Congratulations – you’re the new sales manager!
You should probably be a little of both.
New sales managers have the potential to rock the job – hitting all-time records and propelling the team to new heights. Exciting!
On the other hand, about half of new managers fail at the job within two years, a Gartner study found. Scary!
Fortunately, you can avoid failure and move toward success faster by adopting some – or all – of these new-manager best practices.
Researchers and experienced leaders suggest:
1. Get mentored
New sales managers are often former extraordinary salespeople. So they’re natural at the “sales” part of the job, but not necessarily natural at the “manager” part of the job. In fact, Harvard Business School researchers found when new sales managers fail, it’s because they didn’t get enough (or any!) management training.
If you promote salespeople into management positions, train them and put them in a mentoring program. If you’re the newly promoted manager, and aren’t offered formal training, researchers said you want to find experienced peer mentors who can spend a day or two with you on each of these areas:
- business planning
- talent acquisition, management and development
- sales tracking and execution
- performance management, rewards and recognition, and
- contracts, negotiations and pricing.
2. Establish a culture
Some sales managers feel like they need to “lay down the law” when they step into the new position. That can backfire because no adult works well when told there’s a new sheriff in town.
Instead, establish and cultivate a welcoming culture. It’ll help the team (even if it’s an established one) find its identity. Three important keys:
- Inclusion. Salespeople are motivated by a feeling that they’re part of something larger than themselves. Your team needs common goals, a single vision and understanding of how things will be done fairly. Include salespeople in shaping those important factors so they buy in to your leadership early.
- Learning. Establish a cadence and expectation for training early so salespeople understand and commit to learning. New managers can succeed because training 1) continually improves efficiency, 2) shows salespeople you’re invested in their success, 3) builds morale, and 4) keeps your team ahead of the competition.
- Style. Identify your management style to help salespeople understand why you do the things you do. Perhaps you’re regimented and methodical. Or maybe you’re more cavalier and progressive. You can’t expect your team to work in your same style, but you need them to understand yours.
3. Address the shift
Many new sales managers were promoted from within and immediately become boss to people who were their peers (and often friends). You want to recognize a shift in working relationships, clear any resentment (in the case colleagues were passed over for the position) and establish some courtesy rules for going forward.
Set up one-on-one chats and ask former colleagues how they feel about the shift in the working situation and how they’d like to maintain a successful, professional relationship.
4. Prioritize goals
You’ve probably always set goals, then prioritized those and the tasks involved in achieving them. As a new manager, it’s more important than ever that you prioritize.
Consider all your priorities as a new leader, then write your top three for the quarter. Outline the tasks and strategies that need the most energy to be achieved. It’s important that you hit those early goals so you start with a victory because it’ll help you gain the momentum to continue successfully.
Note: If you find yourself doing things that don’t contribute to the top priorities – perhaps time on pointless record-keeping, emailing or meeting – stop and re-focus.
Some achievable first-quarter goals: hit sales goals, increase conversion rates, implement training schedules, reduce turnover.
To stay on top of those top priorities, spend more time taking control of your calendar in the early months of leadership. This is an exercise in efficiency. The more you plan – and stick to the plan – the more likely you will hit goals.
Schedule for the quarter one-on-one meetings with salespeople, weekly check-ins, monthly number reviews and action planning and time with your boss to assess progress. Add alerts and/or reminders to your devices.
6. Establish, agree on expectations
New managers often expect their charges will perform like they did when they were salespeople. Salespeople will likely continue to perform as they also did … unless you establish new, agreed-upon expectations. This will help you all avoid frustration, disappointment and failure.
Meet with the team to explain what they can expect from you – for instance, level of involvement in the sales process, goal expectations, amount of feedback, etc. Ask what they expect from you. Then explain what you expect from them – for instance, communication frequency, performance goals and behavioral expectations.
Review personal expectations in one-on-one meetings. Sales conditions can change weekly or monthly, so be prepared to establish and agree on the new expectations regularly.
7. Pass along your pipeline
Since so many new sales managers step directly out of the salesperson position, they might abandon – or stop nurturing – their pipeline.
