The transition from salesperson to sales manager can be tough (and doesn’t always work out in the end.) Overnight, someone who is used to being responsible for only their own performance, is suddenly responsible for the performance of an entire sales team.
Priorities must shift with the transition into a leadership position.
Some sales managers struggle for the remainder of their management careers, until they return to a sales role—or worse—get burned out and leave the company. Others overcome the common mistakes early to become magnificent leaders of high performing sales teams.
The difference between them often lies in correcting these five common mistakes.
Mistake #1: You Keep Selling
The adrenaline rush of a big sale is often what keeps salespeople in the business. When you move into the role of sales manager, it can be tempting to keep closing deals in order to get that rush, and the compensation that often comes with it.
This is a mistake because as the sales manager, you are the critical multiplier for your team. If you’re focused on making your own sales, you can’t be focused on helping your salespeople to make their sales.
The Fix: If you’re still handling sales accounts, stop. (If your industry demands you have your own clients, take extra strides to prioritize coaching and build trust with your team.)
Use the time you would have spent servicing your own accounts to lead and coach your salespeople to reach their goals.
Mistake #2: You Treat Your Reports Like Friends
One of the toughest challenges of the transition into management is its impact on relationships. Your former friends, colleagues, cheerleaders, and friendly competition suddenly become your direct reports.
Many new sales managers avoid changing these relationships, continuing to treat their employees as friends. This is a mistake because the sales manager’s job is not only to cheer people on when they succeed, but also to hold them accountable and challenge them into new growth.
The Fix: Now that you’re the boss, be open about the effect that your promotion will have on your relationships. Clearly communicate to your team early on that your primary goal now is to see them succeed.
Let them know that you will be supporting them, but also challenging and correcting them, and making hard decisions for the team. Sometimes this will make them unhappy with you. Be okay with that.
Mistake #3: You Fix Problems Instead of Coaching People
As a salesperson, you became highly skilled at the art and science of selling. You cringe when you see someone making mistakes that could jeopardize a sale. It’s easy to yield to the temptation to step in and “rescue” every situation.
This helicopter management approach is a mistake because when you “fix” the problem, you rob your salespeople of the opportunity to learn to do it themselves.
Just as you would never see a football coach step onto the field to make a play when their team screws up, so you should never step in and make the play on behalf of your team.
The fix: When you feel the temptation to step in, look at the bigger picture. You may be able to “fix” this one situation, but what happens when you’re not there?
Instead, focus on helping your salespeople understand the mistake and learn the skills they need to do better in the future. Also, make it a point to track the high-gain activities your reps should be engaging in throughout the sales process, so there’s time to intervene with coaching before it’s too late.
Mistake #4: Talking Too Much
Most successful salespeople know that talking too much in a sales meeting can spell death to the deal. Yet once promoted to sales management, these same people often kill their effectiveness by talking at their salespeople when they should be asking questions and listening harder.
The fix: Great managers know how to ask questions that draw salespeople out and lead them to greater understanding and ownership of the process. Develop a list of effective open-ended questions to use, then spend less time talking and more time listening.
Bonus – when your reps know what questions you’ll be asking them, they’ll learn to come prepared with the answers.
Mistake #5: Spending All Your Time at a Desk
While some sales managers spend all their time swooping in on their direct reports’ accounts, others make the opposite mistake. They seclude themselves in an office and bury themselves in data.
Pipeline reports, win rates, and forecasts become the focus.
Just as a football coach wouldn’t get on the field and make the play, neither does a football coach sit in an office and manage by emails. Sales coaches shouldn’t either.
The fix: Get out into the office and spend face-to-face time with your salespeople, and prioritize your one-to-one sales coaching sessions. Get to know your people’s goals, their strengths, and their weaknesses. Take the time to coach them on strategy, planning, and specific skills they could improve on.
You can have an open-door policy and still manage your time effectively, you just need to communicate clearly and set boundaries.
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Mastering the Art of Sales Management
The role of the sales leader is one of the toughest in the business, and there are many pitfalls and distractions. You know what you need to be focused on: building a more productive team. But that job can feel like an uphill battle, even if you avoid the biggest mistakes.
For over 40 years, we’ve been helping sales managers take back their calendars and focus on the proven fundamentals of sales management—the things that actually get results!
Visit our upcoming Sales Management Symposium for solutions that address the real issues, and a structured approach to building, maintaining, and motivating a top producing sales team.