5 powerful sales activities for new managers (an intro to sales leadership)

For a sales manager transitioning from a non-leadership role, it’s easy to fall back on the sales activities you are used to. More than likely, you were hired or promoted because of your excellent sales performance. But that can be a problem.

According to research from Vantage Point Performance, average sales leaders perform at 99 percent of their target. But those managers only have 48 percent of their reps achieving quota.

“This proves something that we anecdotally know: A lot of sales managers can get to their quota not because [all of] their reps are knocking it out of the park, but because they have one or two or three reps that are knocking it out of the park…or perhaps they’re making it up with their own sales,” Vantage Point Performance partner Jason Jordan explains during a presentation of the data.

Because sales managers have spent so much time selling, they often end up selling alongside their reps just to achieve quota. This hinders not only your ability to manage a team, but also your team’s ability to succeed on their own. Sales leadership requires a different set of skills than selling. You must focus on different sales activities to excel in this role.

The first five sales activities every new manager should focus on

1. Training

When you move into a leadership role, your job is no longer about you. It’s about your team. And before you can do anything as a sales manager, you need to get buy-in from them.

Imagine if you were in their position: How would you feel if a new sales manager came in (or was promoted from being a teammate) and just started ordering everyone around. You’d hate it. And so will your reps, if that’s your approach.  

Study leadership even before your first day as a sales manager. Here are a few ways to do that:

The average tenure of a sales leader is less than two years. Equip yourself with sales management training and skills so you don’t become part of that statistic.

2. Observation

As a sales manager, your strongest asset is your team. Get to know them. Find out what drives them, and what their long- and short-term professional goals are. The secret to successful sales leadership is understanding your people.

Then you should observe the current sales process of your organization and take notes. Sit in on a few sales calls. Attend a few discovery meetings. Review collateral, proposals and other materials being used by the team. Get a solid understanding of how prospects go from lead to customer (and beyond).

Interview your team members about the current processes. Ask them what they think is working and what isn’t. Talk to fellow sales managers and even VPs. Like a seasoned surgeon, you must understand how everything functions and identify the pain points before going in to fix or improve them. This also shows your new team and colleagues that you care about their feedback, which generates buy-in.

3. Definition

While your new title is “sales” manager, sales is actually an outcome. It’s a result, and therefore can’t be managed. But research tells us that sales leaders must manage and coach the sales activities of their teams that lead to the desired quota results. We call these your key selling activities.

After reviewing your sales process, determine which activities move opportunities from one stage to the next. A field sales team might have a process like …

  1. Identify and meet with a prospect that fits buyer persona.
  2. Discover prospect’s pain point and explain how your product or service can solve it.
  3. Send prospect proposal and negotiate a contract.
  4. Close deal and welcome new customer.

When we simplify the literal activities that make that process happen, they could look like this:

  1. Face-to-face meeting
  2. Create opportunity
  3. Send proposal
  4. Close deal

Those are the key selling activities for the field sales team. A best practice is to select three leading indicators and one lagging indicator. If you try to make reps focus on too many metrics at once, they don’t know what is most important and can’t prioritize their activities accordingly.

Use this guide to calculate how much of each activity you should assign to reps. For research and new data on the key performance indicators that are being used by top sales teams, grab a copy of the 2017 Sales KPI Report.

4. Empowerment  

If your team hasn’t been given defined sales activities (and goals) before, you need to introduce the concept and get buy-in from the team. Help them understand why they should care.

Explain that you’re putting this process in place to empower your team to do their best work. These defined sales activities for reps provide them with a path from lead to close, and allows you to motivate, coach and course-correct performance. Check out a few best practices for having this conversation.

After presenting your key selling activities, provide your reps with personalized performance scorecards so they may track them. Be clear about your expectations for how and when you expect the activities to be completed (but don’t forget to grant your reps autonomy in their role, which studies show is a powerful intrinsic motivator). In addition, you should also establish consistent coaching sessions and weekly one-on-ones with your reps.

Sales management is a challenging role, but it’s also very rewarding – not to mention very necessary to the success of any organization. Use these sales activities in your first few weeks as a new manager to establish your role as an advocate for your team, which is the heart and soul of any leadership role.

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