How to be an effective sales manager

Being a sales manager requires effort. It means joining the dots between your business strategy, sales plan and sales activity. It means knowing which sales goals to aim for, and which sales people to recruit.

It means keeping a number of plates spinning at the same time.

You’re the owner, the founder, the mender-in-chief. The thinker, the doer and now also your very own sales manager. With people around you expecting guidance, expertise and a sprinkling of motivation or inspiration. Even when you’ve been successful in selling your own products or services for your own business, this is not an automatic guarantee that you’ll be successful as a manager of other sales people.

Not without doing some things differently.

Maybe you’ve just recruited your first sales person, after doing it yourself for a while. And now you have someone new looking expectantly at you. 

Or maybe you’ve got an existing sales team that are succeeding but need more support or perhaps a team who are in danger of going feral for lack of attention. 

As sales coaches to many business owners, we know that being a sales manager is unlikely to be the reason you started your own business in the first place – to spend your time herding others towards sales goals. It’s unlikely to be your number one passion. 

But nonetheless, your passion it deserves if you’re to succeed.

We’ve outlined below for you the traits and behaviours that will help you guide others to sales success. 

Top traits of an effective sales manager

Have a sales plan

It sounds obvious, but many owners fail to turn their business strategy into a tangible sales plan that others can action, measure and calibrate success against. 

If you know how much you want to grow your business; and how much of that growth is from existing clients versus acquiring new clients, turn this information into targets and measures. 

And write it down and share it. Don’t make those around you guess – that’s worse odds than the lottery and much more painful when your numbers don’t come up.

Know your sales figures

If you don’t understand the details behind where your sales revenues and growth really come from. Start here. 

Interrogate your CRM or sales records to understand the ratios you enjoy as opportunities move through your sales funnel. How many proposals written turn into confirmed orders? How many requests for information result in a sales call? Without this, any targets you set will be based upon wishful thinking and hope. Great if you’ve just bought a scratch card; less useful if you want to achieve your business growth goals.

Also ensure you understand how important sales metrics are calculated and the impact they have on your business. Cost of sales, cost of acquisition, % margin, profit being a tiny few. Without these, the decisions you make risk being hopeful guesses.

Identify your sales opportunities  

Use gap analysis to work out how much opportunity you have to increase your sales to existing clients and ensure you understand how your sales person or team are performing. Not just in absolute revenue terms, but in how well they convert business for you and how effective they are. 

Not every sales person you have (if it’s more than one) will necessarily have access to the same opportunities or same clients, so absolute revenues achieved is only one view of success. If you already take most or all of the available spend that your clients have for the types of products or services you offer, then setting a sales goal that expects double-digit growth in revenues from those clients is likely to be a pipedream. Improved profit however could be realised by operational efficiency and reducing cost to serve.

Know your sales team and who you have recruited

No one will ever care about your business as much as you. Fact. That doesn’t stop others caring about their achievements and what they will deliver for you. But motivating a sales person is not the same as being nice and hoping they catch it. Neither is benign neglect. 

Sales people come in all shapes and sizes. Hopefully when you recruited you knew whether you wanted a Hunter, a Nurturer or a Hybrid role and then got the right person for the job required. 

If you didn’t, then understanding the capabilities of your sales person or sales team is really important. Are you using their talents and attributes in the most appropriate ways? Do you have the right people or skills allocated to the right customers or prospects? 

Are you using sales people who care about long term relationships to enhance your client retention and reduce churn? Are you using those who adore the thrill of the hunt to find and convert new business for you? 

If you have only one salesperson, are you clear about what you want them to do and for how much of their role that entails? 

Are they remunerated, recognised and rewarded in ways that have meaning for them? 

Can you tailor your approach or flex how you pay someone in order to better incentivise them to commit energy and time to helping you achieve your business goals?

Also ensure you know how everyone is performing. Celebrate wins and tackle underperformance. Ignoring signs of burnout or sales targets being missed over a few weeks will only store up greater pain later. Let people know where they stand. With kindness. 

But ensure you take action and intervene as soon as your data or spider-senses suggest something is amiss. It’s much easier to correct before it becomes engrained.

Set clear sales goals that add up to your sales plan

Sounds obvious, but we’ve seen sets of goals and KPIs (key performance indicators) be shared out across a team, only to tot them up and discover they fall short of the actual plan!

Be certain to understand the difference between an Input goal (the activity you want to see happen) and an Output goal (the results you want to achieve) Also understand the implications of which goals you set for your sales team and what this might cause in terms of unintended consequences. 

As sales coaches to business owners we often come across input goals that have been set with good intentions, but that have gone on to cause sales costs to escalate, reputations to be damaged, or sales funnels to be thoroughly undermined. 

If you set your sales team or sales person an input goal of making ten outbound calls a day to prospective new clients or to send 40 company PDF brochures out to interested parties, be certain to also have a clear description of the quality you expect to accompany the achievement of these input-focused sales goals. 

