How to Raise the Performance of Your Sales Managers

By Kevin F. Davis

First, a disclaimer: I was a sales manager myself for many years, and think it is one of the most critical jobs in any company. It is also one of the most demanding. And having consulted with sales managers, VPs, and directors for the past two decades, I know the job pressures have only gotten worse.

So I can imagine the gasps from sales managers when I say that companies can get even more out of them. The idea is unimaginable to people who routinely get hundreds of emails, texts, and calls every day – to people who are already working long hours, who barely have a minute to themselves on many days.

And still I say it: Companies can get better results from their sales managers.

How? By imposing the same kind of discipline around managing and leading that they do around selling. This is the philosophy behind my new book, The Sales Manager’s Guide to Greatness.

Think of it this way: I don’t know of a single successful sales organization where sales reps are allowed to sell any way they want. Every good company has some kind of common, consistent sales process to grow sales.

But very few companies have embraced the concept that a consistent sales management methodology is equally important for business success. By that I mean having proven, documented approaches that sales managers are expected to follow for everything from managing priorities, coaching, and handling rep performance problems, to hiring, forecasting, and driving a customer focus. This includes strategic allocation of coaching time and doing monthly or quarterly reviews that contribute to ongoing rep development as well as better results. All of this accompanied by job aids and tools that help them ensure they are using best practices.

The benefits of embracing this approach are manyfold. Here are just three examples.

1) Better accountability: You can’t let employees do whatever they want – then try to hold them accountable after the fact.

When a company wants to hold employees accountable for something, it clearly defines what they are going to be accountable for; effectively communicates those expectations; provides the methods, training support, and tools employees need to stand a reasonable chance of meeting the expectations; and reviews performance against the standards.

Why not use this same mentality for sales managers as for everyone else?

2) Creating a self-correcting framework: A key principle in modern manufacturing is to alert workers to a mistake immediately so the error doesn’t get passed on to the next step in the process. Most sales management teams don’t have anything like that. The only indicators managers have that maybe they did something poorly or wrong is seeing bad sales figures months after the fact.

The same tactic you use to create better accountability also helps managers become self-correcting. If, for example, they understand the “hows” and the “how oftens” around coaching – and the link to better outcomes – they’ll be better able to recognize when they’ve gone off track. Then they can figure out what they need to start doing, stop doing, or do differently to get back on track.

Without a self-correcting framework, sales managers are reliant on their boss recognizing the problem and then being redirected. And, along the way, time, sales personnel, and deals all get lost.

3) Faster ramp-up of new sales managers: What happens to newly promoted sales managers who aren’t taught about the management part of their job and don’t have a sales management process to follow? They keep selling!

In the absence of process, they follow their instincts, which typically lead them to be the “super-salesperson” running around helping close the biggest deals. (While this is not exactly wasted time, the sales team would do better overall if the manager let the best salespeople work with minimal guidance and spent more time helping the up-and-coming reps turn into competition for the team’s star players).

Organizations that have a standard sales management methodology in place can avoid that situation. By having standard methods, they very quickly create sales managers who understand that their biggest contribution to the organization now lies in leading and developing their team – and who know how to perform those methods effectively.

I don’t mean to imply that sales management can or should achieve the same level of rigor that manufacturing processes do. But having standards that are communicated to first-line sales managers is key – no matter whether they are newly-minted managers or old hands.

Experienced sales reps know when and how to deviate from the standard sales process they were taught. But all reps have the same starting point; they know they must master the essential selling skills and processes that increase the odds of getting a good result.

The same should be true for sales managers.  

Kevin F. Davis is the author of The Sales Manager’s Guide to Greatness: 10 Essential Strategies for Leading Your Team to the Top, which describes methods for everything from leading, coaching, and managing priorities, to hiring, forecasting, and driving rep accountability. For more information visit TopLine Leadership, Inc.