10 lessons for managing sales reps you only learn from experience

When I asked Dave Mattson to share the most significant lesson he learned from managing sales reps, his answer was not what I expected: the importance of setting clear expectations and tying them to personal goals.

“Matching personal goals to corporate goals allowed me to make sure that my people were successful,” Mattson explained. He’s the CEO of Sandler Training, a firm that has served tens of thousands of clients across the globe, so he’s got more than just a few years of experience on the subject.

Simply setting quotas was an exercise in frustration for Mattson and his team. The sales reps almost always thought that the numbers were too high and impossible to hit.

“But when we took the time to explore the team’s personal goals and tie in the actions it would take to reach them, then personal motivation would kick in,” Mattson said, adding that the sales team would take their job to the next level and have an easier time reaching corporate goals.

This insight was a great revelation for me. His advice was spot-on, but not something that you usually hear about in sales management training – which got me thinking: The sales leaders we talk to every day are probably full of wisdom that they only learned through actually leading a team. That’s why we asked sales leadership veterans for their top tips on managing sales reps.

10 leaders share their biggest lesson from managing sales reps

  1. “Never ask others to do what you have not done. Be transparent and honest at all times. If you want others to work hard, then you need to work harder to raise the bar. Be sure to have open communication and free-flowing dialogue with you team. If you don’t, they will always be looking for the next job.” – Heather Monahan, CRO, Beasley Media Group
  2. “The biggest lesson I could have learned is that the job is essentially a ‘never-ending coaching job.’ There is always something you can learn everyday from every call and every email.” – Jeremy Allen, Sr. Director of Business Development, Digital Success
  3. One-size-fits-all doesn’t work. Taking the same approach with someone who’s been in sales for 20 years and someone who’s brand new doesn’t work. They have different motivations. In early sales management, it’s tough to know that.” – Brett Chisholm, CEO, NeuraFlash
  4. “The salesperson really has to have a strong desire to win. I have found that you cannot coach that. You cannot teach that. That is something that someone is going to come into the job with or without. It’s difficult, but you have to poke around in the interview process to understand if that person has the desire to be successful.” – Jim Hayes, VP of Retail Sales, Tru Vue
  5. “One of the things I learned was to invert the sales board. You certainly need have a hierarchy in place within any organization but, ultimately, you work for your people.” – Dave Mattson, President and CEO, Sandler Training
  6. “Understand that everyone is different. They might have the same goal, but just get there differently. Take your ego out of it. It’s not about you. It’s about being a resource [for your team]. And have empathy.” – Jill Sinclair, CEO, Keller Williams Black Diamond Realty
  7. You’ve got to lead from the front. You’ve got to do the hard things. You’ve got to jump in. You’ve got to go the extra mile if you want people on your team to do it. You have to be able to get your hands dirty.” – Steve Benson, CEO, BadgerMapping.com
  8. Sales KPIs are essential in coaching both high and low performers. They allow management to identify what makes a top performer successful, the formula of that success and when those top performers are reaching capacity. KPIs act as a great visual to low performers by showcasing the linkage between the daily output and achievement.” – Dwayne Mansfield, VP of Sales, Versature
  9. Try unconventional ways to find candidates. Don’t just ask people on your team who they know. Look in hospitality. Great salespeople can come from the hotel or car rental business. Recruit at college campuses.” Lori Richardson, Founder, Score More Sales
  10. “Reps are bogged down in operations activities that could or should be done by other jobs in the organization. Sales has become more complex (less transactional, more consultative), and I think salespeople tend to take on things that are more ancillary responsibilities. They have their hands in the operational components because it’s hard to tell what counts as selling and what doesn’t. There’s a certain comfort level with being busy (you know what to do). Take that busy work and move those tasks to operational or administrative roles. Then you can increase the expectation of the sales organization.” – Mark Donnolo, Managing Partner, SalesGlobe

Do you have any critical advice for managing sales reps that wasn’t mentioned above? Share your expertise in the comments below!

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