“Five years ago, there wasn’t much of a difference in skill sets [between salespeople and sales managers]. Sales leaders were the best salespeople. Now sales leaders need a good base of experience in order to understand sales as well as other parts of the organization. They need leadership skills. They need marketing skills. They need vision.”
Today’s sales managers remain principally responsible for the development of salespeople, territories, and business for the organization. As such, sales managers bear a tremendous amount of accountability for their sales organization’s overall success. As we think through the other strategies detailed in this text, it is clear that a high-performing sales management team is imperative for achieving success— whether in supporting customer relationship management (CRM) systems, developing a sales force, managing channels, deploying sales resources, or building a culture. Ironically, though, in spite of being one of the most highly valued positions within the sales structure, organizations continue to overlook this critical role. Many, if not most, sales managers are promoted to their role on the basis of their superior selling skills. Once placed, they often receive little training or support to build their leadership abilities. As a result, the role of sales manager is executed with extreme inconsistency across the sales organization.
In most sales organizations, the sales manager is structurally in the middle of the senior leaders and the frontline sales representatives. By virtue of the arrangement, this makes the sales manager the critical, if not only, bridge connecting senior management with the frontline sales representatives; in other words, they’re the direct link to the marketplace. Of equal importance, sales managers also connect that same lifeline to the sales organization’s owners and senior leadership. The job of the modern sales manager is as multifaceted as it is critical. It is the sales manager who
must regularly communicate downward and upward;
has the responsibility to turn corporate strategy and objectives into tangible field results;
must continuously balance marketplace realities and shift with their organization’s own strategy and goals;
has to always be attuned to the larger picture and still manage the smaller details daily;
must balance the organization’s larger market strategy against individual account objectives;
has to maintain focus on overall team or group performance, not just on individual accomplishments; and
must respond to the call to close sales, yet develop the capabilities of the sales team to seal deals independently.
Our research found that progressive sales organizations are attempting to redefine the sales manager position and to that end are implementing initiatives to improve the management and leadership skills of those occupying this pivotal role. Against the realities of business in the early 21st century, all sales organizations should similarly be reevaluating the skills required of those occupying the sales manager seat.
Through personal interviews, the analysis of more than 2,000 critical incidents of actual sales behaviors, and a review of contemporary literature, we have discovered that sales organizations may find success by promoting a role that more evenly balances the competencies associated with the three core skill sets of strategic thinking, coaching, and communication.