by Steli Efti
You just got promoted. Previously you were in a sales role as an account executive. You were doing a great job, and as a result you received a shiny new title with new responsibilities.
You’re the new sales manager. Congratulations!
Now it’s your job to manage a team and empower people to perform at their best. That’s no easy task. Often when you’re in a new role, you make mistakes. It’s a part of the process.
Let’s take a look at the 10 most common mistakes sales managers make and what can be done to prevent them.
1. You think what got you to this position will get you to the next
Being a great sales manager is not the same thing as being a great account executive. You might think that if you just keep doing what you were doing before, you will further excel in your career. This is not the case. What's required of a manager is very different.
Your mistake: Your role has completely changed, but you go about your day with the same routine as if you were still an account executive.
Your solution: Start thinking more carefully about what kind of skills you need to use, how you interact with others, and how you prioritize tasks.
Here’s an approach to get you started.
Embrace being a leader: Showcase your values and explain your priorities. Share with your team what’s expected of them and how you’ll measure their performance.
Establish how you want your team to work: Don’t assume things will fall into place. Explain in detail how you want your team to work. Set expectations and create processes.
Clarify the direction and set goals: Be transparent about the direction and what needs to be achieved. Set ambitious, but realistic goals.
2. You want to be liked instead of respected
As a sales manager, you’ll have to make some tough choices. Being liked is always a bonus, but you don’t have to be liked to be a great sales manager.
Your mistake: You optimize your decisions for likeability instead of increasing the performance of your sales team.
Your solution: Be friendly, not everyone’s friend.
Set boundaries: You’re in control of creating the appropriate balance in the relationship between you and your team members. Navigate that by focusing on the outcome and providing clear guidelines and expectations.
Stay consistent: It’s important to maintain a high level of consistency in the way you interact with the members of your team. Practice emotional self-control at moments you find yourself getting too involved. Remind yourself of the job you have to do and the results you need to deliver.
3. You avoid conflict
No one likes conflict. We all want to avoid it. But as a sales manager, conflict is a big part of why you’re being paid.
Your mistake: You think conflicts will resolve themselves.
Your solution: It’s your responsibility to resolve conflicts. When things go badly, you have to confront them.
Here’s what to do when you notice conflict in your team.
Acknowledge the situation: Confront the parties involved and identify the source of the conflict.
Find a solution: Agree on the best way to solve the conflict and give each person the appropriate action items.
4. You tell people what to do without having to do it yourself
As the sales manager, you need to demonstrate to your sales team what you want them to do. The best way of doing that is to lead by example.
Your mistake: You stop selling.
Your solution: Make the calls, send the cold emails, and take part in negotiations. Demonstrate how to deal with difficult situations by jumping in, being proactive and working with your team toward coming up with a solution.
Don’t be the sales manager that stops selling. Be part of the team.
5. You want to cater to your own ego
If you’re in a situation where you don’t know the solution—don’t pretend that you do.
Your mistake: You try to appear all-knowing and never show any type of weakness.
When you make mistakes, demonstrate to your team how to deal with those mistakes instead of hiding from them.
Be vulnerable: Vulnerability is a great skill to have as a manager. Be open and honest with your team when you don’t know something. Say, “That’s a great question. I don’t know the answer.”
Own up to your mistakes: When you’ve messed up, own up to it and be transparent with the team. Explain what happened, why and how you’ll solve the situation.
Don’t make excuses: People can spot BS from miles away. If you set that example, you’ll end up with a team full of excuses.
6. You try to impress instead of empower
As the new sales manager, you want to inspire your team. But often your way of doing it won’t help the team sell better.
Your mistake: You focus on showing everyone how great you are at sales instead of helping your team become great at sales.
Your solution: Provide your team with scalable and repeatable processes.
I used to be that sales manager. Here’s the story of why I stopped trying to impress my team and started empowering them instead.
The Yellow Pages
When I was a young sales manager, the biggest mistake I made when I started to manage salespeople was that I wanted to impress them. I wanted to show everyone how good I was at sales.
