207: 13 Success Tactics for Sales Managers | Master Sales Series


Being a sales manager is easy. Or, at least it will be once you apply these 13 tactics to skyrocket your success.

George has held nearly every sales position, from entry sales, to his current role as a Chief Revenue Officer. He had to learn many of these management tactics the hard way, but now you don’t have to. Get ready for a knowledge packed episode this week on the Master Sales Series.

13 Success Tactics for Sales Managers

It’s another edition of The Master Sales Series on the “Conquer Local” Podcast. My name is George Leith. This is for sales managers, for front line sales managers, probably one of the most important jobs in the sales business. You’ve got a group of sales reps that are reporting to you as the front line sales manager, and it’s probably the place where we need to do the most training where there is the least amount of training that’s done because those people are on the front lines and they’re just delivering sales and they’re delivering budgets and they’re trying to hit plan.

So, what are some of the things? I get asked this question a lot as we are going in and launching sales organizations on to the Vendasta platform, you know, “What are some things from a sales management standpoint that I could do to be a more effective sales manager?” I think that you get asked this question when you get a lot of gray in your hair and you’re a grizzled up, old veteran. They’re like, “That person’s been through the trenches, they might know who view things.” You’re damn right. It’s called the School of Hard Knocks, and let’s dig into it.

1. Talent Development

Your number one job as a frontline sales manager is talent development, that’s why you’re there. You are there to work on the business not in the business. I sound like my CEO, he tells me this all the time. And one of the hardest things, you probably became a front line sales manager because you are a very good sales person and what you know to do is to close deals and to be a great salesperson and to serve customers, and what you need to transition to is developing a group of people that can do that. And I’ve found that it is a very difficult transition. I know that it was a very difficult transition for me because I’m a doer.

You have to sit back and you have to start to become a student of your team, you start to have to understand how they work and how they don’t work and where the gaps are and how you can fill those gaps and how you can…and I remember a book that I read and it was called “Strengths Based Selling,” and what the premise of that book was, rather than trying to fix people’s weaknesses, why don’t we just enhance their strengths? So, they got five things that they’re good at and they’ve got three things that they suck at. As long as those three things they suck out don’t end up with people dead, why don’t we just go over here and work at the five things that they’re really good at and make those even better? Just one component of talent development.

The other thing is you need to know your team inside and out. You need to know those people. And it leads me into number two in success tactics for sales managers, the well-being of your team is vitally important.

2. Wellbeing of the Team

Simon Sinek has all sorts of items to this topic. People operate better when they feel safe, and as a great manager you’re the person that they look to to solve their problems. But guess what? Unless you create an environment where they feel safe to express how they feel good, bad, or otherwise, you’re not going to really get to the heart of what’s the problem or what makes them tick. So, you know, my graphic when I talk about the well-being of team really is a heart. You need to get to the heart of the matter and that means you got to dig into those people and to understand what’s going on with them.

And, you know, I always ask sales managers, you know, “Tell me about Suzie over there, what’s her husband’s name? How many kids she have? What does she do outside of work?” And if they can’t answer those questions, they really haven’t got the buy-in from that person that they’re there to help them. I’m not saying you need to be their best friend, but you need to understand what’s going on in their life. And they’re going to leave nuggets, they are going to say, “I have to run home because little Johnny is not feeling well today.” You better make a note that Suzie’s oldest son’s name is Johnny, and six fricking years old, just those little items because on a Friday or maybe if they’re not hitting budget, or if they’ve knocked it out of the park and they’re 125% of plan maybe if you went up to Suzie and say, “Hey Suzie, you had a great month this month. You’re 125% of plan, what do you do for Johnny and little Susie with that extra commission that you earned?” They’re going to be like, “I didn’t even know the old man knew what the name of my kids were.” It’s building that culture of you really understand what they’re all about and then they’re going to come to you when they have a problem if you really support them when things are going well and that’s all about the well-being of the team.

3. Constant Learning

Okay. Next up, number three, success tactics for sales managers, constant learning. Folks, you need to be learning you need to be learning as a sales manager and you need to be teaching your team. And that doesn’t always involve you pontificating in front of the team. Here’s something that I found to be very effective. Let’s say that one of your top performers, his name is Justin, and Justin thinks that he should be sales manager but he’s not sales manager because he is one of the best salespeople you have and maybe he’s got a few things he needs to work on to be management material.

