4 Unique Challenges Facing Sales Managers
Now that you’ve hired a new sales manager for your team (or you’ve been hired as a sales manager), you can relax and take it easy. Right? Wrong.
Research suggests that the average sales leader’s tenure is less than two years, much shorter than the average tenures of most other management positions.
So, what makes managing a sales team so difficult?
Here are four challenges that sales managers face—and resources to help you overcome them.
Challenge #1: Revenue is a Company’s Most Visible Metric
Few metrics in a company are as visible or as important as the revenue number.
A sales manager doesn’t have the luxury of managing to a fuzzy metric or one they can explain away with qualitative excuses. Sales results are life or death, especially for public companies where billions of dollars of shareholder value can ride on a quarterly earnings announcement. Miss your number once, and you may have a problem; miss it twice, and you could be out of a job.
Your employer expects you to hit your sales number as a sales manager—no excuses. That means you need to adopt a no excuses management style that emphasizes transparency and accountability.
Challenge #2: Coaching is Time Consuming
Coaching your sales team helps drive better performance.
According to industry research, sales managers who devote more than three hours of coaching per month to each team member achieved 107% of their team quota. On the other hand, teams that received no coaching met only 82% of their quota.
Unfortunately, sales coaching, while necessary is very time-consuming. Research suggests that B2B sales managers should spend 25%- 40% of their time coaching their team—on top of their other responsibilities.
While there are many ways to coach a sales rep, the most effective sales coaching generally involves observing your sales reps on sales calls and giving coaching feedback. This type of coaching is unique to the sales function, where most of the critical part of the job occurs during meetings with customers.
Challenge #3: Sales Managers Need to Manage Specific Behaviors
Successful sales managers need to manage results (“How much did you sell?") together with underlying behaviors (“What did you do?”) that produce those results.
The challenge is that there are many behaviors to manage: prospecting activities, meetings conducted, talk time, the number of new opportunities added to the pipeline, etc.
Since a typical sales manager manages a team of 8-10 reps, they have the daunting task of managing hundreds of behaviors spread across their team. An excellent first step is to limit the number of behaviors you manage to those few that move the sales dial.
To dive deeper into managing performance, read:
- Most Important Sales Metrics You Should Track Every Month
- Managing Sales Behaviors to Improve Sales Performance
Challenge #4: Hard to Hire Great Reps
In today’s competitive hiring market, it’s tough to hire for any role, but hiring great sales reps poses unique challenges for a manager.
According to Frank Cespedes, Senior Lecturer at Harvard Business School, sales is the most context-specific activity in the value chain. For example, selling software is different from selling medical devices, selling to SMB customers is different from selling to the Enterprise, and selling in the US is different from selling in Europe. So, a rep’s previous sales experience may not be a good predictor of future success in a different sales environment.
Disciplines such as accounting, finance, and marketing, on the other hand, are much more similar across companies and industries.
Research also supports a common hiring challenge experienced by most sales managers: the low correlation between a good interview and future sales results. However, candidates often perform better at selling themselves during the interview than later in the field once they get hired. Here is a good primer that will help you hire sales stars and build a world-class sales team.
These four challenges are not insurmountable.
An excellent first step is to acknowledge that your role as a sales manager is fundamentally different from any other management position and then understand why it’s different. You should also consider a comprehensive training program designed specifically for sales managers.
About David Jacoby
As a Managing Director at Sales Readiness Group, David helps large B2B sales organizations improve sales performance. Previously, David was a Principal at Linear Partners, a sales consulting firm providing sales strategy, sales operations, talent management, and interim management services to emerging growth companies. In the past, David has served as Vice President of Business Affairs of Xylo, Inc., where he was responsible for the Company's business development, sales operations, legal affairs, and financing activities.