Your transition from salesperson to sales manager is one of the biggest challenges in the sales profession. It requires a complete change in thinking. Overnight, you go from being in control of your own destiny to having your performance ratings determined by the results other people produce.
In fact, the more successful you were as a salesperson, the more difficulty you will have in the transition. Successful sales reps-turned-managers have a very hard time giving up the things that made them successful in their original sales job.
Many new sales managers understand they’re facing a big change. What they lack is a clear understanding of “OK, now what do I do?” Without guidance, they’re prone to making five big mistakes. Here’s an overview of those mistakes and what you can do to avoid them.
- Thinking more like a buddy than a boss. A good buddy is someone who is a friend to you during both good times and bad. A good boss is someone very different. A good boss should praise positive achievers and reprimand negative performance. It is this transition from good guy to bad guy that many new sales managers have difficulty with. Especially when, in the recent past, they were a peer to the salespeople who now form the bulk of their sales team.
The fix: Keep reminding yourself that you are there to be a leader, not a cheerleader. Be upfront in explaining the reasons for the management decisions you’re making—and learn to live with decisions that are not popular with your team. Be clear about and enforce the consequences if sales people do not comply with your decisions.
- Follow your instincts and keep selling (which prevents team development). This is a vicious cycle. When a new sales manager keeps selling rather than focusing on teaching others how to sell, sales team results seldom measure up to expectations. The new manager then gets more pressure from above to increase sales and interprets that as a calling to do even more personal selling. But that just demoralizes salespeople because they think they’re not good enough in the management’s eyes… and customers think the rep calling on them must not be very good if the manager has to keep stepping in. So sales decline further.
The fix: Just stop. If you notice a sales rep making a mistake in a meeting with customers, bite your tongue. Remember: The sales experience is no longer about YOU. What has to matter to you most now is NOT how effective your salespeople are when you’re working with them, but how effective they are when they are working on their own. Resist the temptation to step in, play hero, and save the day. Instead, figure out how to develop the sale rep’s skills so he/she won’t make the same mistake next time around.
- Overly trusting of your reps’ sales forecasts. In your previous life as a peak performing salesperson, you became accustomed to making or exceeding most of your personal sales forecasts. Now, as a sales manager, you might tend to be overly optimistic and highly trusting of your reps’ sales forecasts. Big mistake.
The fix: Ask more probing questions of salespeople about their important sales opportunities in order to recognize problems with deals and forecasts sooner. Timely intervention by you is crucial for getting opportunities back on track. One of my favorite probing questions to ask a salesperson is: “What actions has this customer taken which have led you to your forecast of this deal?”
- Being a reactive fire-fighter. New sales managers often perform the role of an administrative assistant to the sales team. Recently I was asked by a prospect, “Does your sales leadership program included delegation skills?” I responded that many sales managers have more difficulty with the issue of reverse delegation – that’s where salespeople rush to hand over their problems to their manager. That take-charge mentality possessed by new sales managers leads them to get involved in many problems and fires that can and should be resolved by others.
The fix: The next time one of your salespeople says, “Hey boss, we have a problem I need to share with you.” You say simply– “So….what do you think you should do about it?”
- Underestimating poor performance issues. New sales managers are often tempted to give underperformers the benefit of the doubt. If you back off of dealing with a poor performer, you’re sending a message that poor performance is acceptable. That’s a message everyone on your team will hear!
The fix: Assume performance problems are like an iceberg: there’s much more to the problem than you can easily see on the surface. One maxim of effective sales management leadership: the sooner you address a poor performance situation, the less negative emotion will be involved in fixing it. Dealing with performance issues NOW gives the under-performer a chance to correct the situation before it comes so bad that their job is on the line. A bad month can be tolerated, but a bad year cannot.
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