Redistribute your pipeline as soon as possible after a promotion, perhaps assigning leads and customers to several reps. Make personal introductions between salespeople and existing prospects and customers as often as possible.
8. Let go of more
Once you pass along your pipeline, let go of other minutia. Focus more on the big picture and less on the daily, housekeeping tasks that you once did.
Take stock of daily chores you do instinctively, out of habit and because “that’s the way I’ve always done things.” Then eliminate those that don’t make sense in your new role. Delegate what must still get done but don’t contribute to your new goals, priorities and strategy.
9. Move from maker to manager
New sales managers’ responsibilities change. Yet, many try to manage themselves and their time the same way they did when they were salespeople. For instance, they might fill longer stretches of time with focused tasks such as prospecting or preparing presentations – a maker’s schedule.
As a leader, you need to move from a maker’s schedule to a manager’s schedule. Now you need to spend more time coordinating the people who get the job done. Careful, though: That doesn’t mean you just tell people what to do. It’s a practice of scheduling their time and yours effectively to help everyone reach goals.
Strategically schedule one-on-ones, coaching, training, customer visits, plus extra time for pop-up crises.
10. Set the tone with your boss
When you take a new role, you usually get a new boss, too. In addition to setting expectations with your salespeople, you want to clarify expectations with your new boss – whether it’s the CEO, VP of Sales or another executive.
Meet to get a full understanding of your boss’ priorities and goals. Find out his or her expectations for your individual and team’s performance. Have your plans and expectations ready to roll out, especially if you have changes in mind such as more people, enhanced technology and evolved processes.
11. Be prepared to ‘zip it’
Oh, the things you’ll learn as a new manager – how to balance budgets, schedule time better, delegate … and the hot messes some of your employees are. New managers are often shocked to discover the performance and personal issues that already exist. They’re even more shocked to find they now have to deal with those.
The key to dealing successfully: Lean on Human Resources when you’re in even the slightest doubt, and keep people’s issues close to your vest (for practical and legal reasons).
12. Learn more
Plan time in the early days to study and become a department expert in:
- Numbers. You may have always had your eye on your numbers – leads, dollars, closes and everything that contributes to them. As a manager, you must understand what drives the numbers and the integrity of the numbers involved in the sales pipeline. Work with your CFO and VP of Sales to understand all the causes, effects and reasons for tracking the numbers you do.
- Customers. As a salesperson, you had your thumb on the pulse of your customers. Now you need to better understand your company’s customers, plus their expectations and perceptions of your organization, products or services and salespeople. Work with marketing and other sales leaders to learn customers’:
- business drivers
- market structures
- personal drivers, and
- visions of success.
- Protocols. Salespeople often work outside the office and the office protocol. Managers don’t. As a manager, you need to help salespeople get things done within your organization. Study up on the tools, systems, programs and even the politics that affect the team’s work. Build relationships, alliances and technical skills to help the team succeed.
13. Be the example
Like it or not, managers are on a bit of a pedestal. Your people and peers will watch a little more closely and take cues from your words and actions. Now it’s more important than ever that what you say and do is consistent.
Follow and encourage your organization’s ethical guideposts. Avoid bad-mouthing the company, your bosses, peers and subordinates, plus customers and competition.
14. Coach more, solve less
Salespeople will bring you lots of problems you know how to solve because you were in their shoes and faced the same situation. You might be tempted to just solve the problem.
Instead, you want to move salespeople toward solving issues themselves because you don’t want them to become dependent. Use this approach: For every problem employees bring to you, require them to offer three possible solutions. Talk through those three to uncover the best resolution (even if it’s a combination of them.) Or ask questions to lead salespeople toward a solution you know works.
And if customers bring problems to you, act similarly: Encourage them to work through their salespeople and/or your service and technical experts.
15. Find and accept help
Many new managers try to prove themselves quickly. They jump into every fire and attempt to fight it alone. Successful new sales managers rely on a team of firefighters. Sometimes they ask for help. Other times they accept help that’s offered.
Ask respected peers and executives for input on situations that are new to you. Turn to trusted colleagues for insight on managing people. Rely on your salespeople to carry some of the load when you face group challenges.