To Build a Great Sales Team, You Need a Great Manager

To Build a Great Sales Team, You Need a Great Manager

Many will argue for the team of excellent salespeople:

  • “It’s salespeople — not managers — who develop and nurture the customer relationships that drive sales.”
  • “Replacing one average manager is easier than replacing an entire team of average salespeople.”
  • “An excellent salesperson doesn’t need managing.”

Others will argue for the excellent manager:

  • “Excellent managers consistently recruit the best sales talent. ‘First-class hires first-class; second-class hires third-class.'”
  • “Excellent managers motivate excellent salespeople, develop average salespeople to make them excellent, and keep the entire team engaged and aligned.”
  • “Excellent salespeople make sales today, but eventually they retire, get promoted, or get wooed away by a competitor.”

Clearly, the best sales forces have both excellent salespeople and excellent managers. A team of excellent salespeople will win sales and make this year’s goal, regardless of who the manager is. But the success of that team will be short-lived. Eventually, an average manager will bring all of the salespeople that he manages down to his level. On the other hand, an excellent manager will bring excellence to all her territories. An excellent manager may inherit average salespeople, but in the long run she will counsel, coach, motivate, or replace salespeople until the entire team is excellent.

In our experience, companies that have winning sales forces start with excellent managers. Most sales organizations focus considerable energy to build a team of excellent salespeople, yet regrettably, they focus too little attention on building the management team, which is truly “the force behind the sales force.” Consider the following evidence.

Role definition: Most companies have a job description for salespeople, and many have a defined sales process specifying how salespeople should work with customers. But too many companies don’t do a good job of defining the more varied responsibilities of managers. Managers must play three roles — people, customer, and business manager — so they get pulled from all sides. We hear all the time about “role pollution” in the manager’s job. Without role clarity, managers execute tasks that are urgent or within their comfort zone, rather than focusing on what’s most important for driving long-term performance.

Selection: Companies devote substantial energy to recruiting the best sales talent, but when it comes to managers, most simply select their best salespeople for the job. Yet what it takes to succeed as a salesperson is very different from what it takes to succeed as a manager. Unless you select salespeople who have strong managerial tendencies, in addition to respectable sales skills, your sales management team will be average at best.

Development: Too often, when sales managers come into their jobs after having been successful salespeople, their company expects them to know how to manage with minimal guidance. Of the $20+ billion that U.S. companies spend training their sales forces every year, very little gets directed towards sales managers. The result is inconsistent competency across most management teams, as new managers struggle to make the critical transition from salesperson, and experienced managers can’t keep up with ever-changing job demands.

Support: Sales managers typically rank third, behind salespeople and senior sales leadership, when it comes to prioritizing sales force support initiatives (such as access to support personnel and resources, and data and tools that enable good decision making and increase efficiency). Rarely do managers get enough support resources for getting everything done — and done well.

Sales managers serve as key points of leverage for driving long-term sales performance. It’s a mistake to underinvest in this group. By building a winning sales management team, you can capitalize on a high-impact, tangible opportunity to drive sales effectiveness and top and bottom line results.

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