How to Develop New Sales Managers

This week I did a live mangers-only “Happy Hour” on The Sales Bar. What a treat. Working with newly-promoted managers may be my very favorite thing. Maybe that’s because the pain I remember in their position is still a bit fresh (albeit over 20 years old…)

The transition from rep to manager is tough. It’s also risky for both the company and the new manager. Companies lose top-performing reps and serial high-achievers sign on to feel NOT successful for a good six months. I’ve seen some sad stories of new managers flailing, flat-lining growth, or simply quitting in their first year. It’s sad for the manager and its a double-loss for the company. They lose a manager AND top performer.

So how do we develop and support new managers to help them feel more successful sooner? 

Talk in detail about the expectations of the new job. 

Top reps are competitive, self-centered, and aggressive (said with love folks). Margaret Arakawa, Outreach CMO said it best in a panel last week. I paraphrase, “Moving from top rep to manager is like leaving the role of lead actress on stage to become executive producer.” Exactly. 

Successful Managers focus on:

  • Developing their team
  • Solving problems
  • Creating atmospheres for motivation
  • Prioritizing work
  • Managing admin to clear selling time for reps

What they don’t do is:

  • close sales
  • maintain customer relationships
  • win contests
  • count on themselves alone to get the job done. 
  • zero spotlight

Be frank that disappointment is OK 

Most new managers talk to me about their utter disappointment in their first year. Not with the job (exclusively) but with their team. They aren’t used to relating to reps who aren’t as dedicated and passionate as they were. Help them see that this is normal and talk strategies for dealing with the frustration. 

Ultimately the buck stops with them and their success is getting the most consistent and high-level performance from these people. Set some expectations! For example, talk about how a sales manager’s success is judged not just by the number but also:

  • Reduced time for new hires to hit quota 
  • Percent of entire team to quota – not just overall percent
  • Reduced attrition
  • Rep promotions

Each of these requires a focus on the people, their success, and their development. Sure we want managers focused on the “W,” but it needs to be a Team W, not their personal commission check. Hearing this advice from a leader they respect can help them focus on the right things early and find new ways to get daily wins.

Go beyond HR 

If you’re lucky, managers have access to some generic management skills about communicating with others, not sexually harassing people, approving timecards, and giving feedback, etc. Helpful stuff. Not job training. Get them sales management skills like:

  • The management cadence: what meetings they need on their calendar and how often.
  • Time management for sales managers: Which is first? The line at your desk? The upset customer? The request for a report from the boss or the deal discount to close a sale? This skill will make or break a new leader. Prevent the burnout before it happens!
  • Translating sales goals and driving sales performance: New managers struggle to get beyond managing activity. Help them learn to translate strategy and the big number into monthly, weekly, and daily activities for reps. 
  • Performance 1:1 meetings: Help managers communicate the goal, the performance to date, motivate reps to succeed, and build relationships with their teams during this meeting.
  • Call coaching: Call coaching isn’t natural behavior for high-achievers. It takes an extreme amount of patience, customer focus, and a set process to be successful. Without skill training on coaching, they’ll either skip it or maybe even demotivate their team. Help teach them to do it right before they wind up a statistic. 
  • Find them a mentor: A mentor becomes a safe space to vent, ask questions they’re afraid to ask their Director, and frankly a lifeline. And if you’ve promoted a woman, work to find her a female mentor. Yes, it does make a difference. #GirlsClub can help here if you’re lacking female sales leadership talent.