Forget Being Just a Sales Manager – You Should Be a Leader!

The more I hear this question. The more I feel it isn’t valid. Are you a Sales Manager or a Sales Coach?, perhaps this is indicative of the challenges sales organisations face today.

The reality is that to be a successful front line sales manager, it is not a question of being one or the other, it is really a question of integrating and balancing the two in every sales manager. To me a more accurate question would be “Are you a Sales Leader or not?” To me a leader, one that leads from the “front”, is one that is able to both manage and coach.

To manage, for me means to establish and communicate expectations. Communicating includes ensuring that your team members actually understand exactly what is expected of them. This means more than just the person nodding their heads; it means they have heard, understood, and most importantly, have taken on board and accepted what is expected of them.

Of course if they indicate that they can’t or won’t, you need to make a different decision, an easy one I believe. Let’s be clear, this is different from someone who does accept what is expected, however needs skills or other development, we’ll deal with that below, however specifically here it is about those who want to be selective in what they accept of their role, and what they don’t.

This may seem self-serving and one sided in the advantage of the manager, however it is not; it is more than just a CYA exercise. Too many sales people are out there doing their “thing”, without always doing or knowing what is expected of them, or what they should expect to do in order to succeed.

This lack of awareness is often at the root of many misunderstandings, conflicts, and staff turnover. Because of this, setting and agreeing on expectations is integral and a core success element for sales managers, specifically, mutual accountability.

I can’t tell you the number of times I hear reps say “I didn’t know I had to do that”; or managers say “didn’t they teach you about cold calling when you started?” Well there is no “they”, it is down to the manager to make sure that their team knows exactly what is expected, when and how; what they can do, and what they cannot, no matter how minor it may seem. The manager is accountable to make sure that the reps understand and take it on board; the reps are accountable for executing what has been agreed to.

Once expectations have been set, agreed to and accepted, the manager needs to transition to becoming a coach, specifically helping each rep execute what “is expected” of them. This includes skill development, tools, and other resources.

None of us are perfect and in sales we always need to be evolving, improving execution and related matters. That’s where leadership really comes in, in helping the team and the individuals constantly improve their execution in a way that allows them to grow as sales people and as people in general.

Sales managers should be spending the bulk of their time, at least more than 50% or more, coaching their team members. Helping them develop and evolve those skills and traits that will help them execute and deliver what has been agreed to.

An easy way to achieve this is to have a clearly defined and documented sales and marketing plan and process that all sales people are aware of and adhere to, a key component of the ‘expectations’ phase. By ensuring that everything is built around a process, the coaching part becomes much more productive and with minimal friction.

This is primarily because the coaching that takes place is around how to execute the process, allowing things to be much more objective rather than subjective. The discussion can still be individual, however it is not personal, it is about how I, as your manager, can coach you to execute the process better, not about what “you” are doing “wrong”.

This brings us back to some accountability on the coach’s side, they need to make sure that there is a proper coaching plan and schedule in place. They need to communicate the time for the coaching, the purpose of the coaching, “we want to help you execute the process, not fix you or what you are not doing right”.

The coach is responsible that this is done when scheduled, and not put off due to this or the other, because if it is, then you are not doing what was expected. The goal, and upside of the coaching is that there is no right or wrong, there is only the responsibility to properly execute a process, the success of which both the rep and the manager are accountable for.