Notes from the Front Line: Sales Manager Excellence

When you’re part of an organization whose sales team is spread out over a large territory, it’s easy to lose touch with what’s happening on the front lines, where staff work directly with prospects and customers.

Your sales managers are your leaders of people on these front lines.

Since my coaching and sales training includes a lot of work in this area, let me share with you my notes from the front lines about how to spot greatness in your sales managers.

They are metrics driven

Great sales managers manage their people and run their operation based on facts, not assumptions. They don’t treat metrics as a nuisance. They’re data junkies. Why? Because collecting data and understanding information is how you gain knowledge. Without this, it’s impossible to achieve goals or to be able to product accurate forecasts. Measure everything that’s meaningful. Remember: metrics aren’t just something we conduct for the benefit of others: it directly helps each of us do our jobs well. 

They are exceptional coaches

In sales, management means coaching. That’s the #1 job function of your best sales managers. The best coaching involves having consistent one-on-one meetings with individual sellers every few weeks. They use the data that’s been collected to better define goals and opportunities. They also participate in ride-alongs within their sales territory to see for themselves what’s working and what’s not, and to share with the rest of the team what they’ve learned.

They are change agents

The best sales managers are fearless about change. They’re willing to experiment. “What should we be doing differently to get the results we are looking for?” That’s the question they’re most prone to ask. To answer that, they’ll look at revising compensation plans, replacing or reallocating staff, reorganizing territories and rebuilding offers to the market.  No change is of the table for discussion. What they won’t do is accept the status quo as a solution to a problem.

They are both curious and skeptical

These aren’t contradictory qualities. Great sales managers on the front lines ask a lot of questions, but they also don’t automatically accept the first answer they get. They go digging and question assumptions. They’ll challenge their sellers to separate fact from fiction: “Give me an example…Tell me more about what you’re talking about…what proof is there to back that claim?”  Remember, being skeptical means trust and verify: as opposed to being paranoid, which means mistrust and deny.

They are team players

Being a top seller is the salesperson’s job. The sales manager’s role is to teach and refine the skills of their sales staff to help them get there and stay there. They have a team-focused mindset: checking their ego at the door so they can give their best to others. Your best sales managers succeed when their top salespeople are outperforming what they once achieved as sellers themselves. They take those wins and learn how to use those top sellers to the team’s advantage. 

They teach the fundamentals and curate excellence

Note the distinction. If all a sales manager does is try and teach excellence based solely on their own experiences in the field, their coaching will fall short. The best ones teach the fundamentals about sales: time honored principles that work. And then they showcase the very best examples of what they see others doing in the field today. Curating winning habits of others is a much longer undertaking, it offers more variety and it’s timelier.

To conclude: your sales managers are responsible for executing strategy and getting those who report to them to perform at peak potential. So it’s important to be able to spot the attributes and behaviors shared by the very best in that role. Keep an eye out for each of these six attributes when staffing sales manager positions in your organization.