It’s hard out there for your average sales manager. Sales trends like ever-expanding buyer expectations, changing sales methodologies and nonstop transformation initiatives have coalesced to make their role more challenging than ever. Sales managers now routinely navigate:
It’s clear that sales organizations need to address these changes systematically—and while many undertake initiatives to address sales effectiveness, they have yet to rethink their sales management strategies. Sales managers may now have access to additional tools, technologies and metrics, but they lack the support they need to structure their time and routines to improve long-term seller performance.
Yet investing in sales management is critical to changing seller behavior and growing overall performance. To make that investment happen effectively, sales organizations should embrace four practices to overcome the hurdles that all of this change brings to them.
1. Implement a Rigorous Hiring Process for Sales Managers and Leaders
Sales managers hold a tremendous sphere of influence: they’re responsible for an average of eight direct reports. Put the wrong person in a managerial role, and the impact is exponential: a poor sales director selection typically affects five other sales managers and between 35 and 45 sellers.
Despite the potential negative effects of a sales manager who’s a poor fit for the role, few organizations take a formal or dynamic approach to hiring. That’s often because almost half of sales organizations promote from within; with a known quantity, sales leaders feel comfortable following an informal hiring process. While this can save money and avoid the lag time of having to learn the business, organizations don’t realize that strong performance as a seller doesn’t necessarily translate to managerial success.
Instead, organizations should use a data-driven hiring process for both internal and external candidates. Sales leaders should follow the same process of creating a candidate profile for sales managers and use sales talent assessments to find candidates with the attributes who match their leadership profile.
2. Enable Sales Managers Directly
Many organizations invest significantly in training their frontline sellers, given their proximity to buyers. However, they spend significantly less time and fewer resources on training their sales managers. Nearly a quarter of organizations report spending $500 or less on training each manager, focusing their attention on seller skills such as sales process, methodology and CRM usage. Enabling sales managers through coaching, content and training is often an afterthought.
To be successful, managers need sales enablement strategies targeted directly to their needs: namely, hiring, coaching, reviewing seller performance and forecasting. Organizations should focus on creating enablement strategies that speak to managers needs, then use them as an additional base of support to roll enablement efforts out to frontline sellers.
3. Give Sales Managers Access to Leader-Specific Technology
At most sales organizations, sales leaders leverage the sales technology stack to help sellers close more deals, prioritizing frontline seller needs over managerial tools. Indeed, only half of sales organizations equip their managers with technology that supports the coaching process; another 20% plan to add this technology in the next year. Coaching tools, especially those aided by artificial intelligence, can help managers guide sellers more efficiently and effectively.
The key to choosing the right leader-specific sales technology is to integrate it with sales managers’ processes and workflows. Instead of automating existing, ineffective processes, technology should make managers’ lives easier. It should improve their efficacy while saving them time and avoiding duplicate data entry.
When an organization rolls out a new sales tech tool, their leaders should ask sales manager whether it will give them additional insights into seller performance or help them deliver more structured, timely coaching. Look for tech capable of breaking down videos of sales conversations, prompting coaching activities or providing motivational insights linked to talent profiles.
4. Use a Variety of KPIs to Measure and Incent Manager Performance
Many organizations focus exclusively on revenue and other lagging metrics to measure performance. The problem with these metrics is that sales managers can choose how to achieve their numbers: they can coach their sales team, do their own selling or allow a few top sellers to carry the load. Because there’s no disincentive to the latter two approaches, all too often, sales managers spend more time on selling and administration than on developing their team.
Only 35.6% of sales organizations use leading indicators—such as seller engagement and retention, client retention and forecast accuracy—to evaluate and compensate sales managers. These metrics are better indicators of how well sales managers are fulfilling their goal of developing their sellers.
It’s now time to shed these long-standing practices toward sales management strategies that move sellers forward—and with them, more deals.