This secret to managing sales teams is not what you think

Managing sales teams is very different than being a salesperson. And yet, high-performing sellers are often promoted to management roles with little or no leadership training.

This creates a problem: Because they’ve never been trained on teaching people how to sell, many sales managers end up just selling. According to a study of global B2B sales forces, the middle 50 percent of sales managers performed at 99 percent of their target. But that same group of managers only had 48 percent of their reps achieving quota.

This shows that a lot of sales managers reach quota not because the entire team is performing well, but because sales managers are relying on a few strong performers or filling in the gaps with their own sales.

This approach has a few flaws:

  1. If only a few of your sales reps are contributing to quota, then you’re not getting ROI from the rest of your sales team.
  2. Because the rest of your team isn’t experiencing personal success at your organization, they probably won’t stay long.
  3. Your top-performers won’t stay long, either, after carrying the weight of the entire sales team on their shoulders.

Given how expensive high turnover rates can be, this is not a sustainable strategy for managing sales teams. The case for better sales management training is clear: Research from Vantage Point Performance and the Sales Management Association shows that companies who allocate more than 50 percent of their overall sales training budget toward management training outperform their goals by 15 percent.

The secret to managing sales teams is understanding people

More sales managers need training on leading, coaching and motivating reps. And that starts with learning how to understand individuals. Not taking the time to listen and manage reps in a personalized way is a big problem in modern sales management, according to Keller Williams Black Diamond Realty CEO Jill Sinclair.

“When you don’t understand your people and where they’re coming from, you don’t know if people are getting burnt out and if they don’t feel supported, you’re not going to retain them,” she told us. “[As sales leaders] we’re here to help. And shame on us if we’re not helping people at every level.”

Jill said that having regular one-on-one meetings between sales managers and reps can solve this. Teach your sales managers how to run effective one-on-ones, as well as how to communicate with and support different types of reps. Simply training managers on how to demonstrate that they care for their salespeople can be an enormous step forward.

In addition, help managers understand how to succeed with their team members, as well as how to be honest and provide constructive feedback. Jill explained that all of this helps managers determine how they can work best with each rep to achieve quota.

“A lot of times, management is top-heavy. But this is more inclusive to say, ‘Let me help you build this. I need to understand you more,’” she said.  

The secret to managing sales teams is being a resource

Once your sales managers break through the barriers to understanding their team, they become much more approachable. And this is critical for the next leadership skill that managing sales team requires: Removing obstacles for reps.

“Every day of the week, I am your resource. Whatever you need, I will get that for you,” Jill said of her own approach to leading a team of sellers.

Teach sales managers how to identify and remedy issues for salespeople. Whether that means consistently asking reps what they’re struggling with in weekly one-on-ones or using activity data to learn why reps are falling behind on their metrics (or both), make sure that they understand how critical this is to retaining sales talent. If reps don’t feel like managers are assisting them in being successful, they will be less likely to stay with the company  long-term.

The secret to managing sales teams is letting go of your ego

Once your sales managers understand that every rep is different, they can change or tweak their leadership style to fit that of each individual.

“Everyone might have the same goal, but just get there differently. Take the ego out of it. It’s not about me. It’s about being a resource and have empathy,” Jill explained.

Help sales managers become passionate about connecting with people. When leaders bond with their reps, they get a clearer picture of what’s happening outside of work that might be affecting performance. This isn’t about forcing people to divulge intimate details of their life. This exercise creates trust between manager and contributor, which ultimately makes them both stronger parts of the team.

The secret for managing sales teams is to simply connect with the individuals on the team. That’s how your sales managers learn what they need to do to make each person on their team – and the team as a whole – wildly successful.

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