They hire and inspire. They coach and mentor. They keep an eye on the numbers and push to achieve. They report up the chain. They manage down the chain. They set the mood on the sales floor and the spirit of the team. Success rides on their shoulders.

We spend so much time talking about making sales reps successful and giving them the tools they need to sell efficiently, productively and profitably that we leave out one important part of the puzzle.

In a recent interview with Mark Bergen, Head of Sales at Shopify Plus, he shared how in 2018, their sales organization is prioritizing the advancement of coaches and managers.  “We came into this year realizing that with a business that grows this quickly, sales managers and sales coaches can often get overlooked.  Companies sometimes forget that a lot of coaches and managers used to be direct contributors and now, they’re put into a management position — which is a fundamentally different job.  They’re often poorly supported. So internally this year, we’ve named it the “year of the coach”. We’re spending a lot of time with our sales leaders helping them be more effective coaches and managers to their reps.”

Let’s face it: sales managers need a little love, too.

Sales managers matter

Just how much of a difference does a good sales manager make? A study reported in Harvard Business Review provides a few insights:

  • Reaching sales goals: Companies with high performing sales managers reported hitting or exceeding their quota more often than those with low performing leaders.
  • Workplace satisfaction: Sales reps who rate their organizations highly are also likely to rate their sales managers highly.
  • Building the best team: The top sales managers also tended to rate their overall sales teams higher than low performing managers did.

“If I had a dollar to spend on a sales improvement initiative, I’d spend 75 cents on the sales managers,” writes one senior sales enablement director. (Okay, “That’s hyperbole, to make a point, but there’s some real truth behind that statement,” he adds)

Still, organizations often overlook the role. Actually, they go a little further: a report from the Sales Management Association shows companies spend less per person on sales manager training compared to other sales functions, and the training they do receive is pretty lacking, even for companies that are hiring more sales managers.

So why don’t we give them more attention?

Supporting sales managers is particularly difficult for a few reasons:

  • Many were once sales reps themselves and had to learn leadership skills after the fact, and busy schedules post-promotion limit time to develop these essentials management skills.
  • There’s so much pressure to improve salesperson performance and development, and it falls on the manager’s shoulders to quickly lead new recruits and lower performers through that level up – quickly.
  • Managing performance is challenging and uniquely public.  Sales reps are ultimately managed on sales attainment, the numbers, which are often on public display.  Sales rep performance is scrutinized unlike any other role in an organization, which raises the stakes significantly for managers.
  • Sales teams are often distributed across many regions, so communications between team members may happen in ways that aren’t seen in other business units.
  • They’re pulled in many different directions, between management tasks, human resources, answering questions, setting prices, reviewing processes, handling customers, reporting on numbers and so much more.

They straddle the line between selling and business management without fitting squarely in either.

Who do they turn to for help?

Because of their unique position, it often falls on the manager to help themselves. If you find yourself in this position, here are some ways to build your own support:

Coach the coach

No one knows the job – and its challenges – like someone who’s been there. You’re never too experienced to find a mentor, either within your organization or at another. Coaching is just as valuable for a manager as it is for a sales rep.

Champion transparency

Be open about goals, challenges and changes you’re handling. Honesty and openness can go a long way toward improving communication and building understanding within your team and across others.

Delegate when appropriate

Got a meeting someone else could lead? It’s never too early to instil some of those leadership qualities in your team – and get some relief from a schedule set to explode. Plus, the added trust you give your team will be appreciated.

Leverage tech tools

Technology that supports sales reps like sales automation and virtual coaching can ease the burden on managers, too. It’s part of why we developed Kiite – so sales reps can get answers to their questions and sales managers can focus on other tasks knowing their team is covered. There are a lot of apps developed specifically to boost sales manager effectiveness, so it’s worth some research.

The most successful sales organizations are those where all team members – not just the sales reps – are continually seeking to improve themselves. Sales managers included.

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