Forget the Cape: How sales managers can thrive even if they aren’t superhuman

With the revenues of the company resting on their shoulders and the constant demands for their attention, sales managers often feel they have to be superhuman.

Unfortunately, we all know that’s not possible. That’s why sales managers have to develop skills that will help them focus themselves and their reps on what’s most important (meaning what will contribute most to revenue growth).

Opportunities abound

What you specifically have to work on depends on your own strengths and blind spots, and the needs of your team and business. To get you started, here are some questions related to what I think are critical competencies of sales managers. Use them to help you identify what you need to focus on so you can help your team achieve more:

  • Do you find yourself still thinking like a sales rep? Or have you developed better leadership mindset? A leader who lets their sales instincts take over will miss opportunities to develop their rep’s skills.
  • Is poor time management leaving you with little time for coaching? Your most important priority is developing your reps — not responding to every request that gets thrown at you.
  • Are there poor attitudes or wills among sales reps that are demotivating your whole team? A classic article in The Wall Street Journal by Robert Sutton summarizes the evidence that one bad apple really can spoil the whole bunch. If you have one or more bad-attitude reps, dealing with them can elevate motivation across you whole team.
  • Are you helping your reps make the connection between their steps of selling and the customer’s steps of buying? Reps who don’t understand what actions a customer takes going through a buying process will often sell too fast — trying to pitch well before a customer has made a decision to take action. Lost sales, poor forecasting… the complications are endless.
  • Do you only deal with reps as a deal is nearing the close? Or are you monitoring their deals early on? The size of a deal and the urgency to buy is largely determined in the first few meetings with a prospect. If a rep makes mistakes in those stages — doesn’t connect customer needs to your solutions, doesn’t show the customer the price of nottaking action — there’s very little you can do rescue the deal later on.
  • How good of a coach are you? Do you know whether your reps see you as a “critic” (someone who offers advice after-the-fact) or a true coach who works on developing and improving their skills?
  • Be honest now — is there somone on your team who you would nothire if given a second chance? Almost every manager tells me “yes.” Perhaps you need to learn how to cut your losses sooner and improve your hiring process (as I wrote about in a recent blog)

Be human: Focus!

If you’ve identified with the problems in more than one of the bullets, my advice is to focus. Acknowledge that you’re not a superhero. Trying to do too much can be just as bad for your team as doing too little.

Also, remember that there’s no way to quantify the potential impact of these alternatives, no way to determine ahead of time if working on your own mindset would be more valuable to your team than working on their customer skills. So I’ll leave it up to your judgment and experience to decide which actions will have the greatest impact on you and your sales team.

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Kevin F. Davis is the author of “The Sales Manager’s Guide to Greatness: 10 Essential Strategies for Leading Your Team to the Top.” The book is now available on Amazon.com here.