APAC sales managers face a daunting task. Sales are falling through due to fear of messing up or decision paralysis at the buyers’ table. Sales teams are underperforming, and morale is dropping. Managers can’t hit their targets, citing many factors that are out of their control, from product issues to geopolitical crises.

“The sales team is the most heavily impacted division in any company, because every macro and micro market change that occurs requires some kind of performance response from it,” says Senior Client Partner Adam Thorp.

Thorp sees sales managers under pressure due to constantly changing expectations from the business, their customers and their team. “It’s a role that feels like it’s set up to fail if you’re given a number you can’t hit, and a team that isn’t performing,” he says. “Our research indicates sales pipelines are not growing. There’s a 10% reduction in win rates and average deal sizes are down 13%.”

With sales reps underachieving their quota by as much as 45%, how can sales managers overcome these challenges and propel future growth?

The first step, according to Thorp, is to attract the right talent into sales management.

"Sales management requires very different traits and competencies to those that define a successful seller,” he explains. Yet all too often, it’s the best sellers who are promoted into these sales management roles.”

In the second part in our series on the DNA of a successful APAC sales team, we investigate the misunderstood middle layer of management. What makes a great sales manager? And what can you do differently to set your sales managers up for success in the year ahead?

The 3 elements of effective sales management

Front-line management is stuck between strategic and tactical thinking, and they’re being asked to translate between the two. If that translation breaks down, teams can’t be effective. So why promote people into that position without understanding if they have the right traits, competencies and drivers as well as the training on how to lead, translate strategy, be commercially savvy, communicate, listen, or give and receive feedback?

Thorp says there are three elements to effective sales management—and these are all things that can be learned.

“There are soft skills—how you manage and lead. There are technical skills—the rhythm and rigor of the sales function, operating plans and activities. And then there are the ways you build that capability within the team, as a coach or support role,” he explains.

Great sales managers understand that it’s not enough to just hit a number. They have a different mindset than a seller – they need to align their sales team’s actions with the broader organizational strategy. They also understand how to use data to improve the sales process, and measure what matters for individual and team performance. And they are excellent coaches. A dynamic coaching approach, where sales coaching is consistently applied and embedded in the workflow, results in 27% higher win rates.

What good sales management looks like

Talent assessments are a valuable way to understand if your best sellers have what it takes to be your best sales managers.

The competencies that set sales managers up for success—customer focus, ability to build networks, connect and persuade, and resourcefulness—are common and important to both sellers and managers. But the ability to build effective teams, collaborate, connect, activate, engage and inspire, or drive results, may not come as easily to sales managers.

“One of the core competencies of a sales manager is that they need to be an agent of change: to take any strategy that comes down from management, understand what that means for their team, and protect them from all the politics so they can get on with their jobs,” says Thorp.

He says some competencies that may be overlooked include holding themselves and each other to account and having strong financial and commercial acumen.

Our research indicates the three traits APAC’s most successful sellers share are affiliation, agility and empathy. These are also valuable traits for sales managers, who need to be collaborative in their problem-solving. But they're also the opposite of the traditional "lone wolf" seller, who focuses on winning the deal at any cost (even at the risk of margin).

“Curiosity is another trait of good sellers, which translates very well into leadership,” says Thorp. “If you’re naturally curious, you’re more likely to be interested in what makes someone on your team tick. And that helps you understand how to support and coach them.”

Coaching can make a significant difference, yet it’s just one element of what a good sales manager does.

“You also need to run the sales operation—the robust sales processes aligned to the customer journey, and the sales methodology, cadence and rhythm of the operation,” he explains.

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The ROI of strong sales management

There’s a lot at stake in a fast-moving sales organization, and if sales managers lack vital coaching and commercial competencies, it will impact the bottom line. Recent research found a single ineffective sales manager can cost a company several million dollars in high seller turnover and underperformance.

Sales managers need to wear multiple hats. They’re tasked with maximizing revenue—close larger deals, faster—while also creating a strong sales pipeline for the future. They need to measure and predict sales performance and identify where attention is required. They need to turn data into actionable insights to do all these things, and also develop their teams to proactively initiate and close deals.

And if the pressure of being stuck in the middle becomes too great, the risk is that they’ll leave—putting even more pressure on the sales team. 

Managing a sales team is one of the most challenging—but essential—roles in your organization. Effective sales managers are more likely to have top-performing sellers and get their new sellers up and running (and hitting quotas) sooner. By understanding effective traits and competencies you can help your sales managers develop, and by providing the robust sales methodologies they need to support their team, you can increase their chance of success.

Learn more about Korn Ferry Sales Effectiveness solutions.

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