3 qualities of a great sales manager

The three things that makes great sales manager are ability to

  • Coach
  • Absorb pressure
  • Build a team

I got this insight when I ran into an old friend late last evening. He currently works for a sales organization and was completely stressed out. When i asked for the reason for his stress, he indicated that the sales pressure being exerted on him by his manager is actually freaking him out.

When I dug deep, he indicated that their organization follows the Jan – Dec sales cycle, which meant that they are in the last fortnight of the year and there is enormous pressure to close deals and achieve their sales quotas and he has not been able to achieve his quota.

He indicated that there were no deals in his pipeline that could be closed in the next fortnight. He indicated the same to his manager, yet, all the manager says is that, it is not acceptable and that he  needs to bring in a few more deals so that he comes closer to achieving his quota and his boss to achieve his stretch target.

Now, this had me thinking. What can the sales manager achieve by doing this. There can be only 3 results from this:

  1. My friend goes out to some of his prospects, provides additional discounts, persuades the prospect to buy. This is not a great thing for his organization. 
  2. He is unable to do any further closures, which will only add to his anxiety and pressure. I am sure that my friend would leave that organization at the first opportunity, which is also not a good outcome for the organization.

So, this made me think what could the sales manager have done differently. I could think of the following which could have made a positive difference to my friend achieving his quota and staying loyal to his manager and the organization:

  • Coach: Any sales manager’s first responsibility to his team is to be their coach. In all probability, he has already been there, done that and has been good at this, which led him to his current position. So, how can he use his experience to coach his team members (depending upon their individual needs). Every sales executive has some are of the sales process, where he could appreciate some coaching. So, a sales manager needs to identify the areas where individuals in his team need coaching and use every conversation, opportunity to coach. As in any team sport, a good coach can inspire any team to achieve success, previously thought impossible.
  • Absorb pressure: In any sales organization, there will always be pressure to achieve quota. Can a sales manager absorb some of the pressure when he knows that his team is giving their 100% and there are genuine reasons for not meeting quota or closing deals. Common practice is to put additional pressure on the team to achieve their quota rather than provide a cushion. A great sales manager needs to be able to gauge the situation and provide cushion or exert additional pressure accordingly. In any case, if the teams knows that their manager can and is willing to absorb pressure, they will go all out to avoid such a situation.
  • Team: A great sales manager builds a team and not some individuals who compete with each other. It has been very rare that a sales manager gives more emphasis to the team doing well together rather than pitting each member of the team against each other. With selling becoming more and more complex (simple sales models are disappearing and moving to the web), it is critical that you work as a team to succeed in this complex selling world, learn from each other and support one another.

These are my thoughts. I would like to know your thoughts on this topic. Do you agree or disagree? Are there any other qualities that make a sales manager great?

Do let me know by commenting on the post below or tweeting your response to me on twitter (@rmukeshgupta).

PS: I thought that the article in HBR , “To build a great sales team, you need a great manager” was very well written and bring forth the importance of having a great sales manager on your team.

8 Replies to “3 qualities of a great sales manager”

  1. Hi Mukesh,

    First, thank you for inviting me to your forum. I left Sales Best Practices because all they want to do there is throw opinions around and not really get down to talking about the “serious” dynamics of change.

    I like your approach here. There is some serious conversations and changes that have to be made in the sales world. To me, this isn’t just some small problem, it’s a very large problem that is currently getting worse, not better….

    You make a very strong argument about a manager’s role. I’d like to add to the very thoughtful comments you put, and keep my comments in line with your good work!

    “Coaching” – What exactly is a “coach”? I don’t think the average sales manager even has a clue what this means. He’d give you some schpeel about “helping the stumbling sales guy make numbers…blah, blah, blah”…. Then he’d say something about understanding his strengths and weaknesses and getting him in line with the company’s strategies and requirements..

    But you and I know, that’s not what a “coach” does. I’ll use your story line to share with you what a coach “really” does. When it came to the end of the year, there wouldn’t be any pressure. Because its the “coach’s” job to know when the pressure is coming, when there’s “more” demands, or when the team is falling behind and they need to step it up.. He’ll know when the “seasonal” times of the year are, when their production as a company doesn’t do well….. So “WAY” before these times actually arrive, he’ll be working with the sales person showing him how to put in extra effort to fill his pipeline, so that when this slowdown comes, the sales person has a great pipeline to work. The coach, will ensure that the sales person’s plans are rock solid. Not when they’re in a position of desperation, way before that…

    As you mentioned, the sales manager has already been there, done that.. He “KNOWS” these things are coming, what they look like, how they start, and how to avoid them.. So he’s working proactively with the team, so that when these bumps come, they’re already flying and don’t feel a thing!

