How To Set Yourself Up For Success When You Are A New Sales Manager
Congratulations! You have just been promoted from salesperson to sales manager, now what?
For many sales organizations, promoting from the field to fill vacant sales manager roles is the standard operating procedure, and it’s easy to see why. Promoting a sales star into a management role is a quick way to fill a vacant position. Moreover, according to research by the Institute for Corporate Productivity, organizations with higher percentages of internally promoted managers have lower turnover rates, higher levels of employee engagement, and greater overall business performance.
But there’s one problem - the newly promoted manager doesn’t have any experience managing a team of salespeople. Compounding this problem is that while many sales organizations have sales training programs to onboard newly hired salespeople, few have sales management training programs to train their frontline sales managers.
As a new sales manager, there is a seemingly endless list of important activities you need to do: meet your team, key stakeholders, and customers. Also, assess the current sales strategy, lead generation methods, account management, customer retention plans, etc.
Navigating these areas will take time and may end up adding more to your to-do list. To hit the ground running, here are three steps you should take in your first 30 days to set yourself up for success.
Step #1: Clean Up the Sales Pipeline
Frontline sales managers are ultimately responsible for their team hitting sales targets. So, the first thing you should do as a new sales manager (after meeting your team and other key stakeholders) is to take a deep dive into the sales pipeline of every member of your sales team. Your objective is to establish whether or not your team is on track to meet its number.
As a new sales manager, you rely on the sales pipeline to develop accurate forecasts. It’s imperative that you maintain proper pipeline “hygiene” as a sales manager. This means periodically meeting with each team member to review their sales opportunities and eliminating stalled or dormant opportunities as part of this process.
Before conducting pipeline reviews, establish clear criteria. First, identify customer-centric exit standards for each stage in your pipeline. The customer must take these actions before you advance an opportunity to the next stage. For example, sending a customer a proposal is not enough for an opportunity to exit the “proposal” stage of a pipeline because it’s based on the salesperson’s action. Instead, the customer’s action of reviewing the proposal and providing feedback is a much better criterion to use for advancing the opportunity to the next stage as it indicates customer engagement in the sales process.
Next, you should assign reasonable timeframes and probabilities to each pipeline stage using sales data and metrics. If the average sales opportunity spends 45 days in the proposal stage, for example, a salesperson needs to have a very compelling reason to keep actively pursuing an opportunity that’s been in the proposal stage for 100 days.
Now you’re ready to meet with each team member to review their individual sales pipelines and conduct your pipeline reviews. A clean sales pipeline is foundational to managing your sales team effectively. It will help diagnose problems.
If your pipeline doesn’t have enough sales opportunities to support your sales goal, your team may have a prospecting problem. If opportunities are stalling in the pipeline, they may have an opportunity qualification issue or need to develop their selling skills better.
Step #2: Implement a Performance Management System
Working with a clean sales pipeline, you can now assess whether each team member is on track or off-track to meet their sales targets. This leads to the next step: managing your sales team's performance, which is a sales manager's key function.
Performance management means focusing on behaviors that drive sales results instead of just results. While monitoring results is helpful, it’s important to note that this is rear-view-looking information (i.e., they’ve already happened). Day to day, you need to focus on the underlying behaviors that drive results. For example, think of a result you want to achieve, such as growing business in enterprise accounts. Then identify critical behaviors that produce that result, such as:
- Creating account plans that map the decision-makers and influencers in enterprise accounts
- The number of meetings with senior decision-makers in those accounts
- The depth and breadth of relationship building.
Other important results that each have numerous underlying behaviors include prospecting, account growth, new business, and so forth.
Prioritize the number of results and related behaviors you want to monitor. Otherwise, you could soon be managing an extremely high number of behaviors. Once you’ve identified the most important results and the corresponding behaviors, you can then implement a performance management system by:
- Communicate performance expectations, including the desired results and the behaviors necessary to achieve those results.
- Monitor and manage the identified behaviors.
- Also monitor results.
- Provide ongoing feedback.
In our example of growing business in enterprise accounts, you can now communicate to a salesperson the amount of new business you would like them to achieve, the specific behaviors that will lead to those results, and a timeframe for completion. Of course, you will also need to provide ongoing feedback, encouragement, and coaching (see below).
Step #3: Create a Sales Coaching Culture
Ongoing sales coaching is foundational to being a successful sales manager. Coaching is the time you spend 1:1 with your team members developing skills, knowledge, or the use of strategies that will improve sales results. As a sales manager of a B2B sales team, you should commit to spending 25% - 40% of your time coaching your team. Typically, this coaching time will happen during field visits and ride-alongs with each team member. The payoff is better sales results. Industry research shows that sales coaching can help increase revenues by 20% or more.
Being an exceptional sales coach means creating a coaching culture with your sales team. Here are several common attributes of a great coaching culture:
- Your team should view coaching as a positive, not remedial. Everyone on your team should receive ongoing coaching, including high performers and underachievers.
- Demonstrate a commitment to your salespeople’s success. Your salespeople should feel that you sincerely want them to do better.
- Assume that each member of your team wants to learn and improve. They have the best intentions and are not lazy.
- Start each coaching session by asking questions. Don’t tell.
- Be a great listener.
- Be positive and candid.
- Focuses on behaviors, not judgments.
From day one of your new role as a sales manager, you should set the expectation with your team that you will provide them with ongoing coaching to help improve their skills and sales results.
Set Your Course for Sales Leadership Success
Managing a sales team is an incredibly challenging job. In many cases, sales managers start managing with no training or playbook. Whatever situation you find yourself in as a new sales manager, focus your early attention on cleaning up the sales pipeline, implementing a performance management system, and creating a positive sales coaching culture. By taking these steps, you will quickly establish yourself in your new role, gain the trust of your team, and set the course for achieving sales success.
About David Jacoby
As a Managing Director at Sales Readiness Group, A Part of SBI, 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.