I’d grab the Yellow Pages and tell someone on my team to pick a number. Then I’d cold call them and turn it into an amazing close. Every call I made had a different approach, script and angle. My salespeople were always amazed and impressed.
The problem? My sales team couldn’t do the same. No one could learn from it because I barely knew what I was doing myself. There was no strategy. No script. Everything I was doing was for my own personal gain.
Instead of creating a situation they could learn from and facilitate their sales process, all I had done was create unrealistic expectations. I couldn’t teach them anything because I didn’t know what I had done or why it had worked. Sure, they were inspired. But they weren’t empowered.
Ultimately, they all failed. They were trying to imitate my way of selling instead of finding their own, authentic way of doing it. They struggled because there was no structure in the way they were trying to accomplish success.
In my early days as a sales manager I had an aha-moment. I met this guy who was a great salesperson. He was teaching us how he teaches his sales team to close deals. With him he brought some type of brochure. He used this to make his presentation, which was very structured. To me, it made him look like a beginner.
While it was a good sales presentation, it wasn’t inspiring. So I asked him, “You’ve been in this industry for five years. Do you really need this material to know what you’re saying?”
He looked me right in the eye and said, “I’m not using it because I need it. I’m using it because this is what I expect my team to do. They need it.”
He told me that when he hires new salespeople, he gives them this presentation and guides them through it. It’s a process that can be replicated and scaled. He said that if he does it without the material, they will try to to the same—and they can’t.
I was mind blown. It was the exact opposite of how I was doing things. This was a very powerful moment in my sales management career.
When you’re a sales manager—it’s not about you. Never do things that can’t be replicated, taught and scaled. Do things that you can teach others to do and allow people to adjust those tactics to the way they sell.
7. You’re micro-managing
You want to be “hands-on” so you’re on top of everyone. You walk around and look over people’s shoulders. This means you don’t let people think for themselves, make decisions and execute fast.
Your mistake: You create bottlenecks by making people rely on you.
Your solution: Take a step back and let people make their own mistakes.
Be available: Make yourself available, but not for everything. Find ways to empower your team without micro-managing them.
8. You’re being completely hands-off
On the other side of the spectrum, some sales managers want to be completely hands-off.
Your mistake: You think you can just tell people what to do and then let them get on with it.
Your solution: Manage people in the way they need to be managed.
Adjust your approach: Some people need more space, while others need more pressure to perform at their best. You want to adopt your style. Sounds like a lot of work? Well, this is why you’re getting paid.
Step in when needed: Give people the chance to do the work on their own. When there’s room for a lot of improvement—that’s when you step in and help.
9. You want your team to be perfect
Assuming that your team knows what you know and will perform accordingly is unrealistic.
Your mistake: You have unrealistic expectations.
Your solution: Acknowledge that you’re responsible for the team’s performance.
Here’s an example.
Once, a sales manager had a lot of issues with his team. Two of his salespeople were creating problems within the team. One day, he was particularly mad. So mad that he went to the HQ to speak to the CEO in person.
He went on and on about how badly things were going and how much trouble these two salespeople were causing.
The CEO listened patiently. Nodded along. Took notes.
At the end of it, the CEO looked at the sales manager and said, “First, tell me who was the idiot that hired these two people and let’s get rid of that person first. Then we’ll figure out what to do next.”
In that moment, the sales manager stood up and walked out. He got the message. He was the idiot that hired them. He was responsible—not them.
When you’re a sales manager, you’re responsible for everything. That’s what you signed up for. When mistakes are made, there’s no one else to blame but yourself. Hoorah!
People will make mistakes and people won’t always perform at their best. That’s why there’s a need for a manager.
10. You think everyone works for you
You’re not the boss. Your team members are your customers. And guess what? You work for them.
Your mistake: You think your sales team works for you.
Your solution: Correct your attitude. Think of yourself as a support person for your team. It’s your job to help them become successful. Ask yourself daily, “How can I help this team be the best they can be?”
I hope this post will help you avoid some of these mistakes or perhaps rectify mistakes you’ve made in the past. We all start out as green sales managers. Just take one step at a time towards improvement and remember to put your team first.
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