don’t share their ‘total commitment’ and ‘don’t do it the way I tell them’.

Make sure that anyone going into a sales management role is profiled using a competency framework and psychometrics (ideally both) to ensure the individual’s skills, behaviours and cognitive ability match what is needed for a sales management role.

2. Balance Sales and Coaching Responsibilities

I recently worked with a sales leader who insisted on being deeply involved with every major sales opportunity. Wonderful commitment but coaching and developing sales people so they were ready to handle the ‘next opportunity’ was not on the agenda. The truth was that the individual liked doing the work and believed he was the only person who could get the job done. He certainly got the job done, but was shocked when he discovered that his people were demotivated by his behaviour and felt that he did not trust them

Good sales managers recognise that they have a responsibility to support their people, especially in large or complex cases, but also understand that support must be part of the coaching process.

Make sure the balance is there.

4. Personal Development

Leading a team of people is tough, the sales manager is responsible for the performance of the team and the careers of the people.

Sales management skills don’t just happen. Invest in the person and make sure the sales manager has the training and coaching to grow into the role, it fosters confidence, self-belief and most importantly performance.

This is not the complete solution to making a sales manager but get these four steps right and you have a really solid foundation!

Brett Lyons

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