Being a sales manager, or, let me be more precise here — a good sales manager — inevitably comes hand in hand with being a coach. I’ve talked about the importance of coaching in my previous post, and I’d like to talk about it some more, simply because I consider it to be one of the most important roles you’re taking on when you’re becoming a sales manager.
A sales manager’s reputation doesn’t depend on what he thinks of his skills. It depends on the opinions of the people he manages. In the majority of cases you don’t become a manager instantly. You have to work your way up to the top, and on your way you get to work under a number of other sales managers. A good start is to ask yourself this one basic question: which one of them was the best, and why?
I bet that one of the first answers that pop up in your mind will be “because he was a great motivator and inspirer”. It takes some work to achieve having that kind of an effect on people, but today I’ll focus on some basics that I consider to be the right places to start.
1. Don’t Teach, Guide
It is essential to know the difference. People that you manage have been hired because they already have the required skills, so don’t make the mistake of trying to teach them what they already know. Instead, try focusing on everyone’s strongest traits and try leading them towards putting those to effective use. Help your employees find out what they’re good at. Show them what to concentrate on, how to make the most of their skills, and the results will show soon enough.
Teaching and/or mentoring may be required in other specific cases, for example when the team is dealing with a whole new problem and lacks the right tools, or when a look from a more experienced angle is needed, but this should be far less frequent than providing guidance.
2. Don’t Give Orders, Ask Questions
Specific and well-aimed questions are the perfect tools for shaping a perfect salesman. Sit down with each one of your employees and find the time to go through their sales. Lead them towards independent thinking by asking the right questions and waiting for them to come up with effective answers. Don’t answer for them, even if they don’t give the exact answer you’re expecting. Instead, try asking more to get them on the right track. You’ll achieve great results by putting people out of their comfort zones and helping them grab the bull by the horns. This is an excellent way of training ready and efficient salesmen.
3. Repetition Is the Path to Mastery
This elementary school fact can be applied in all disciplines, from sports to education to sales. Especially sales, since at its core it’s quite a repetitive set of actions, but with different approaches and results. Your job as a good sales manager and a good coach will be to implement these actions into your daily schedule and to effectively be out there with the people. An enthusiastic and motivational hands-on approach is the best thing you can do for the positive development of your sales reps in the long run.
Naturally, there is no universal way of being the best sales manager. Each team has its specific needs and should be approached differently. It’s also up to you as a manager to assess and determine what your team needs at any given moment, and concentrate on that.
My last point would be a tip that I’ve learned from my own years of experience as a manager. Being a leader implies a position of authority and a certain power over the people and the business. Whereas being a coach does not necessarily implement such a hierarchy, and very often it’s much more effective when not being presented from above, but rather from a peer perspective. This fragile setting is very hard to achieve, because you always are a manager, no matter what you’re doing. But you don’t always necessarily need to be perceived as such. Achieving a balanced relationship with your employees in this respect should be the ultimate goal of every sales manager. Being a dictator doesn’t work in the long run.