Transitioning to sales manager – a rubicon moment


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Congratulations! You’ve done it! You have crossed over! You are now a sales manager.  So, what do you do now?  Even after some initial guidance from colleagues, most new sales managers find themselves struggling to figure out how to balance the requirements of the position.

The mountains of paperwork about HR concerns and other administrative requirements take most new sales managers back a step or two.  Few find themselves “ahead of the curve” and doing what most needs doing – selling with their sales team when they need help and coaching so they need less help.

The institutional challenges and roadblocks are difficult for the individual sales manager to avoid.  So, in reality, the answer is usually one of smart management not prevention.  Let’s take a look at four overarching principles that can help get things going in the right direction.

1. Think about where to start.  When taking over a sales team there is a chorus of requests to fix things. While this may make your sales team and upper management feel good and reduce the noise level, it will probably do little beyond that.

Another approach is to identify the reasons behind your sales team’s success and focus on leveraging them.

Any manager will share when moving into a new management position there are tons of things you can “fix.” But, the wiser among them will also suggests you can’t fix everything and some of the things you can fix aren’t going to help achieve your business objectives.  When it comes to the “fix things” approach not only is there not enough time but even if you did do it, your sales team will find their heads spinning as they try to digest one change after another.  But, what if you take a more measured approach?

  • First, figure out what individual team members are doing successfully and codify those successes so they are repeatable by others. 
  • Then then identify what “needs fixing” in order to meet your goals, prioritize which ones to address and act on them one by one.

When you are a front-line sales manager many people are pulling you in lots of directions.  Consequently, it is easy to fall into the trap of addressing the urgent versus the important.  One answer to that dilemma is to rise above the noise and focus on leveraging what is presently working.

2. Do no harm.  Due to not knowing the rules of the road quite yet and wanting to avoid making the big mistake upfront, new sales managers often hold the reins a bit too tight. This makes the time problem even worse.

For example, if the salesperson has to go back to the sales manager to get an answer to every unusual customer request – no matter how small it is – then the salesperson becomes frustrated and looks “small” in the customer’s eyes.  As a matter of fact if that is the case, customers soon learn that it’s best to just go directly to the manager since only they have the answers.

What happens to the new sales manager?  They become even more inundated with emails, voice mails, and texts from sales reps and customers requiring immediate attention.  In these cases the new sales manager becomes a bottleneck – resulting in declining customer satisfaction and perhaps revenue declines!

3. Be a filter not a funnel.  All sales managers get a tremendous amount of internal requests from top management related to answering ever-popular questions such as: Are you meeting your sales figures?  Here the trap is passing all these requests directly on to the sales team and getting them bogged down with paperwork and activities that reduce selling time.  The most effective sales managers handle it differently.  They are a “filter not a funnel.”

Simply put, they filter the information “coming down” from the division or central office and only funnel to their sales team the information the sales person needs to succeed.  They eliminate the clutter going to the team thereby freeing up time for the salespeople to spend on selling.

Unfortunately too many new sales managers don’t eliminate the clutter and their sales teams spend a disproportionate amount of time playing with paper work requirements rather than calling on customers.  Although this filtering can be challenging for a new sales manager, the sooner they learn the more likely those sales figures will be what they need to be.

4. Don’t panic: acknowledge.  No matter how skillful, everyone makes a fumble or a mistake of some type during a transition period.  Some mistakes are annoying; some are just difficult to handle, and some are potential showstoppers.  But regardless one’s skill or luck, mistakes occur.

There is no way to avoid mistakes completely so learning how to handle them is critical to success.

The bottom line for handling mistakes is when something goes wrong – take responsibility for it – and do it quickly.  The first step is “acknowledging” the mistake.  Conveying that you are going to do something about making things right is the next step.  While the other person still faces the problem, they now know they have an acknowledged partner working with them to solve it.

Getting it all right.  If you are about to assume a sales management position and want to get serious about surviving the transition, take a half day and pick up David Brock’s new book: Sales Manager Survival Guide.  It contains a comprehensive set of best practices for successfully pulling off what is one of the more difficult career moves – becoming a sales manager for the first time.   

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Republished with author's permission from original post.

Richard Ruff
For more than 30 years Richard Ruff has worked with the Fortune 1000 to craft sales training programs that make a difference. Working with market leaders Dick has learned that today's great sales force significantly differs from yesterday. So, Sales Momentum offers firms effective sales training programs affordably priced. Dick is the co-author of Parlez-Vous Business, to help sales people have smart business conversations with customers, and the Sales Training Connection.


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