Why is moving from a sales job to sales manager job so difficult? Why do some salespeople excel at selling but fail at managing sales staff? While the principles within the field are the same, the overall skills you need to succeed are very different, says Tony Alessandra, a professional speaker who wrote several books on sales management.
Alessandra explains that the organization's top salespeople used to move up a company's ranks by being promoted to sales manager. But that's a bad move, he says.
"When someone is a top-notch salesperson, they typically are able to work well on their own; they're a go-getter who can succeed independently, without direction from others," says Alessandra. "A good sales manager is a good coach, someone who can motivate people to sell, someone who listens and puts their needs secondary to the needs of the sales staff."
Sales Manager Skills
Good sales managers also need to work well with people, says Darin Andersen, president of Coronado, California-based Biz Dev Direct, a management-consultant firm that works with executives to build sales teams.
"The sales manager has to be able to deal with individual personalities, egos and skill levels," he says. "They have to do this in a high-pressure environment, because the success of the sales staff is often placed on their shoulders."
Good salespeople come from all walks of life. Some have bachelor's or master's degrees; others come from the school of hard knocks. Regardless of educational background, sales managers require an additional skill set to succeed. Alessandra says a good sales manager must:
- Be a better listener than talker.
- Be a coach first, salesperson second. That includes creating performance appraisals/reviews that can lead to future success and generating ideas on how to better sell the product or work with certain clients.
- Have superior people, conflict-resolution and analysis skills.
- Know the individual strengths and weaknesses of every salesperson.
"Don't be afraid to switch accounts," advises Alessandra. "Different strategies and tactics work for different customers. Know how to match your people with your customers."
Alessandra also says a good sales manager will sell his product in the field, for a few days or a week once a quarter, for example, to better understand what the sales staff encounters. The worst mistake a sales manager can make is coming in late on an account to close the deal, he adds.
"If they get the account or deal, then they've shattered the confidence of the salesperson and the confidence of the client," Alessandra says. "If they don't, then their reputation is hurt, and the salesperson may lose confidence in them as a mentor or leader."
Success as a Sales Manager
Contrary to popular belief, a good sales manager doesn't have to be an overbearing, hard-driving stickler demanding each salesperson be on the phone selling, cold calling and prospecting. "Some of the most successful sales managers are those that remember the human side of things," says Andersen.
Salaries for sales managers vary. Oftentimes, the top members of the sales staff will have higher salaries than the sales manager. This is why many salespeople stay in sales rather than moving into management, where income is sometimes a result of the success of the sales staff they lead, with bonuses and commissions mixed in.
Successful sales managers also need to understand and know their product. If they continually come up with new leads and ideas, they will keep their staff motivated and excited, especially where rejection can be part of the job, says Andersen.
As for running ever-popular company sales contests, those are a no-win situation, says Alessandra. While these events do create competition and force people to push themselves, it's not fair to make salespeople on different levels of skill and success compete.
Instead, create goals for each individual, and work with them to achieve those goals. "But keep them realistic," cautions Alessandra. "Stretch them, but don't break them. By pushing the bar higher and higher, you sometimes make things unrealistic, and frustration sets in."
It all comes back to people, says Andersen. "Understand your product, understand your people, and continue to coach and teach," he says. "Then you will have the numbers you are striving for."
Learn more about sales careers.