There are hundreds (if not thousands) of blog posts about the most important sales manager skills. Many of them say metrics and time in the field with customers learning about their challenges are critical. Others discuss how to coach and the need for data-driven decisions. Still more provide readers with tips and tricks for getting sales teams to take action toward desired outcomes.
All of those things are important. And they all miss the point.
You see, the most important skill any sales manager can exhibit is awareness: awareness of self, of the people they work with, and of the organization they serve.
As any good sales manager will tell you, a skill is an ability that can be learned and improved through practice. See how well you’ve mastered these four key skills of highly effective sales managers.
Sales Manager Skill #1: Understanding Yourself
Instead of trying to control the uncontrollable world around them, the best sales managers look inward. They understand who they are at the deepest level. In other words, they know what drives their emotions.
Emotions precede every action a sales manager (or any person) takes. And until a sales manager understands their emotions, he or she will be controlled by them.
Sales managers I meet with often tell me that they feel a tremendous amount of pressure to live up to some kind of idealized image of what it means to have the role. One Senior Vice President of Sales recently said to me, “I am supposed to be serious and in constant control of the entire sales organization. But, really, I have no idea what I’m doing.”
That sense of inauthenticity, commonly referred to as imposter syndrome, is something we all feel when we’re acting in contradiction to who we really are.
At the most basic level, many professionals experience this disconnect because they erroneously endeavor to maintain at least two entirely distinct identities – “me at home” and “me at work.” But walking over the physical threshold of the office each morning or joining a Zoom call doesn’t change the person you are.
Here’s an example:
It’s 1:00 a.m. on a Tuesday, and one of your kids just came in past his curfew. It’s the fourth time he’s done it, and you’re mad. Your anger won’t disappear when you walk into tomorrow’s sales meeting. Instead, unless you’re supremely aware of it, it’s likely to come out in unexpected ways. And, since you’re in a leadership position, it could even impact the actions of others inside your company.
Great sales managers are aware of the controlling nature of their emotions and endeavor to understand them. They know that awareness allows them to manage their emotions instead of allowing their emotions to manage them.
Understanding yourself begins with paying close attention to the physical effects that experiences have on your body. Once you start learning those physical manifestations, you will begin to observe how they impact your day-to-day interactions with others.
- What does anger feel like?
- What does fear feel like?
- What causes your throat to clench?
- What puts your stomach in knots?
Sales Manager Skill #2: Understanding Your Internal Customers
The greatest sales managers don’t stop at self-awareness. They also know they need to understand their internal customers (most importantly the people who report to them), as well.
An excellent sales manager will adapt, bend, and flex to the people they lead in the same way they expect sales professionals to adapt, bend, and flex to prospects and customers.
The difference between mediocre sales managers and the best is a deep understanding of the people with whom they work – their direct reports, peers, and leaders. This is challenging, to be sure, but certainly offers tremendous payoff on both the personal and organizational level.
Understanding your internal customers begins with noting the personality types, motivators, and drivers of the people you work with. Observing the basics of their day-to-day work can also help you see the frustrations and pressures they’re under.
Many companies offer personality and skills assessments to help managers gain this insight. See if your company can share information about types to significantly shorten your learning curve.
Sales Manager Skill #3: Understanding Your External Customers
Understanding the mindset of customers may seem simple on the surface once you’ve defined your Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) or buyer personas. However, great sales managers never make assumptions. They know that what worked well when they were on the front lines may be drastically different than the situation faced by today’s sellers.
Great sales managers get into the field to listen to their prospects and customers. They don’t hide behind a desk or in an office. And, most importantly, when they’re in the field, they’re listening, not talking. They’re asking effective questions to understand their customers.
- Why did you buy from us?
- What was the trigger event for hiring us?
- What could we do better?
Sales Manager Skill #4: Understanding Your Organization
Finally, the best sales managers also seek to understand the purpose and mission of their company—why their organization exists in the first place. And this is about more than just “generating a profit.”
The ultimate goal for a sales team is to successfully articulate this purpose to the people who share that vision. As Simon Sinek explains in his Ted Talk on Inspirational Leadership, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”
By enveloping your offerings with the message of why your organization exists, you are able to speak to the buyer on a deeper and more meaningful level.
Selling with purpose means that salespeople understand deeply how they make a difference to customers. According to McCloud, these professionals can outperform their more quota-driven counterparts. And when sales managers find their purpose, they’re able to create a sales force who drive revenue and do work that makes them proud. Ask your team about their noble purpose.
- Other than a paycheck, why do you do this?
- What sales interaction are you most proud of? Why?
- What’s your most significant accomplishment here? Why?
Becoming the Best Sales Manager You Can Be
In short, the best sales managers exhibit deep awareness. They know themselves, their internal customers, their external customers, and the true reason for the organization’s existence.
Understanding is a core part of this path: experiences create memories, which form beliefs, which lead to emotions, which shape values, which drive behaviors, which make cultures.
Learn and practice these four essential sales manager skills to build and lead a high-performing team.
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