The 3 Most Common Potholes For New Sales Managers
Susan was promoted to sales manager two months ago. Back in the day, she was a star salesperson -- a great funnel manager, always organized, always well-rested. Her attitude offered a glowing "pick-me-up" for everyone around her in the office.
Not anymore -- not since her promotion to sales manager. I peered over at the new Susan and saw a harried-looking, red-eyed, burned-out professional. I wish I could say I was surprised, but I almost always saw this situation unfold for newly promoted sales managers.
Here are the three most common traps new sales managers fall into. Avoid them if you can.
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1. Time Management Terrors
New managers have an unrealistic perception of how much coaching they can actually do with each of their team members. They need to learn quickly that success as a manager is about the efficiency of their coaching -- their ability to diagnose the issues, customize a coaching plan, and execute the coaching in a time efficient manner.
"Susan, what is wrong?" I asked.
Almost out of breath, Susan responded, "Oh Mark. There just aren't enough hours in the day. I feel like I am being pulled in a million directions and before I know it, it is 7 p.m. and the day is over. How do managers do it?"
I have an exercise I take new sales managers through at this stage of their transition. Here was the perfect opportunity.
"Susan, do me a favor," I responded. "Write on the whiteboard all of the professional tasks you do each week. Think of the different categories of work. You coach your reps. You attend management meetings and hold team meetings. You are involved with some deals. You check email. Write them all down. Now write the approximate hours per week you spend on each task. What is the total number of hours per week?"
"102!" Susan exclaimed.
"No wonder you are going crazy," I pointed out. "You need to cut back, but where? There are a few team meetings each week that need to happen. Obviously, email cannot pile up so that time is necessary. It seems like you have the right amount of time allocated to overseeing your team's opportunities. In reality, the only thing that we can touch is the time you spend coaching each salesperson. You listed six hours per week per person, but with an eight-person team, you simply can't spare that much time. You need to find a way to be more efficient with your coaching."
2. Acting as a Glorified Salesperson
Almost all sales managers were individual contributors at some point in their careers. On the front line, they controlled their own destiny. If they got into trouble one quarter, it was not a problem. They would simply increase their activity and get back on track.
As these salespeople transition to management, they lose that direct control. They must achieve their goals through the salespeople on their teams. This new paradigm can be a frustrating and difficult transition for folks who used to control their own destinies.
So what do they do? They start doing important calls for their salespeople. "Just set me up with your next demo. I'll run it for you. I'll get the deal done."
This dynamic is dangerous, as the manager ends up smothering and spoiling her salespeople. Because they are no longer closing deals themselves, the salesperson starts to lose confidence in their own abilities. They also grow apathetic. "Hey, if I can just bring my manager on every call, she'll get me to quota or fail. Either way, it's not my fault."
This approach simply does not scale. Managers need to be patient with their salespeople. As a manager, it is painful to hear a salesperson mishandle an objection and not speak up, but it's essential to that salesperson's development. He needs to skin his knees. The coaching will come afterward.
Managers need to teach salespeople how to get themselves out of trouble and stay productive without too much hand-holding. They need to be efficient coaches. They need to diagnose skill deficiencies, devise customer coaching strategies, and coach effectively.
3. Giving Up on a Salesperson Too Early
It is such an amazing feeling when one of your new hires comes out of training crushing the phone, exceeding quota after quota, and maintaining a great attitude. All it took was a few simple nudges by you as her manager.
Unfortunately, not all hires work out that way. More often than not, I would receive reports from managers stating that their new sales hire "just wasn't working out." The more inexperienced the sales manager, the sooner I would receive the news.
Here's what worried me: When we remained patient and gave those "weak" salespeople another six months, many of the folks who supposedly "weren't working out" became rock stars in our sales organization. As a guy who loves predictability, my head was spinning.
Time and time again, I see managers giving up on new hires too early. Yes, we would all love it if new hires crushed it right out of training and never looked back. But often, the "weak" salespeople just need some effective coaching and someone to believe in them for a few months before everything starts to click.
In these cases, my advice to a sales manager is to pick a deficiency in a salesperson's process, coach them on it, and check in with them the next day. If the manager sees improvement and the improvement appears to stick, that is a promising sign. It may take some work, but the salesperson is demonstrating coach-ability and should be able to evolve into a productive individual contributor.
However, if a manager coaches a salesperson on a simple deficiency and doesn't see the salesperson apply the coaching, that is a bad sign. It is probably best for both parties to part ways and let the individual contributor find a buyer context better suited for his strengths.