Future of Sales: Rethinking the Sales Manager

This is the fifth of a six article series on the future of sales that I wrote for the Adobe Document Cloud Blog. You can check it out there along with content from other great authors

In this six-part series looking at the future of work in sales, I’ve talked about the growing role of teams and communities, why insider sales skills matter and how compensation needs a fresh approach. In this fifth piece, we rethink what it means to manage people.

Manage people vs. managing problems

In sales, managing used to be an 80/20 formula. Managers paid little or no attention to the 20% of a team getting 80% of the results. Instead, they focused on who wasn’t in that winners’ circle: managing problems rather than people.

Today, it’s the reverse. The focus is on 100% of the team getting 100% of the results.

Not only is this a smarter way of working, it’s also expected by today’s workforce. Newer generations of younger workers refuse to be treated as part of an 80% that needs managing. They want to contribute now. If they don’t feel they are being successful, they will leave and find meaningful work elsewhere. This means that sales managers must now provide coaching and mentoring to help them make an immediate and lasting difference in the entire team’s work.

According to a report from the Conference Executive Board, a shipping giant now pay their sales managers based on how many people on their team hit their individual sales targets, rather than on the total value of sales made. That means everyone—from seasoned performers to the most junior members—receives attention and resources to meet their goals.

Tomorrow’s manager isn’t just an enhanced seller with spending and staffing authority. They don’t sit-in on sales calls to manage deals. Tomorrow’s sales managers don’t brag about saving the day and landing a deal. They brag about developing people. The primary role of today’s manager is to be a coach, giving sales pros the resources they need to encourage greater performance and facilitate more success than the manager could achieve on their own. Let’s look at what this entails.

Educating managers as an investment
The best-managed companies invest in education for their sales managers, including coaching and mentoring. Others do not. Among my clients today, I have managers who work for a Fortune 500 company who can’t get permission for time-off to attend sales management courses, even when paying for the courses themselves. They have to use up their vacation time instead. Crazy!

On the other hand, I have a client in the natural resource sector whose Sales VP was sent on a one-week intensive leadership program that included coaching skills, financial acumen, how to hire and fire, mindset and attitude workshops, and a 360-degree review of personal management style.

You can guess which one of these two companies is thriving with record-breaking sales growth.

Managers learn from their best in-house
Best-managed companies know that solutions to sales problems are found first within the organization itself. Nobody knows your clients better, or how to sell to them more, than your top salespeople. Smart managers look for best practices from these top performers. Again, they look at 100% of the team to achieve 100% of their results.

Managers apply that knowledge
Alan Weiss and I agree when he says, “It doesn’t matter that you know that you are good. It matters that you know why you are good.” You need to clearly understand and document the best practices of your top sellers and share that knowledge with everyone on the team by developing in-house mentorship programs to be leveraged for all sellers. This is the opposite of micromanaging people. Rather, value people both as teachers and as students, not as problems that have to be solved.

Repetition and regularity
Top managers understand that coaching their sales pros works best when it’s done in small, regular doses rather than in a single, long session. I recommend working with each sales rep, coaching them twice monthly, each in 30-minute segments. In the first session each month, look at the top-end of the pipeline, closely examining early stage opportunities and lead generation. During the next session, look at the bottom end for those deals that are being negotiated and closed. Your sellers will appreciate it when you respect their time this way: they have a sense of urgency to how they work, and appreciate clear and quick wins guided by your coaching. Short sessions and segmenting conversation leverages their work style.

The future of sales
All five of the fundamental traits covered in this series on the future of sales have two important things in common:

First, they are already practiced in the marketplace today by top performing companies. It’s up to you to learn from their example. Second, they each involve an overdue rethinking of how selling is supposed to work, based on a world where disruption, extreme speed and greater opportunities are the norm.

By recognizing the changing role of teams, communities, skills, compensation and management, you too can prepare your company for that shift into better growth, deeper profits and greater loyalty among your people.