The five essential qualities of a great sales manager
Top sales managers are a rare breed. You don’t come across them very often. And when you do find one, you need to hold onto them. They can make all the difference to your bottom line. You can fail at many things in business, but you can’t afford to fail at revenue.
Getting resource allocation right can be tricky. Our clients ask us when they should hire a sales manager. Research shows that once you have three sales reps, the fourth person you hire should be a sales manager. That additional resource allocation will get more out of the three reps than if you hired a fourth salesperson who was unmanaged.
And how many people can an excellent sales leader manage? Again, this resource allocation varies, but from experience, I’d say between five and eight. Go past this, and it’s challenging to fit in enough one-to-ones and coaching.
A great sales manager should spend most of their time coaching. Tracking data and mentoring their team to improve every day, week, quarter or year. So what are the five essential qualities of a great sales manager?
1. Ability to coach and mentor the sales team
A natural ability to coach and mentor is fundamental to successful sales management. A great sales manager will get joy from these elements of their role.
There’s a subtle difference between coaching and mentoring, but both are important. With coaching, you can take a person-centred approach and ask questions designed to help the salesperson uncover their challenges and work out solutions. But top sales managers who mentor will know how to do the job better than the sales rep. In our view, to be an excellent sales leader requires both skills.
Don’t fall into the trap of automatically promoting your best salesperson to sales manager. This is a common flaw in organisational design and resource allocation. People innately good at something often have no sense of why they’re good at it. So they can’t train or tell others to be like them. Once they become a manager and are promoted away from that area of expertise, they face new challenges. And if there’s no framework to guide them, they can get easily frustrated.
However, a great sales manager can unpick what needs to be done if they have a natural mentoring ability. They know what works and what doesn’t work, not just theoretically, but through practical experience. Whether it’s difficulties with cold-calling, finding it hard to use silence, closing deals or asking the right questions, they will know how to coach through these obstacles.
2. Great execution skills
Whilst strategic skills are less critical in excellent sales leaders, they need the ability to execute. There are forecasting and market trends that sales managers should be all over. These will help them ensure they’re allocating resources successfully and understand where they should pull specific levers in the sales cycle.
Organisations such as McKinsey, CB Insights, Megabuyte, or Tech Market Data write daily reports. Great Sales Managers will read these and examine how the data relates to their team. What might they do differently as a result? For example, how many contacts are needed to close a sale? Pre-covid, it was around eight. And now? Eleven. So are the team contacting prospects enough times to get them over the line?
The sales velocity equation can be a helpful tool here (so beneficial that we’ve devoted an entire blog to it in the past). The data will allow a top sales leader to benchmark against other teams, compare the effectiveness of individual reps and regions and see how changes to the sales process impact business, for better or worse. It helps them forecast more accurately and determine how the sales process can be optimised for faster sales and higher conversion rates.
3. Analytical skills and a good understanding of data-driven resource allocation
I was with a client recently, and we mapped out their sales territories. They’re launching a new product in the UK and started with one sales rep to scope the success. If successful, they’re aiming for eight reps and a Sales Manager.
We researched their ICP (Ideal Customer Profile) and decided on the future resource allocation spread across the UK. None in Northern Ireland or Scotland, so we discounted the ICPs in these geographical areas. We focused on the sales territories in England and Wales, working out what they’d look like. The aim was to have a model that they could show to prospective sales reps and a future manager. This kind of detailed analysis is necessary for successful sales management.
A great Sales Manager will know which reps are best at closing or achieving the highest average revenue per customer. They’ll ensure their reps get the same volume of opportunities and all are of the same quality. As well as knowing the pipeline build, they’ll analyse the speed at which reps are doing pipeline conversion.
4. Ability to maintain high standards and levels of accountability in the sales team
Top sales leaders are good at ensuring accountability in their teams. They’re familiar with useful leading indicators in sales that they can track. Things like the number of opportunities, emails, LinkedIn messages, etc., can be tracked individually or allocated with points. Then they can task each sales rep with generating a certain level of points daily.
When they’ve put this system in place, it should be clear which reps have hit their activity levels and which haven’t. And the Sales Manager can reverse engineer these from lagging indicators such as sales order intake for a month. To keep their team on track, they can sit down with each sales rep and say, ‘OK, based on current data, what do you need to do to hit these numbers monthly?’
If reps continue to miss their activity targets, we suggest they’re put on a PIP (Personal Improvement Plan). Sales Managers need to get in early with PIPs. If sales reps aren’t hitting their activity targets in the first three months of being hired, a great Sales Manager will think clearly about whether to return to the market and find someone else.
5. A continuous improvement mindset
Who knows everything in life? Nobody. Sales Managers are no different. Successful sales management is reliant on a continuous improvement mindset. They need to keep learning and growing.
There are some fantastic business and sales books out there. Recent ones include ‘The Jolt Effect’ by Matthew Dixon and Ted McKenna. The authors have used machine learning, looking at millions of hours of sales calls and overlaid this with performance data. It’s a quest to find out what stops deals from getting done. It turns out that fear of failure is a primary reason. The person making the decision is afraid it could be the wrong one. What an insight! So instead of focusing on your product’s features/benefits and ROI, your sales playbook needs to address ways to help the customer overcome their fears. This is the kind of knowledge that will distinguish an excellent sales leader.
Reading articles on the latest sales thinking, attending webinars, and reading books are all fundamental to this mindset of continuous improvement. A top Sales Manager will constantly think of new and exciting things to do with their team.
In conclusion, great sales managers are the ones who win the respect of their sales team. And they do this through coaching, mentoring and developing their people. They’re experts in spotting potential or ability in recruits, and then they clarify there’s a framework in place. Every team member knows the activity they need to do daily/weekly/monthly, and quarterly to hit the quota. And they teach their team new techniques. Our most successful job ads for salespeople have been the ones that asked, ‘You’re great at sales, but when did you last learn something new from your manager?’ A top sales leader will tap into this.
- NAVIGATING AND COMMUNICATING CHANGE
- BUILDING COMPANY CULTURE
- CHOOSING THE RIGHT OPPORTUNITIES
- ORGANISING YOUR A-TEAM