How to Shift From Sales Management to Sales Leadership

Even before the rise of COVID-19, sales managers had what’s known as the “hardest job in sales.” They must simultaneously juggle three demanding tasks: finding new ways to attract buyers to their solution, improving their sellers’ performance and handling the demands of their organization. And these tasks have become more challenging in a remote selling environment.

As the rest of their organization pivots to manage the challenges of the coronavirus and establish strategies for rebounding from the crisis, sales managers also must shift. To help their teams through the crisis and its aftermath, they must move away from the minutiae of management, such as updating sales forecasts and monitoring compliance, to true leadership.

What Sales Managers Must Be: Five Essential Traits of Sales Leaders

Sales managers should strive to model these five characteristics of sales leaders.

1. Calmness: For frontline sellers, sales managers are the face of the organization. Even if sales forecasts and opportunities are dwindling, sales managers must avoid feeling flight-or-fight panic, project calmness and handle situations in a level-headed way. They must give sellers clear direction on what their next, most productive steps should be to continue building relationships and to keep remaining deals moving forward.

2. Confidence: Sales managers must trust their knowledge and expertise to carry them through the crisis. They must also express faith in the changes that the organization is making to survive the pandemic, because a manager’s skepticism is contagious. They should gather sufficient information and details to understand and support plans so they can convincingly share them with their sales team.

3. Courage: In a crisis, decisive action is necessary, but decisions must be made thoughtfully. Whatever decisions leaders make, such as whether to divert attention from business development to solution implementation, they must make them proactively and based on reliable data.

4. Empathy: In a crisis like this, managers need to put their people and their well-being first. They should spend time talking to their sellers and listening closely to what they say; sellers will benefit from more one-on-one contact during this time.

5. Resilience: Sales managers must be capable of bouncing back from losses and rejection on a good day. In the coronavirus crisis, they’ll need to call on their reserves of resilience to manage the difficulties of selling and managing a team remotely.

What Sales Managers Must Do: Five Actions Sales Managers Should Take

To lead effectively in this crisis, sales managers must adopt these five strategic behaviors of sales leaders.

1. Express a Vision: To guide themselves and motivate their teams, it’s imperative that sales managers pause and reflect on the vision they want to set during the crisis. Their individual vision will likely differ from the overall organizational vision, though it may align with it.

2. Communicate Authentically: An information vacuum is quickly filled by speculation and rumor—particularly when employees may be anxious about what may befall them as a result of the pandemic. For this reason, it’s critical that sales managers echo the messages from leaders above them, maintain their team’s trust by keeping them continually informed and offer direct responses to their questions.

3. Act: Leaders should have a bias for action that falls in line with their vision. They should act positively and confidently, but they must remain open to feedback and course correction if the situation or their understanding of it changes.

4. Seek Clarity: Leaders know that they must face reality: they must see the world as it is, not as how they might want it to be. They must confront the truth and cannot filter out difficult feedback.

5. Keep it Simple and Purposeful: Leaders must constantly remind their teams what’s important, so they remain laser-focused on their goals. In this time, it’s essential for leaders to continually ask themselves what their priorities are and to shed tasks that don’t help them achieve their goals.

True Sales Leaders Must—and Will—Rise to the Occasion

Given their span of control, sales managers have an incredible impact on a sales organization’s results. In this crisis, sales managers play a critical role in motivating their teams and finding new and different ways to help sellers succeed. This pandemic is an opportunity for sales managers to stretch their capabilities and learn new behaviors that will guide their success through this pandemic, the next crisis and beyond.

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