    “Absorb pressure” – Actually I like to say he is the “conduit” between the company and the sales team. More than just absorbing the blow, his job is to not only hold the sales person accountable, but to hold the company accountable to its sales team… Let’s say the leasing vendor your company uses to offer its clients an alternative to purchasing, has “horrible” rates. And because the rates are bad, there is a massive decline in sales. Or let’s say that the manufacturer your represent just came out with their new models and unfortunately they’re horrible this year! – The sales manager’s job isn’t just to absorb the anger that management sends down because sales are low.. His job is to take “action” and work with management and the vendors/manufacturers and put them back in line or find new sources for revenue. I think the sales manager is the most “important” role in a company. Literally, the “life blood” of an organizations flows through his hands! Both upstream and downstream. Which technically makes him the “heart” of business…. He has to have a 360 degree span of what’s going on, how it should be playing out, and a road map that is way ahead of where the rest of the company is focusing. His job is to ensure that the sales people have the tools, strategies and resources to WIN!!

    “Team” – Another word that gets thrown around so much these days, but really carries very little value whatsoever… I’m “proud” to have served in the military, where they genuinely “proved” to you that the buddy next to you could be the guy who saves your life. And you have enough “trust” in him to believe that he has your back. You don’t even need to worry, because he’s got your “six” as we called it in the Army. How do you build “team” in your sales dept. Do you have a lot of Kumbaya sessions. Some huggy feely moments, and that’s how you develop team?? isn’t it absolutely amazing that “EVERYONE’ uses that word, yet less than 5% of the sales divisions actually have it!! If that doesn’t tell you something is wrong with our perception of “team” then I don’t know what does….

    “Team” means that we are individuals, with a safety net of numbers. If I can’t do it, then I got “joe” here who can. If I don’t know how to put together the strongest proposals, “Bob” does! If for some reason I just can’t seem to get this prospect to like me, that’s OK, because “Jill” is an incredibly likable professional with great talents.

    “Team” isn’t “organized”!! It is “INSTILLED” from a leader. It’s nurtured and developed, and it’s chipped away to perfection like a stone block turned into a fine statuesque. It’s sense of pride, sense of self as “self” meaning the team as a whole. It’s elimination of the “I” that is “me” and the gift that is “we”! It is the finite understanding, the ultimate sense of security through faith, that you can accomplish “anything” because somewhere, within your team, there is someone who has your back! Not just one or two people helping everyone, but a knowledge of each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and a deep desire to help your fellow sales person because the manager has shown how helping him, it helps the team. Both from a human element, and a monetary element.

    I know this is a book, but its my passion… To “GIVE” back to that which I’ve spent a large portion of my life learning…. Mukesh is definitely on the right path here…

    CHANGE!!! – In today’s sales world we have the wrong perception, and we must all raise our voices to help it change… “How” do I know that it needs help so badly?? Because it cries out for help, yet for some unknown reason, it cannot hear its own cries!! Answer the following question with pure honesty…. If I mention the word “child”, you think of this small, laughing and warm creature that makes you smile. If I say Athlete, you think of this hard working very dedicated to their sport, individual. But if I say “salesman” what image first pops in your head? …….. THAT’S why we must “change”… And that’s why the average sales person is “oblivious” the the dire need of change….

    1. Wow! Firstly, i am humbled by your passion for the topic!

      You have hit the nail right on its head on all aspects that I had touched in my post. You have elaborated these points better than my original post..

      I completely agree that CHANGE is in order! And NOW!

      We can go on a crusade and advocate and I intend to continue to do that..

      Hope we are able to bring in the change in time!

      Three cheers for us and people like us!

      1. Thank you my friend! I merely polished the stone that you carved.. 🙂 And I am grateful to be connected with someone who realizes that the power of selling is in the “people” not the “process”. I find it amazing that we can preach that it’s the relationship, yet only focus on the strict adherence to policies and trickery in sales techniques… 🙂

        I am a crusader for professional sales techniques, ethical practices, and most importantly value exchange that is done with positive intentions…

        Someday, there will be a new paradigm in sales technique, and it is the consumer who has the strongest voice.. 🙂 But you and I will be able to look back upon the changes and think we had a small role to play.. 🙂

        Many blessing my friend.. 🙂

        Chris

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