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ATD Blog

A Sales Manager’s Playbook for Success

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

In the sports world, coaches and managers are evaluated on one metric: winning.

In the corporate world, victories are just as important. For sales managers, it’s about winning deals and hitting quotas—and success rate is scrutinized by executives at the highest levels of the organization.

Whether someone is managing a team on the field, in the office, or virtually, a winning record is easy to measure. Sales managers are paid to develop teams that perform at a high level, bringing in the money that keeps the company in business. With the visibility involved, it’s easy for people to identify if there are holes in the lineup or players who are underperforming. And neither a company nor a sports team keeps managers who are unable to get teams to perform to their full potential.

This makes it especially important that sales managers have the tools and sales training that improve the odds of success. Their performance hinges on effectively managing, hiring the right people, and putting in place processes to succeed.

Start With Management Skills

Most baseball fans know that Ted Williams was one of the greatest hitters of all time. But did you know that, as a manager, in four years he won just 43 percent of his games? It’s the classic case of someone who is super-talented at one thing but unable to transfer their skills to another part of the franchise. We’ve seen this with superstar players in other sports: Wayne Gretzky in hockey, Michael Jordan in basketball, and Diego Maradona in soccer. They were all exceptional individual players but failed to make the leap to become great coaches.

Why does this happen? Because the skills required from managers are different from the ones that made them successful players. As a coach, their role included motivating and inspiring their team, focusing on the big picture, and getting work done through others.

Just as sales reps can be trained to develop their consultative selling skills with clients, sales managers can be trained in the leadership skills needed for maintaining high-performing sales teams.

Sales managers must:

  • Recruit the right people for the team.
  • Set expectations and manage sales performance.
  • Coach reps to improve selling skills and win deals.
  • Lead and motivate team members.

Recruit the Right People

Success as a sales manager requires having high performers in the right positions. Strong sales managers know how to hire well, which includes having a clear picture of the competencies and behaviors they desire for their team. To get there, they must develop the skills so they can ask the right behavior-based interviewing questions to determine if a candidate fits the profile.

Most professional coaches spend significantly more time off the field recruiting and building the team than they do actually coaching the team during games. Sales managers need to prioritize recruiting and hiring for the future, even if they don’t currently have an open position.

Set Expectations

A great sports coach sets clear expectations in practice and games. These coaches and managers understand and communicate what each player is expected to do to optimize their own and their team’s success. If there are gaps in performance, the coach pulls the individual aside and addresses the gap between expectations and results. As a manager, understanding the cause of the gap is critical to helping the player improve. You must be able to differentiate whether you are dealing with a skills gap, motivation issue, or something else.


Coach for Performance

Once your team is hired, it’s crucial to prioritize coaching everyone to a higher level and their best performance. That means investing coaching time upfront, rather than catching someone underperforming at a key juncture. Based on each individual’s strengths and development areas, a great coach is able to develop a plan to build that player into a potential superstar.

Lead and Motivate

Developing and communicating a clear vision for the team is critical to getting everyone working toward a common goal. It’s more than just winning the game or winning a deal; the vision needs to represent where the team is heading and why it matters.

Understanding the individual motivations of each player is also a key function of a great manager. Salespeople are motivated by more than their commission check—being recognized for good work, having a purpose, being part of a team—and considering these other factors is key. Individuals will lean-in and work harder if they understand the reasons and their manager is speaking to their internal motivators.

Like a sports coach who has great leadership, outstanding players, and the right plays on game day, a sales manager who has these elements in place puts the team in the best possible position to win.

Editor’s note: A version of this post originally appeared on the Sales Readiness Group blog.

About the Author

Ray Makela is CEO at the Sales Readiness Group (SRG). He is an author, speaker, and business executive with 25 years of management, consulting, and sales experience. At SRG, Ray oversees all client engagements and the delivery of sales and sales management training programs. He has delivered programs for clients such as Alcon/Novartis, AIG, Sysco, Nielsen, Timken, Follett, Pandora, Ritchie Bros, HERE, Infor, Galderma, and Walmart.

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