Salespeople Are Natural Managers, Right?    - 11th November 2019

A client called me recently to talk through a problem. Her fast-growing sales team has been doing well but her most senior person was floundering a little by his own high standards. “What’s the problem?” I asked.

I paraphrase a little: “His duties haven’t changed that much and he has more support with a team of people around him but his sales performance is suffering. He just has to focus them in the mornings, check on the important calls they all have to make, offer help to anyone struggling to close a deal, make sure everyone hits their numbers of sales calls each day and report any relevant information back to me. Apart from that, he just needs to make his sales calls and yet his numbers of sales calls each day are the lowest of anyone and he’s not closing the deals he was.”

So he’s now the Sales Manager and remains, potentially, your most successful and experienced salesperson? “Yes.” How much training has he been given as a Sales Manager? “Er, well.. he hasn’t actually had any training in how to manage the team.” Has he ever managed a team before? “No, never.”

This is a classic mistake and, yes, I’ve made it myself several times. A Sales Manager role, one in which you’re also expected to make sales as well as manage the team is one of the most difficult jobs in business. Really it is.

The job of anybody leading a team or running a company is to help your people understand what they need to do each day in order to be successful. What activities should they be doing and how should they structure their day? What levers are they able to use and when should they use them?

Some salespeople take well to managing a team but my experience tells me that they’re the exception. If you are not personally able to help your Sales Manager understand what they need to do each day then it is your responsibility to find another way to help them (which will help you too of course).

So, after my basic questioning and my client’s slow unravelling of unpreparedness, what were my tips on the leading salesperson who was losing their way as a Sales Manager? For any boss facing this problem, my tips are the same.

First, if you support the member of staff (she does) and believe in their ability, then tell them that you’re behind them and admit that you have let them down with the lack of support.

Second, recognise that if you give them additional duties (motivating team, checking activity, coaching on calls), their call time and call numbers will go down. This will probably see their sales go down too. This, I know, is blindingly obvious but many overlook it because, I think, lots of the extra jobs are ones that ‘only take a minute and that makes no difference’. It does for two reasons. The odd minutes add up over a day. And, it’s not just the minute offering advice, it’s the 3 minutes tuning back into whatever you were doing before. Or the one minute lead into a conversation about something else. In short, it dilutes focus and that has a cost.

Third, give them some training for goodness sake! If you’re good, then do it yourself. If you’re not, then hire someone that is.

Finally, if you can’t afford to lose their sales success then think very carefully about whether you want to make them Sales Manager at all. If you still decide to promote them, give them as little extra administration as possible. For small teams, the best managers are those that lead by example through their own sales activity and sales performance but then they’re Sales Leaders and not Sales Managers. And that’s a whole other article!