Winning Tips for New Sales Managers


I spent the first 21 years of my career in front-line sales. At 19, I became a sales representative for a book publisher, and over the years I worked for many sales managers — some good, some bad, a few downright weird. One was a larger-than-life Italian who held sales meetings in some of London’s finest Italian restaurants, one was an ex-WWII fighter pilot, another was a complete fool who got run over by one of his salesmen. And then there was the sales director who gave me some of the best advice I ever received.
Despite — or because — of all this, I worked my way up from trainee sales rep (i.e. dogsbody), to sales manager, sales director and finally, managing director. Along the way, I saw that sales management, good and bad, can make or break a sales force.
It’s Not Laying Down the Law
Recently, I read that today’s police officers do less law enforcement and more social work than ever before. I think the same is true of sales managers; this role has changed over the years, from wielding a carrot and stick, to coaching and mentoring. In today’s business environment sales managers need to understand people more and sales charts less. Although selling has always been about people, it used to be hire-fire, hire-fire — repeat until someone makes the grade.
Brian, one of my early managers, gave me a fistful of index cards containing client information, on my first day as part of his team. He pointed to his door and said, “North is 200 miles that way.” He, by the way, was the one who got run over by my predecessor!
Whether you are a sales manager, or a salesperson working toward this goal, I’d like to share some of what I’ve learned over the years, both as a salesperson and as a sales manager.
Don’t Try to Fix It Until You Know What’s Broken
The first rule for a new sales manager is this: have no plan. The “new broom sweeps clean” mentality doesn’t work with sales teams. Sales teams are delicate eco-systems and rarely will you find one so damaged it can’t be brought back to life. I know I’m in danger of mixing metaphors here, but my mother used to say, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.”
Meet with your entire sales team and let them know you are there to help, not to change everything. Remember, most people are afraid of change so take steps to alleviate their initial fears immediately. Tell them you’re there to work with them to improve their sales AND their potential income. Ask each of them to tell you a little about themselves and how they see the “current situation.” Do encourage them to tell you what they think might help improve sales, but let them interpret “the current situation” in any way they like. Let everyone have his or her say and then ask for a description of the current sales process. Encourage each of them to describe how they see it, and note whether you are dealing with one sales process, many, or an unstructured mess. This information will help you formulate and build a cohesive sales process using the best practices of each team member.
Soon after this exercise, set up one-on-one interviews with each member of your team. Again, your role in this exercise is to listen, not to expound upon your plans. In this private setting, ask them what they feel is working and what’s not with regard to selling the company’s products or services. What would help them make more sales?
These sessions will provide a clear idea of the current situation and the combined wisdom of your team to help create your vision, goals and objectives. Once you have a clear idea of the way forward, you‘ll be able to genuinely present your sales strategy based on their input.
Managing by Personality Traits
I’ve been a member of more than a dozen sales teams and I’ve learned that when it comes down to it, it’s all about behavioural styles and personalities, and not just of the individual team members.
Never try to create salespeople in your own image — everyone is unique. The best thing you can do as a new sales manager is to figure out early which social and behavioral traits Joe or Jenny display: analytical, driver, expressive or amiable. Treat them accordingly; for example:
Analytical > If you’re trying to motivate an analytical salesperson, talk about sales figures, targets and percentages. Keep to the numbers and facts and give them a deadline for improvement.
Driver > A driver, however, will respond to being shown comparable results, how they rank against others in their team or industry. They are competitive by nature and want to win and win quickly, so talk targets and rewards.
Expressive > Someone displaying expressive tendencies — those humorous, ambitious, competitive, centre-stage types — are likely to respond to a friendly, collegial approach. They like to be liked and they love applause, so congratulate them on a job well done whenever possible.
Amiable > The amiable salesperson in your group is a team player and has a strong desire to do well. You need to show a lot of support, help them develop a plan and be there to provide support. It’s not in their nature to stand out from the crowd, but rather help others succeed, even if it hinders their own success. Encourage their individuality.
Don’t let your own style dictate how you approach each individual. You will relate well to those close to your own style and consider the rest a little weird, but by understanding and relating to all styles, you will develop a stronger, more cohesive team. Remember, harmony comes from different voices coming together and complementing each other.
Diplomacy Goes a Long Way
So, what was the advice I got from my sales director? He said, “Mike, you have to know when to be brutally honest, when to keep your mouth shut and when to approach the issue in a more diplomatic way.” I travelled 200 miles to head office to hear this advice and for him to break the news that I’d not been promoted to sales manager. He saw it as an important mentorship moment and we discussed my “attitude” issue for quite some time. And yes, he was most diplomatic. A few years later, thanks to his great management skill, my move into management was highly successful.
Old Manager
•Over-manages and under-leads by relying too much on metrics and deadlines to drive performance.
•Hires and fires until the right candidate is chanced upon.
•Provides inconsistent and intermittent review opportunities.
•Waits too long to commend team on successes and to celebrate wins, and ignores the small successes.
New Manager
•Works alongside team and motivates and rewards them in a social format to inspire and bring out everyone’s best.
•Hires the best. Looks for individuals whose goals are aligned with the organizational goals.
•Follows regular standards and schedules, giving constant feedback.
•Uses celebration to create motivation and give everyone a little boost.