But imagine if you started to paint the path that, “Justin, here are some things that you need to work on to be a sales manager. Why don’t you lead sales training on Friday and talk about the three deals that you closed this week where you got the hat trick?” And Justin gets to put together a presentation and live and die in front of the entire team that he works with every day and he delivers the constant learning. It really helps in delivering that message to the team. Justin has some things that the rest of the group should learn from and you’re now teaching him how to become a manager and how to present those items and how to stand by his tactics that he believes is making him successful. So, my point is the constant learning doesn’t always have to come from the sales manager pontificating to the team. You can actually build up your people inside your organization by letting them share some of that responsibility of doing the teaching.

4. Results Orientation

So, you need to be results oriented. And for a lot of sales organizations, those results have a dollar sign attached to them. But what we found is that’s a lag measure. The dollar signs on the ledger at the end of the months that says, “You hit plan or you missed plan,” is something that you either look at and say, “Great.” Or you go, “Oh shit,” and lose sleep over it. So, what you want to be looking for are the results that impact that lag measure and those… This is the hardest thing in sales management that I’ve found because it requires an enormous amount of discipline. “Okay. We need to be making 32 calls a day, let’s go get them.” So, for the first day you’re great, you’re measuring it, you’re standing up your team, every couple hours they’re pounding the phones, they’re talking to people, or you meet them at the door when they walk in at the end of the day, they’ve been out in the street and you’re like, “Okay. How many people did you get face to face with?” And they’re like, “I didn’t. I had a lot of paperwork to do and I had a problem with this customer here and I had to go do those things.”

And the hardest thing as a manager to do is to hold that rep accountable and say, “You promised me that you were going to go talk to four customers today, you’ve got those two pending deals you haven’t followed up on, we’re never going to hit our revenue number if you don’t deliver what you promised me on a day-to-day basis.” So, having the discipline to set something that we’re going to measure and then to continually measure it on an ongoing basis is very difficult.

The other item that I’ve found, that I’m going to tie into what I call this results piece is measuring your reps on a quarterly basis with a review of their job description. So, this is a tactic that I deployed a number of years ago, I’m not going to lie, I stole it from a very large media company that paid a consultant a lot of money to come up with it. But really what the parameters are is that – and we’ve been using this inside the Vendasta organization for a long time – you take the job description. You all know what a job description is, right? It’s the thing that you give somebody when they started the company and then you never talk about it again unless there’s a problem. It’s the contract between you and the employee of the things that they’re going to do for you and then you never look at it again and you never measure it, you never talk about it, you never say, “Hey, you’re doing well on these items,” and you never, God forbid, you ever change that document, when you change the things that you expect from the person.

So, we take that broken model that I’m making a lot of fun of right now and we flip it on its head and we say, “We’re going take the job description and it’s going to be a living, breathing document and we’re going to measure it every quarter, on a scale of 1 to 10 on each item. You’re going to be a proficient presenter, Well, you’re a six this quarter. I listened to a number your presentations, we were on a couple four legged calls, you’ve got a lot of work to do around being a presenter. And you go through every item line by line and then you put new items into the job description as you change the things that you’re expecting from the employee.

So, that quarterly review again is deciding on the things you’re going to measure and then looking at the results and coming up with some sort of tactics from that. But here’s the thing that I’ve found. A lot of managers will take the chicken shit way out of managing their team and they’ll just mark everybody a six and a half or a seven which is, I used to have it on a scale of one to five by the way and people would just give everybody threes, and the odd four. And the hard thing about hard things is that you have to sometimes give somebody a three that’s a top performer because if you go on those 20 lines of the job description, and some bloody job descriptions are 80 lines long, we don’t have those, we’ve reduced them. But if you go line by line, there’s no possible way that they could have been 10 out of 10 on them all, and if you just put a seven, what does that say? You’re mediocre.

