A Winning Playbook for Sales Managers
In the sports world, coaches and managers are evaluated on one metric: winning.
In the corporate world, victories are just as important. For sales managers, it’s about winning deals and hitting quotas — and their success rate is scrutinized by executives at the highest levels of the organization.
Whether someone is managing a team on the field, in the office or across a series of virtual meetings, a winning record is fairly easy to measure. Sales managers are paid to develop teams that perform at a high level, bringing in the money that keeps the company in business. With the visibility involved, it’s easy for people to identify if there are holes in the lineup or players who are underperforming their potential. And neither a company nor a sports team keeps managers that are unable to get their teams to deliver.
This makes it especially important that sales managers have the tools and sales training that improve the odds for success. Their performance hinges on knowing effective management skills, having the right people on their team, and putting in place processes to succeed. I’ve identified a few areas of coaching that can help elevate sales managers and enable them to reach their potential.
Start With The Management Skills
Most baseball fans know that Ted Williams was one of the greatest hitters of all time. But did you know that as a manager, in four years he won just 43% of his games? It’s the classic case of someone who is super talented at one thing, but not able to transfer their skills to another part of the franchise. This lesson has been observed with many superstar players in other sports. Think Wayne Gretzky in hockey, Michael Jordan in basketball or Diego Maradona in soccer (futbol). They were all exceptional individual players but failed to make the leap to become great coaches.
Why does this happen?
Because the skills required for their move into management are different from the ones that made them successful in the field. Now their role includes motivating and inspiring their team, focusing on the big picture, and getting work done through others.
Just as sales reps can be trained to develop their consultative selling skills with clients, sales managers can be trained to build these skills to lead high-performing sales teams.
Some specific skills a sales manager needs to master include the following:
- Recruiting the right people for the team.
- Setting expectations and managing sales performance.
- Coaching reps to improve selling skills and win deals.
- Leading and motivating team members.
Recruiting The Right People
Succeeding as a sales manager requires having high-performers in the right positions. Strong sales managers know how to hire well, and that includes having a clear picture of the competencies and behaviors they desire in their team. To get there, they must develop the skills so they can ask the right behavior-based interviewing questions and determine if a candidate fits the profile they are looking to add.
Most professional coaches spend significantly more time off the field recruiting and building the team than they do actually coaching the team in games. Sales managers need to prioritize recruiting and hiring for the future, even if they don’t currently have an open position.
A great sports coach sets clear expectations in practice and games. These coaches and managers understand and communicate what each player is expected to do to optimize their own and their team’s success. If there are gaps in performance, the coach pulls the individual aside and addresses the gap between expectations and results. As a manager, understanding the cause of the gap is critical to helping the player improve. You must be able to differentiate whether you are dealing with a skill gap, motivation issue or something else.
Coaching For Performance
Once your team is hired, it’s crucial to prioritize coaching everyone to a higher level and getting them to perform at their best. That means investing coaching time upfront, rather than waiting for when you see someone underperforming at a key juncture. A great coach is able to see each individual’s strengths and development areas and develop a plan to build that player into a potential superstar.
Leading And Motivating
Developing and communicating a clear vision for the team is critical to getting everyone working toward a common goal. It’s more than just winning the game, or winning a deal; the vision needs to represent where the team is heading and why it all matters.
Understanding the individual motivations of each player is also a key attribute of a great manager. Salespeople can be motivated by many things other than just their commission check, and considering these factors (such as being recognized for good work, having a purpose, being part of a team, etc.) is key. Individuals will lean in and work harder if they know there is a clear reason to do so and their manager is speaking to their internal motivators.
Like a sports coach who has great leadership, outstanding players, and the right plays on game day, a sales manager who has these elements in place will put the team in the best possible position to win.
About Ray Makela
Ray Makela is CEO and Managing Director at Sales Readiness Group (SRG). He oversees all client engagements as well as serves as a senior facilitator on sales management, coaching, negotiation and sales training workshops. Ray has over 20 years of management, consulting, and sales experience and writes frequently on best practices for coaching and developing sales teams.