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Kevin Higgins is chief executive officer of Toronto-based sales training firm Fusion Learning Inc.
Kevin Higgins is chief executive officer of Toronto-based sales training firm Fusion Learning Inc.

LEADERSHIP LAB

Three building blocks of a successful sales manager Add to ...

Many of us are familiar with the expression: “People don’t leave companies; they leave managers.”

Why do they leave managers? Because they are not being coached, developed and motivated to do their best.

If that’s true of managers in general, it’s doubly true of sales managers, whose sales team’s pay is generally tied directly to performance. So what does a sales manager need to have to ensure his or her team not only survives, but thrives? Well, they should probably start with these essential ingredients:

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1. ATTITUDE

Attitude is the first building block required to creating an engaged and successful sales culture. It is “the way we do things around here.” A sales manager will create that culture through:

Company values: Some organizations will explicitly define the values they and their employees aspire to, while others will not; but make no mistake that these values exist. Be careful that your values are lived, not just displayed on a poster on the wall. Have your team help to create these values and be sure that you, as a sales manager, demonstrate them consistently. Make your organization values-driven.

Coaching mind-set: Great sales cultures view the sales team as a learning organization that can always improve. Exceptional sales managers convey this attitude by looking for opportunities to groom salespeople and teach them the company’s values. Sales managers should constantly look to develop their sales team’s skill, build relationships with salespeople, and create value in all coaching. Coaching should be a chief activity.

2. SKILLS

The fundamentals of great sales management are coaching and feedback. These basics, when done correctly and frequently, will elicit engagement.

Most sales managers already have coaching skills – you just need to adjust how you use those skills to be more successful. There are five skills we use when coaching:

Acknowledge: The use of verbal and non-verbal cues to acknowledge to the salesperson that we are genuinely listening and are interested in what they are saying.

Question: These help us gather information about the salesperson, their situation and their challenges.

Confirm: This ensures that we have correctly heard the salesperson and that we have not missed any information they have given us. It also allows us to create value by interpreting, integrating or summarizing the information

Respond: This is where we start to share our knowledge and experience to help solve the problem with relevant advice. If the issue has already been solved, this can be used as a form of encouragement.

Check: This allows us to ensure that the salesperson is comfortable with the conversation and allows us to pause from coaching.

Of these five things, great sales managers learn to question better, confirm more and respond less. If you want to be a better coach, those six words are the formula.

Sales managers also recognize that their teams need feedback to improve and be successful. Feedback is often a one-way conversation delivered from the sales manager to the sales person. It must be a two-way conversation with self-discovery by the salesperson being the first and most critical step.

A great sales manager will have team members so well versed in feedback, they can actually provide themselves with clear, actionable, realistic and balanced feedback on a daily basis.

3. PROCESSES

Structure sets you free. An exceptional sales manager will ensure that there is a formalized structure for each sales management task. It sets you free because, if you have a process, the discipline is in consistently exercising it. In the absence of structure, each time you go to coach or manage, you will spend time thinking about the “how” and the “what.” With structure, the “how’ is set, allowing you to focus only on the “what.”

A key sales management tool is the “one-on-one.” We define a one-on-one as a scheduled, formal, private meeting between a sales manager and a salesperson. Our point of view is that one-on-one meetings are a fundamental right of a salesperson and a fundamental prerequisite for success as a sales manager. A world-class one-on-one is business focused and person focused, future focused, strategic first and tactical second, and a series of connected meetings.

Make one-on-ones a priority and you will participate in great business conversations that will build the confidence and skill of your team and keep them engaged. Apply an equally effective process to activities like sales team meetings and you will motivate and inspire your entire team.

These are attitudes, skills and key sales management processes that, when practised consistently, will help you to continually coach, develop and motivate your sales team. They will be engaged and will not look for greener pastures.

Kevin Higgins is chief executive officer of Toronto-based sales training firm Fusion Learning Inc.

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