Article as seen in Forbes.com

I have the great pleasure of working with top performing sales professionals in a variety of industries. Often, an organization will reward their top salesperson by making them the sales manager. I can tell you that rarely is the top salesperson great at managing salespeople. The attributes of great salespeople are not the same as the attributes of a manager. Across industries, the best sales managers always possess these three skills.

Passion For Mentoring

The top job of any sales manager is getting the most from your team. Some managers believe that the best thing to do is have a weekly meeting asking the same questions over and over again. They beat-up their team and say things like, “You’ve gotta close more business.” Surprisingly, that doesn’t produce great results. Just wishing or demanding results doesn’t actually work (I know – what a shocker!).

The best managers take pride in developing the talent of their team members, a positive trait illustrated beautifully in Jim Schleckser’s new book, Great CEOs Are Lazy. Great managers actually love saying things like, “Chris is actually better selling to this type of client than I am.” They spend more than half of their time coaching professionals on how to be more efficient and effective. When they attend sales calls, they don’t take over the meeting. Rather, they observe and then privately provide constructive suggestions after the meeting. This takes incredible discipline. Candidly, when I managed sales professionals in my prior businesses, I sucked at this part. I always jumped in and felt it was my job to win the deal for us. My business growth was limited to moderate success until I learned how to better mentor my team members. Eventually, though they occasionally brought me in to help with an opportunity, they learned how to grow business on their own.

Mentoring involves structured role playing using a tool (any tool – not just Same Side Improv), regular training and skills development, attending actual customer meetings, discussing account strategy, and working with team members on their business plan to achieve their goals.

Quick To Acknowledge Success

The top managers have another common attribute. They are the first ones to acknowledge success, and the last ones to take credit. They don’t throw their team members under the bus. They don’t throw out frequent threats. Rather, when something goes wrong, they immediately look to take the blame. They put their team members first.

Top sales managers recognize that sales professionals deal with plenty of rejection. The last thing a professional needs is someone beating them up when they lost a deal. Instead, the top managers will review the account, recognize the steps that went well, and then offer suggestions and role-play the situations that did not go well.

Of course, privately, if a team member keeps making the same mistakes, is not putting in the effort, or is failing to produce results, then they will layout a plan to help make the person successful. You can make someone accountable and still be on the same side as them in the discussion. Everyone wants to succeed. Top managers layout shared goals of success, and a mutually agreed upon plan to get there. I’m still great friends with salespeople who didn’t work out. They’ve often used that experience to build a successful career moving forward.

Follow A System To Avoid Chasing Rainbows

If the top managers know their job is to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of their team, then they know that they need to follow a common process to make that happen. While top managers embrace individuality, the foundational process or system needs to be consistent across the organization. It is easy for individuals to get excited about a given opportunity and form a personal attachment to the account. Top managers follow a consistent process to capture objective information so they can, together with the rep, evaluate the opportunity without getting caught in emotional arguments.

The top managers establish the key steps in the sales process, carefully define what makes a good prospect, and identify which criteria qualifies an opportunity worth pursuing or killing. They encourage team members to focus on areas that play to their strengths. The top managers encourage focus from their team members, and ensure that everyone follows the same process. Let’s face it, how could you effectively manage a team of people if each team members was following their own system?

Does this mean creating a team of robots? Not at all. In fact, the best of the best narrowly define a small set of conditions that everyone must follow. They encourage each person to put their individual style into the process. Yet, the data points, process, and steps are consistent across the organization. This consistency allows them to quickly know which opportunities are worth pursuing and they can avoid chasing rainbows.

Put It To Work

Here are steps you can put to work today to get more from your team (and they’ll love you for it).

  1. Establish regular role-play (we call it Improv) sessions where your goal is to provide constructive feedback and mentoring. Always start with what is working, and limit suggestions to one or two areas for the greatest impact;
  2. Catch your team doing things right. Each day, find at least one item each team member is doing well and publicly recognize it in the organization. Positive reinforcement is magical;
  3. Institute a consistent process for qualification, sales steps, uncovering the truth, and which opportunities you do and do not pursue. Once the rules are set, your team will be empowered.

There are many attributes of the best sales managers. These three attributes are shared by all of the best ones. Follow just these three steps can produce better results for you and your team in the year ahead.

It’s Your Turn

What other attributes do you associate with great managers? What is the worst attribute you’ve experienced?

How to Lead Through Strengths

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