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You may have been a top salesperson, and still continue to be, but that doesn’t always qualify you to be a top sales manager. Both have very different skill sets and require mastery in very different skills.
Kevin F. Davis is the author of the book The Sales Manager’s Guide to Greatness: Ten Essential Strategies for Leading your Team to the Top. Kevin started his career in sales at an entry level position and worked hard to become a general manager. His new role gave him the opportunity to train and coach 250 sales people and directly manage the sales team and sales managers.
He also founded TopLine Leadership, Inc. where they have offered sales coaching and leadership workshops to corporate clients and groups of sales managers for the last 27 years. Other books Kevin has written include Getting into your Customer’s Head and Slow Down, Sell Faster.
On writing the book
There aren’t a lot of books written about how to effectively manage sales people so Kevin wrote his books to help fill this void in the marketplace and to offer support that was sorely lacking. Research has shown that up to 80% of all sales managers in North America don’t get the training they need in order to be successful. Their company may not have a budget for it or they offer management training that is too general to solve the specific problems of their sales managers.
Managers have to spend the majority of their work day answering emails, dealing with interruptions, going to meetings, and answering questions from their sales team. With this constant activity, they are too overwhelmed the distractions to coach their salespeople.
The self-serving bias
Most salespeople think they’re better than they actually are. We tend to overestimate our capabilities and underestimate our weaknesses. The result is a sales team who think they’re better than they are and don’t fully appreciate the mistakes they may be making. Because they aren’t being coached, they don’t know they’re making mistakes and end up perpetuating existing problems. Unfortunately, salespeople are getting a lot less feedback from overtaxed sales managers. Because they are so busy, managers tend to wait for a sales rep to come and ask questions instead of being proactive. An opportunity to coach comes from approaching the sales team with critical questions throughout the entire sales process. Kevin points out that the salespeople on the team who appear to be the least needy are probably the people who need coaching the most.
According to Kevin, a great sales rep who has mastered their sales role inhibits that individual’s success as a sales manager. As sellers, we love to take charge of a situation and work it through to have a successful outcome. Once you become a sales manager it can be tempting to jump into a conversation a sales rep is having with their client. This can send a message to the team you don’t trust their process and destroys an opportunity for valuable coaching following that meeting. Kevin further added that the sales people who report to you are your Number One customers so you should care about how to make them the most effective they can be.
From being task-oriented to people-oriented
One attribute of a great sales leader is recognizing the importance of sharing time between tasks and coaching their team. Sales managers need to be able to focus on their salespeople and connect on a professional and personal basis.
As a sales manager, it’s your job to ensure that your salespeople are with you and they know what the team is trying to accomplish. While it’s good to be task-oriented, it’s equally important to be people-focused. Kevin mentioned the valuable lessons he learned from the story of Beth Comstock (now the vice-chairman at General Electric) about how important it is to focus on people and not just be a task-master.
Understand the buying cycle
The sales forecast is a misnomer. The sales forecast should be a buying forecast. It is important to understand the customer’s buying process to maximize the sale. Sales managers need to be able to recognize when a buyer is purchasing differently from the way the sales rep is trying to sell. Oftentimes sales reps sell faster than the customer wants to buy. The buying process focuses on improving the accuracy of the forecasts instead of depending on the guesswork of sales. The key to this is by asking the right questions. One example would be to ask the sales rep, What are the buying criteria in order of priority? When a sales manager asks the right questions, the sales rep knows what to ask the customer.
Managing sales people requires a completely different set of skills from selling. If you’re looking to get promoted, set a goal to become as masterful at leadership as you are selling.
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