5 Tips for First Time Sales Managers

June 09, 2015 by JJ Ferroni

You were just promoted for the first time to sales manager. Congrats! The path for most sales managers, typically bag carrying sales reps themselves once, is to come up through the ranks and exceed their quota every step of the way.

As a sales rep, you spent your days focusing on your individual deals, tactically thinking through how to win deals in order to achieve and exceed your quota. You sell value, remove obstacles and focus on getting sign off from the customer. You are paid to focus entirely on hitting your number. Sales reps control their own fate, the effort and skill put in is a direct result to their output.

With that in mind, you can understand the challenges a sales rep might face as they transition to management. They've spent their entire career focusing on their individual efforts and results. Now they are given a team and expected to help them collectively succeed. It is very easy for a first time sales manager to revert to 'selling mode'. The tendency is to take over a deal they feel is not being worked in a manner they deem appropriate.

However, as my former VP of Sales, Scott Crawford, told me very early in my days as a first time sales manager, my role now required a different skill set.

He told me to focus on 5 key areas: Hire, Enable, Coach, Motivate, Retain.

Let's take a deeper look at each item:

1) Hire

As a first time sales manager, you should always be looking to build your hiring pipeline. Do not wait till you have an opening to start recruiting because hiring the right candidates is hard and takes time. You should always be looking to hire the best reps that you can afford. They also need to fit your team culture and have had success with a similar sales motion to yours. That process takes time. And once you do hire, you've got to remember that you'll have to enable and ramp the new hire, adding additional time to getting a rep fully operational.

2) Enable

Enabling your sales reps starts when they are hired, but certainly doesn't end there. It's key for every sales manager to ensure their team has everything they need to successfully compete in every deal.

Initial Ramp

Once hired, you need to ramp your reps as quickly and effectively as possible. If you are at a larger company, you likely have resources dedicated to training on sales process and product features. At our startup, we didn't. It was on the sales manager to help ramp the rep.

My advice is to be clear and set expectations up front. We created a 30/60/90 day plan to outline expectations over the reps first 90 days. There were checkpoint 'certifications' along the way to ensure the rep was capable of delivering on our sales message, articulating our value and understanding the sales process.

For a sales manager, this 30/60/90 day plan was an explicit measuring stick for new hires. Because very clear expectations are set upfront, it made for quicker decisions and no surprises down the road with reps who weren't a fit.

Ongoing

From my view, one of the biggest goals for any sales manager is to enable their team with a successful environment to sell in. This goal often walks a fine line between necessary sales process and critical selling time. You should try your best to strike a balance so the rep feels like they are getting the training they need to be successful in any selling scenario, but they also don't feel that too many meetings are getting in the way of their ability to hit their number. Nothing is more deflating to a rep than sitting in an unnecessary team meeting when they know it's not helping them in their pursuit of attaining quota.

For ongoing enablement, there are two main areas of focus:

Consistency in Sales Messaging

As a sales manager, it's your job to ensure your reps are able to sell with a consistent message, handle objections and position against competitors.

Streamline Sales Process

It's important for you to ensure your sales reps can navigate a sales motion by helping to identify and remove all internal/external roadblocks so the rep can focus on selling. As I've mentioned in a previous post, selling at a start up often involves introducing internal resources in your sales motion. As a sales manager, you can help remove friction and streamline internal engagements for your reps.

3) Coach

Just like a head coach, a sales manager has the ability to influence at both a team level and on an individual basis. On a team level, sales managers create the culture that their team will operate under. How you want them to consistently sell, the cadence they will follow and overall expected engagement with each prospect will be driven by you. So, you should carefully think through what type of sales culture you want your team to have. It really will be driven by you and your actions.

Sales managers also have the responsibility to coach individual reps on their teams, as well. Very often, you will find yourself with reps whose selling styles are different than your own. Remember though, you are no longer a sales rep, so its up to you to leverage each reps selling style to maximize each reps potential.

To that end, I recommend evaluating your reps individually to understand where you can best add value to each of their daily lives. Provide guidance and coach each rep to help them through deals and ensure they are working on weaknesses in their selling style on a regular basis. Recommend training or enablement sessions to help further their development.

4) Motivate

I could have named this section 'Measure' because at the end of the day, hitting your number in sales should be all the motivation needed. The numbers are typically the only thing that matters to the business.

As a first time sales leader though, it's important for you to understand how you are motivating your team to reach those numbers. Negative motivation can undermine the culture & 'successful sales environment' you've built in #2 and #3 above and have longer term consequences (ie. losing good sales reps)

The best sales leaders I've encountered have two qualities that I believe are important for positive motivation: 1) they genuinely care about their people and their pursuit of hitting quota and 2) they put their team's needs above their own.

As a first time sales manager, you won't have all the answers and you are likely to screw things up from time to time. But I can tell you from personal experience that if you genuinely care and put your team's needs first, your team will respect you for it.

Motivating them at the end of a Q or during a big blitz is much easier when your team knows that ultimately, you always have their best interest in mind.

5) Retain

Once you've built a sales team with great culture and proper training, the last step is retaining your sales reps!

Since you hired the best sales reps you can afford in #1, and enabled them with training and an environment to be successful, your reps should feel like they can have a long, happy life at your company.

As a new sales manager, I do think its important for you to celebrate your team's achievements big and small. And if you have the opportunity to showcase big wins to an executive audience, be sure to recognize the team members that won the deal.

And when a new sales management role opens up at your company, you should consider pushing for reps on your team you think would be a fit. As our CEO has said, it's important to recognize the potential in an employee, whether they have had management experience or not.

So, for you first time sales managers out there, consider these 5 areas of focus as you are thinking through how best to engage with your team. And remember, your actions will speak louder than your words, so make sure your team sees that you believe in the path you are setting for them.