What I Really Learned When I Became a Sales Manager

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Do you remember your first few days, weeks, and months in a new job? No matter what that role was, I bet, like many people, you weren’t 100% prepared for what to expect.

I remember my first job as a sales manager. It was back at my very first company, Open Environment. We sold middleware to large companies.

I was one of the founders and the very first salesperson we had. As we grew, I took on the role of sales manager, and soon after that became the VP of Sales leading a team of 35+ sales reps, sales engineers and a small group of consultants (but that’s another story).

As a first time sales manager I had a general idea of what my role would entail. I knew I’d be in charge of leading my team to reach their quota and hit the company’s ARR goal. I knew I had to train my reps on our company’s sales process, and mentor them through the ups and downs of sales. I knew it meant I’d have a big say in changes to goals, territories, and even commissions. And I knew it meant making sure they were all using the best sales tools out there (I wish we had Spiro back then to help me keep my team on all their most important deals). Anyways, I was ready.

Or was I really ready at all???

I went into the job with some major pre-conceived notions. And those all quickly had to bend as I started to understand how I could best lead myself and my team towards sales success.

Here are the 5 things I learned when I became a sales manager:

1. Stop Doing and Start Leading

My transition to sales management was directly from a position as a sales rep. So not only did I know to sell, but I was obviously pretty successful at it, which lead to my promotion to sales manager. But this also lead to my biggest mistake as a first time sales manager. I was trying to do the job, instead of leading my team to do it better.

What I learned quickly is that I had to stop doing and start leading. It was just taking what I knew about my success in sales and learning to applying it to others. I couldn’t just feed the team, but I had to show them how to fish. It was about empowering them to know what tactics to use with a customer, and coaching them on how to seek out solid prospects. Eventually I stopped solving all their problems for them, and instead used my experiences to help develop a forward direction, and then lead them there.

2. Practice What you Preach

If you are going to train and teach your team on best practices for closing more deals, you better also be able to close yourself. When I took on my first role as a sales manager, I saw myself as just a manager. I got into the habit of only managing, and not selling.

I realized that about 6 months into my new role, I hadn’t been actively engaged in any customer deals. From then on, I started to be more directly involved in at least one deal per rep per week. I found it helped them look to me as a leader when they saw me in action, putting to use my negotiating and selling skills. I also realized why I love being in sales – the thrill of the close!

3. Have Your Team Adhere to the Same Process

You have to have your whole team following the same process. One of the reps I was managing in this first sales management role, was quite a bit older than I was. Age shouldn’t matter, but he had been at this gig for a long time and was pretty set in his ways that he knew how to sell.

The thing was, he was right and wrong. He was an amazing people person and had a natural knack for the profession. But, he refused to put anything in the database or let technology help him at all. I knew if he adopted my approach to keeping his notes in our system and utilizing tech, he would be much more productive. It also set him apart from the rest of the team, and didn’t help any with cohesion. I tried to let him do his own thing in the beginning, but it really wasn’t working for me. Eventually I got him to see it my way. Months later he was reaching more prospects and closing more deals than ever before.

4. The Pressure as a Manager is Tenfold

I thought I knew what pressure was when I was a rep, but I was wrong. Sales reps have to worry about making sure they are hitting their personal targets, and live with the knowledge that if they didn’t sell enough to make quota, they may not be bringing home enough to make rent.

But, I had no idea what real pressure was until I was in charge of not just my quota, but a whole team of quotas! I felt personally responsible for making each and every rep successful. Now, I’m not saying this a bad thing, as leading your team to success is part of the job. But I wasn’t prepared for the intense pressure the role of managing other people’s success brought with it. What I learned is a team wants to work hard for a manager who cares. So it was okay for them to see me feel the pressure and push us towards success.

5. Only Focus on the Right Data

I remember my first week on the job as a manager, I was constantly asking Sales Ops to run reports and build out tons of dashboards for me to measure different metrics. Honestly, I had no idea why I was asking for all of these data points. But I thought as a manager I needed to be constantly analyzing everything. I was wrong.

You don’t need to understand and know all the data, you just need to know the right data, and then focus on that. I like to tell all new managers to hone in on just three numbers: win rate, average deal size, and number of opportunities created per week. Get all of those numbers down on paper for each rep. Then you can see how increasing certain data points can really move the needle. Keep your team focused on only what matters!

Also published on Medium.

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