As a sales leader in the technology industry, I am frequently presented with opportunities to interview candidates of all kinds of sales positions. One of the questions I commonly ask in an interview is, "Can you describe sales management value?" I'm sure you're not surprised to hear that a large percentage of candidates go out of their way to describe how most of the sales manager's they've had provided little or no value (according to them). I push the question further, "Really? So you've never had a sales manager who actively coached sales methodology, negotiation, prospecting ideas, or career progression?" The most common response I get is something like this, "Well, they did some of that, but mostly they were there to force me to fill out reports/CRM, help them forecast to the business, or to help them meet their own objectives/agendas." I'll refrain from addressing the separate issue of how we select and hire sales managers.
I would be remiss if I didn't reveal that occasionally I'll get a candidate who's had a true inspirational leader that made a real difference in their success and helped them be a better salesperson/individual. Unfortunately, these are few and far between. I would suggest that there are some very fundamental and critical values that sales leaders can provide sellers. How does your sales leader stack up?
1. Helps you navigate the people/processes/tools within your organization. This is critical because while a single salesperson knows how to do some things, many deals require "one-off" negotiations, approvals, or special circumstances. "A village" may be required.
2. Coaches, leads and demonstrates a specific Sales Methodology. If your company embraces a particular sales methodology (like Sandler, SPIN, Command of the Message, etc.), a great sales manager helps salespeople by reinforcing the concepts involved and demonstrating mastery of the methodology. One, singular, universal language is created and productivity/efficiency should be increased (leading to a larger, more qualified pipeline). If your company has no official sales methodology, a great sales leader will select one and lead the team accordingly.
3. Develops trust, transparency, empathy, and generally "has the back" of the salespeople under his/her charge. This takes time and experiences. Trust must be demonstrated, given freely until proven otherwise, and both parties must see value in the other. Most salespeople/manager clashes fall under this category. While these complex relationship components are difficult to establish and keep, they are the cornerstone of a partnership.
4. Treats everyone fairly, but coaches everyone differently. A good sales manager will evaluate the personality style, strengths and weaknesses of every sales rep on their team. There are 100 ways to be successful. We don't need robots, we need successful reps. Great sales leaders change their approach, coaching style and focus depending on the individual seller. Some reps are great at relationships, but fall down on the admin side. Others are more analytical and have problems getting their "foot in the door." I'd suggest a SWAT analysis and a personality inventory on every rep to make it easy for the manager to quickly engage properly.
There's one last concept here, and that is the employee/supervisor relationship. Studies have proven that up to 70% of job happiness is directly related to your immediate supervisor. When sales reps interview with sales leaders, it's important to take this into account. Your style needs to be similar or symbiotic with your manager. Most resignations happen due to challenges in a "good fit" between rep and manager. Think about it - you're unlikely to leave a good environment if you feel supported and your manager provides value.
Happy Selling in 2022!