Key Skills Every Sales Manager Needs

Sales managers, do you feel like the most underappreciated employee in your organization? That may be because you are lacking the key skills every sales manager needs. How can you focus on developing these skills when you’re supposed to manage your reps? It’s not as hard as it sounds.


A sales manager must balance the needs and goals of the department with what each individual rep needs. These competing interests are not mutually exclusive. Good managers must lead, coach, keep their eyes on their numbers, hire and manage up, as well as down. To achieve all this, try focusing on the following key skills.


People want to know that what they do on a daily basis matters. While sales professionals might occasionally hear praise from prospects and clients, they also want to hear good news from their managers. Our Voice of the Sales Rep survey indicates only 37% of sales professionals say their manager is positive and encouraging and 36% say their manager holds everyone accountable for work performance. All too often, reps are not feeling the love from managers. They tell us their manager, “Micromanages everyone’s work,” “Doesn’t give me the credit I deserve,” or “Sets unrealistic goals.”


Sales professionals also don’t want to feel like they never left middle school. Your team members expect to be part of a professional organization. They hope you’ll treat them with respect. Our data shows that only 25% of reps can count on their manager not to play favorites. And only 24% say their manager acts as a role model for how the manager should act. These statistics should be a heads up for managers. You don’t need special skills or training to be a role model. Just be mindful of your actions and how team members might interpret them. If you’ve been taking some people out for lunch, but not others, change your behavior. If you haven’t been praising your team members for trying, set aside five minutes every day for that task.


Steve Martin, a faculty member at the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business, says, “Great sales leaders understand that there is a diversity of selling styles by which salespeople can achieve success. Therefore, they don’t employ a one-size-fits-all coaching style.” One skill you need to develop is the effective use of coaching materials.


In our Voice of the Sales rep survey, 20% of sales professionals say they would benefit from more one-on-one coaching. We all know that coaching, especially if it’s personalized, is time-consuming. For example, if one of your reps is struggling with discovery, they probably won’t benefit from a coaching session on networking. And a rep who’s doing well with everything except closing, really needs more ideas and coaching on that critical part of the sales process. But you’re stretched too thin to deliver this kind of coaching to every person on your staff.


That’s why we developed SalesFuel COACH. With that tool, sales managers can assign the quick coaching assignments that apply to a rep, based on assessments they’ve taken. After a rep reads an article or watches a video on an assigned topic, they can discuss it with you and ask clarifying questions. This process allows you to develop key skills every sales manager needs.


Similarly, good sales managers must also be able to hire great sales reps. If you aren’t able to attract quality candidates, the rest of your team may lose enthusiasm. Too often, sales managers treat hiring new reps as a chore they must endure. If you approach this task with the right mindset, you can strengthen the organization and the team’s ability to make its numbers.


One mistake I frequently see is a rush to hire. In this competitive economy it’s tempting to bring any candidate who seems reasonable on board. The problem with this philosophy is that you might make a mistake that you’ll regret for a long time.


Our survey numbers indicate that the typical sales manager experiences 37% turnover every year. If you’re managing ten reps, you can plan on replacing at least four of them. And, that’s if you’re having a good year.


If you’re like most managers, you rely on networking (56%), employee referral programs (52%) and job boards (49%) to find qualified candidates. That’s one of the key findings in our Voice of the Sales Manager survey. There’s nothing wrong with these approaches to locating candidates. It’s the next step in the hiring process that leads managers in the wrong direction.

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