In this guest blog post from one of our inaugural Miller Heiman Group Icons, Kevin Lewis, Global Sales Excellence Leader at Milliken Chemical and an authority on developing sales managers, recommends five ways to get new sales managers off to a great start.
Great sales leaders aren’t born: they’re made. Yet many sales organizations don’t see this, instead promoting top sellers to managerial roles based on their excellent selling skills and deal results. But the attributes of top sellers don’t always align with the skills needed to be a great sales leader.
Because new sales managers may lack the skills necessary to develop their people, sales leaders must take them under their wing and ensure they have the skills and tools they need to grow. Here are five ways that sales leaders can help newly minted sales managers accelerate their progress.
- Set the Right Goals
In my opinion, sales leaders have two primary goals: to hit their sales numbers and to develop their people. My belief is that if you do a great job of developing your sales team, you’ll achieve both: with more people performing at their best, you increase your ability to hit—if not exceed—your sales targets.
A key sales management strategy is for sales managers to make sure that every action they take furthers one of these two goals. If they do something that falls outside these two priorities, they should question whether they’re spending their time in the right way.
- Get the One-on-Ones Right
New managers should set up an initial conversation with all of their sellers. But they have to go in with an observing mindset, rather than a managerial approach at the start. The purpose of this first meeting is to ask their sellers questions, then listen and learn. From there, one-on-ones must take place weekly or bi-weekly and the new sales manager must align those conversations to the seller’s needs. Then, end each meeting with action steps for the seller to implement.
- Remember What Made You and Other Sales Managers a Successful Salesperson
Sales managers promoted from the seller ranks should take an inventory of the skills that helped them the most, from achieving quota to growing and closing deals. Sharing this knowledge with frontline sellers can help them achieve similar success. It’s also important to operate outside a focus group of one—regroup with other sales managers to see what also worked well for them. That uncovers a broader skillset for sellers to emulate.
- Address the Shift in What Good Sales Managers Look Like
In the past, sales managers used their gut instincts to manage their team and their networks to grow their business. Today, those methods are no longer sustainable: the sales management function has evolved.
Sales managers need a data-informed, repeatable process for helping their sellers hit their goals. That’s why Milliken uses the sales methodologies from Strategic Selling with Perspective, Conceptual Selling, Large Account Management Process (LAMP) and Professional Sales Coaching, along with a CRM and other technology tools, over the last decade. Managers need to realize that if the sales management function is going to continue being effective in a rapidly changing world, they need processes and systems.
Again, this gives new managers an opportunity to seek out successful sales managers and pick their brain. Ask them what actions have contributed to their success as well as what techniques and tactics haven’t worked for them. This helps a new sales manager build a stable of best practices to implement with their team.
- Model Good Coaching Behavior
For me, the goal of sales coaching is to develop your salespeople so they thrive without your day-to-day involvement. Many sales leaders coach by telling sellers what to do rather than developing their understanding through coaching methods such as questioning. That’s a hard skill to learn.
When I meet with a new sales manager, I use hands-on sales management coaching techniques to help them learn the art of good sales coaching. For example, many newly promoted sales managers may never have had a good sales funnel review (or any sales funnel review, for that matter). One of the first things I do is to perform a sales funnel review in front of them and ask for feedback. Then I ask the manager to do a funnel review in front of me. Then I offer specific suggestions on actions they should take to improve.
Want to Maximize Your Sales Team’s Potential?
Managing salespeople requires a combination of art (applying sales management coaching skills) and science (using data from CRMs to inform sales management strategies). To learn more about perfecting this blend of art and science to take your sales managers to the next level, check out the Miller Heiman Group’s Professional Sales Coaching training and listen to my Move the Deal podcast.
At Milliken Chemical, a leading global manufacturer of specialty additives such as colorants and other chemical intermediates, Kevin Lewis supports 20 sales managers and 125 salespeople around the globe, helping them become more successful through training, coaching, mentoring and improved processes and systems.