Why? Because without the governance of quality, ten outbound calls could be to any old contact, a totally unsuitable prospect, or even ten calls to someone’s gran. The calls are still being made, just not to anyone that will contribute to your business growth or achieving your sales KPIs. Unless what you’re selling is targeted specifically at grans!

The same for brochures. Sending 40 brochures out to any contact on a random list is one thing. Having a call to pre-qualify a lead, understand their needs and assess suitability…something else entirely. 

Without a quality sense-check, input goals risk being targeted and rewarded without proof that they are of any value to your business or sales growth. A costly error.

Communicate them clearly and transparently. Mind-reading isn’t one of the capabilities you’ll have recruited for.

Focus on sales activity not busyness

You should ensure you understand how much sales activity is actually required to achieve the sales goals you set. Once you understand the shape of your own sales funnel, the ratios within it should be used to calculate what this means in terms of the level of sales activity your sales team or person actually need to engage in to be successful.

Make your sales process simple

80% of a sales team’s troubles will stem from 20% of their problems. Even where you have a single sales person working for you, they are likely to be having to navigate wonky processes or wait for old software to load. Dealing with records that are scattered across more than one system that go on to beautifully contradict each other. 

Some problems are no more than gentle itches that can be tolerated as foibles. 

Others are severe, sales-limiting, patience-testing, business-inhibiting roadblocks. The big green angry kind that stands in your face and growls, sporting another ruined shirt. No point in running, they move faster than you do.

Identify them and then do everything you can to resolve them. This helps retain your talent and supports your on-going sales success and effectiveness. 

Pursue consistency 

Whilst you’re concentrating on removing and solving problems, ensure that what you are creating around you as sales tools, sales process, shared language and sales measures are all consistent. 

Not to the point of obliterating all signs of personality; but to the point that you know things are being done in the way you need them to be.

This is particularly important in how records are entered into your CRM and how sales forecasts are created and used.

Know yourself and manage yourself

Show up consistently, predicably and build trust with your sales person or sales team. Be clear about your expectations of them before you begin to work with them. Take time to think about how you want to work together. What’s negotiable and what’s not. 

And what they can expect of you in return. Then keep your promises.

Trust is way more than just an esoteric feeling. Study after study has demonstrated the economic impact for businesses and commercial relationships that benefit from high trust versus those where it is in short supply. 

Trust enhances business effectiveness, reduces costs and ensures that even if your sales plan or sales processes are a touch light on substance; the people around you will try their level best to deliver for you.

Undermine trust, and no high falutin 40-page plan or fabulous new software will compensate. Costs go up, effectiveness goes down and everyone loses. 

Also avoid the stereotype of shouting, banging gongs, tables or heads. There’s a reason the 1980s now only shows up on re-runs of Top of the Pops.

Run effective sales meetings

And by this we mean ‘meetings that are action-orientated and make a difference’. Plan them. Publish an agenda ahead of schedule and expect your sales team and others to arrive with an informed point of view. 

Use your sales meetings to solve problems together. To assess performance and decide what needs to happen next to keep you on track towards your sales targets. Look externally at client performance and sales forecasts and also internally at other departments or processes.

Make sales meetings engaging and participative. Keep brains active by getting everyone to think, learn and do. Boring sales meetings risk all decisions being based upon finding the fastest way out of the meeting, instead of generating the most appropriate solution. 

Yes, review the week, month or quarter that’s just gone by, but for learning and continuous improvement rather than a wallow around in self-pity or self-congratulation. Capture agreed actions and changes to be made. Anchor them against your sales plan and business strategy and ensure everyone explicitly understands their role and their personal commitment to delivering them. 

Be a sales coach

As sales coaches we are passionate about the power coaching offers for releasing potential in others. We witness the benefits time and again as we work with business owners.

Tell your sales person what to do much less, and ask them what they think much more. It will transform how the thinking and the doing gets done. And who owns it.

‘GROW’ is a very simple coaching model. Easy to understand and with a little practice, to apply. Use every opportunity you can to develop your own sales coaching skills and coach your sales team as often as possible. 

Listen in to calls with them and help them understand what they’re great at and what could be refined. Join meetings with clients to observe them in action (whilst being mindful not to take over and undermine them) Rehearse presentations and help your sales team reflect, adapt and learn via great coaching questions rather than instruction.

Be available

Your salesperson or sales team need you. Even if you are also handling clients yourself, along with everything else that comes with owning your business. Sales success is the engine for growth of your business, and how much interest and how available you are to your sales team will offer a powerful signal as to how important you view sales as being. That’s not to say you should be doing their jobs or hovering over their shoulders eight hours a day. But be mindful about going AWOL when they need you.

Obsess about the right things

But not everything. 

Give people their heads and resist micro-managing. Learn how to delegate properly. It’s spelled very differently to abdication.

Practice, review and refine your role and impact as sales manager. It’s a different set of skills to those you needed when you were the only sales person in your entire business. Now you have others to guide and care for too. 

Your sales success is in their hands. Be sure you enable them to fly.

Are you struggling to untangle the complexities of your sales process?

Take the Untangle Your Sales scorecard today and unlock the potential for sales success.