What are the qualities of a good sales manager? Can you become a better manager through training and practice?
According to The Challenger Sale, the qualities of a good sales manager are selling skils, coaching, and owning. These three qualities of a good sales manager will help you successfully manage reps and meet sales goals.
Managers in the Challenger Sales Method
Frontline sales managers are the link between strategy and execution—they determine whether change initiatives and sales transformations succeed. But research shows that most top company leaders lack confidence in their sales managers and they’re uncertain of what to do about it (63% say their managers don’t have the skills and competencies they need to implement their sales models). But the qualities of a good sales manager are the most important parts of leading a successful team.
However, once you understand the attributes of a successful Challenger manager, you can hire or create skilled sales managers capable of executing a Challenger Selling Model. This chapter focuses on the most important sales manager skills—coaching and sales innovation—and how to develop them.
Qualities of a Good Sales Manager
To determine the qualities of a good sales manager, as well as skills, behaviors, and attitudes that matter most for sales management excellence, researchers surveyed 65 companies and collected data from reps on 2,500 frontline sales managers.
They found that management fundamentals (reliability, integrity, and listening skills) account for only 26% of sales manager success. These fundamentals seem to be inherent rather than learned, so they should be baseline requirements for hiring or promoting someone to be a manager. That person should posses the traits of a good sales manager.
More importantly, companies should look to hire candidates who demonstrate the qualities known to drive success in sales outcomes: selling ability, coaching skills, and sales innovation. These attributes account for 73% of sales manager success. These are the qualities of a good sales manager:
1) Selling Skills (25% of Manager Success)
For sales managers, selling skills still matter. Managers are often required to cover vacant sales territories and help close complex sales deals. More importantly, they must be able to model effective selling techniques and behaviors.
The survey found that the same skills that matter most for rep success also matter for manager success: offering customers a unique perspective, tailoring offers to customer needs and priorities, and being comfortable discussing money.
2) Coaching (28% of Manager Effectiveness)
Coaching is a key aspect of manager effectiveness and a key driver of rep performance. Coaching entails working side by side with reps to share knowledge, insight, and to correct rep behaviors that get in the way of successful sales performance.
The key manager attributes for effective coaching mirrored the requirements for Challenger sales reps: guiding reps to tailor their message effectively, showing reps how and when to take control, and helping reps through complex negotiations. This is one of the important traits of a good sales manager.
3) Owning (45% of Manager Effectiveness)
The final trait of a good sales manager is owning. In addition to hands-on sales and coaching skills, manager excellence entails providing leadership, direction, guidance, and demonstrating ownership of the business (running their territory as if it were their own business).
Owning breaks down into two skill subcategories: resource allocation and sales innovation. Resource allocation is the least important part of the job (accounting for 16% of manager effectiveness). It involves such things as ensuring sales process compliance, taking corrective action, and managing resources efficiently.
Sales innovation is the ability most important to outstanding sales manager performance (29% of manager effectiveness). Put another way, it’s the most important aspect of sales leadership. Innovation means finding new ways of solving problems standing in the way of deals and innovating new ways to position an offer. It’s about overcoming unforeseen obstacles.
Sales innovation is the key to fully realizing the potential of the Challenger Sale Model, and is one of the characteristics of a good sales manager.
An innovative manager can help keep deals from getting stuck and make stuck deals happen.
This competency is critical to selling complex solutions to increasingly reluctant customers.
Because coaching and sales innovation are so important to sales manager success—and rep performance—they’re the focus of the rest of this chapter.
Sales coaching is an ongoing series of interactions between a frontline sales manager and a rep, designed to diagnose, correct, and reinforce selling skills and behaviors. Show how does coaching relate to the characteristics of a good sales manager?
Coaching differs from training, which is for sharing knowledge. Coaching is for acting on knowledge. Coaching is ongoing—it’s not a one-time event or training series. It involves specific diagnosis and it’s customized and behavioral.
Coaching’s value lies in being tailored to the individual and applied as needed. It’s formal rather than informal, meaning it’s highly structured and regular. It also differs from managing: managers tell and do; coaches ask and guide.
Beyond the Qualities of a Good Sales Manager With Coaching Guidelines
In addition to having the qualities of a good sales manager, to coach effectively, managers need a standard to coach to.
One company created a coaching guide or cheat sheet for managers that it integrated into the sales process. It provided questions for managers/coaches to ask reps at each stage of the sales process to help them achieve the objectives of that stage.
Typically, managers focus on outcomes rather than behaviors in coaching conversations.
For instance, a manager might say to a rep, “Your conversion rate is down. What’s the problem?” This is “spreadsheet coaching”—it focuses on business outcomes, not behavior. In addition, it’s a one-size-fits-all critique.
In contrast, good coaching focuses on behaviors (what the rep is doing), not outcomes. For instance, in the pre-call planning stage, a coach might ask the rep: “What business problem are you planning to focus on with this customer? How new will this insight be to him? Why hasn’t he already figured it out?” Coaching is one of the characteristics of a good sales manager, and you should make sure to incorporate it.
Appendix A provides an excerpt of the authors’ coaching guide for Challenger selling. The full version is available as a free download here.
The qualities of a good sales manager may be second nature to you, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need practice. Focus on honing your skills and the qualities of a good sales manager, and you’ll be sure to meet your goals.
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