I remember the day I was first promoted to management. I was a high performing salesperson with a transportation company. My boss called me into his office to give me the good news, shook my hand, then handed me a 35 page Sales Management Policy and Procedure manual and said, “Congratulations - Go get ‘em!!”
Okay I’m paraphrasing, but only slightly.
And so, I did. With passion and enthusiasm and good intent, I set out to coach my team members (who yesterday, by the way, had been my peers) the way I wanted to be treated: Set the expectations and give them all the free reign they wanted.
Guess how that worked out?
Not so well. As an inexperienced manager, I made the Three Deadly Mistakes many well meaning new managers make:
- Managing team members as if they were “me” ( i.e. an experienced, tenured rep)
- Acting as a peer/friend, not a coach
- Doing the work of my team members, rather than allowing them to learn and risk failure. In this case, closing the business for them.
Has this been your experience?
It’s been 20 years since that first promotion, but I can’t tell you how often I hear this story from my clients. And when this happens, as it so often does, the company is left with two significant performance gaps:
- They’ve “lost” a high performing individual contributor who was promoted out of the role they mastered.
- They’ve “gained” an ineffective manager who can unintentionally squelch the motivation of other top performers by closing business or doing the work for them, and limit the growth and performance of high potential employees.
So, what to do?
1. Recognize that managers and individual contributors (in this case sales) require two completely different sets of skills.
Research shows that success as a salesperson has little to no correlation with success as a manager. First and foremost, do they have the will to manage others? If so, great! The next hurdle is to have the new sales manager understand that everyone doesn’t think the way they think. The new sales manager needs to build their empathy towards their salespeople. What worked for them personally as a high performer does not mean it will work for the whole sales team.
2. Set your new managers up for success.
Treat each new manager as an individual. Assess their level of management and coaching skills and then set clear expectations and metrics for success. Building from where each individual is, develop their skills as an effective manager through training and coaching, schedule frequent check-ins to discuss challenges and build their confidence and competence as a manager and a leader.
3. Revisit your incentive plans.
People do what they are rewarded to do. Does your company compensate sales managers based exclusively on their sales team’s revenue contribution? If so, be aware of the tension this creates for managers, and the risk involved with letting a team member learn by failing. More and more companies are including metrics around field coaching, joint calls, etc. as metrics of successful management.
Research shows a 29% increase in top line performance due to the skills of sales managers, independent of the skills of their salespeople. “Sales Management as a Source of Competitive Advantage” Michael Leimbach, Ph.D. Vice-President of Global Research and Design Wilson Learning Worldwide Inc.
That’s pretty compelling math.
How often do you see a new sales manager make these three deadly mistakes? What can you do as a leader to ensure your managers don’t make them?