So, in measuring those results and being really honest with the rep, you’ve got to set that environment, the well-being piece again, set the environment that I’m really looking out for your well-being, “And Suzie, while you were really good last quarter in these items, you’ve kind of fallen down on your presentation skills or your follow up skills or your reporting or filling out the CRM,” or whatever the items are, you need to be measuring. And then Suzie will say, “Well, you know, I’m having some problems at home or, you know, I just don’t really like the way the weather’s been this last quarter or what other excuse they have for not hitting those components and then at least you’ve got something that you can work with to develop that person.

5. Turn the Knobs

That brings me to the next item in our list of 13 tactics. It’s called turn the knobs. What are the things that you can turn to increase the performance in your organization? And if you don’t know what results you’re looking for and you don’t know what you’re going to measure, you have absolutely no clue what knobs you have to turn. Now, the knobs might be something as simple as, “I need to get more presentations, or I need to have better presentation skills or we need to be better at follow up or you need to be better at asking for the order.” You need to understand what you’re measuring and what the results are, how you’re performing over time, so that you can turn the knobs to improve performance.

6. Pipeline Management

Pipeline management is a key component. Here’s where a lot of organizations fall down, they’re like, “We manage a pipeline.” Sure you do. They pay lip service to it. They don’t really have a pipeline. So, they don’t have a prospecting stage, they’re not following up on presentations, they aren’t putting a percentage of close, they’re not giving us a date on when they might close it, they don’t really have a rigid pipeline management system, my CEO likes to say, “They lack rigor.” You need to have a rigorous pipeline management system to be effective. It’s one of the things when we start to consult and work with an organization, we dig into it we’re like, “If we could just get pipeline management in place where they’re holding the reps accountable, the reps are going to make a bunch more money and the organization is going to be more effective.”

7. Focus on a Target

And what that comes down to is our next item which is you really need to be focused on a target. In the four disciplines of execution they call day-to-day at a business, the whirlwind. And the whirlwind sucks everything into it. It is enormously powerful. It’s like, “You’ve got to go collect copy, you’ve got to get money from this guy, they haven’t paid their bill, HR wants to talk to you both these items over here, we’ve got training on new products,” that’s the whirlwind. You need to be dealing with it. But if you don’t have a focus on some specific targets, you’re never going to change behaviour and improve results. So, focus on a target is a vital component in sales management.

8. Watch for Warnings

You need to have your head on a swivel. That’s Al Pacino in the movie “Any Given Sunday” when he’s addressing the team, he tells the defence, “I don’t care what you do, but you need to get your head on a swivel.”

You need to know what’s going on, a sales manager needs to be right in with the team, they need to be in the huddle, they need to be looking around, your job is to be looking for the warning signs. You know, it’s interesting sales manager will say to me, and I’m not saying inside our organization, I’m just saying a sales manager said to me one day, “I didn’t know so and so is so negative.” Okay. You’re a shitty manager. If you are truly managing your team, you would know that there’s negativity and you have been working on it, you would be working to find out why there’s negativity, you would have been trying to improve that person. A very smart person said to me one day, “There are no bad staff, there’s just bad managers.” A good manager is involved with the team, they’re not sitting in the ivory tower, they’re right on the front lines in the huddle watching for warnings.

9. Time Management

Time management, vitally important part of being a manager. You need to set aside time to coach your team, you need to set aside time to listen to calls, if you’re a tele sales organization or telesales organization depending upon what jurisdiction you’re in. If you are a street-level sales team, you need to get in the car and go on calls with your reps, and you need to make time for that, you also need to make time to prep for meetings with your senior management, you need to make time to have a plan on how you’re going to hit budget this quarter, you need to make time to figure out what you’re going to contribute to the board meeting that’s coming up with the investment group.

So, time management is a vital important piece to the puzzle.

10. Use Your Tools

And you need to use the tools that are at your avail. If I had a dollar every time I went into a sales organization and said, “Show me all the software licenses that you have.” And they give me a list of all the software licenses, and then I say, “What do you use this for?” “Well, we used to use it, but we haven’t really used it.” “And what about this thing?” “No. We don’t use that anymore, but we started out using it.” “Well, you’re still paying for it.” We have too many tools. We have too many tools we don’t even use. Find the right tools and use them and make sure that they’re delivering value for your organization. You know, when a new sales manager goes into a team, the first thing I say is, “Go find out all the software licenses you have and then cut all the stuff that you’re not using and you look like a hero to your CFO. CFOs like that stuff. So, sales and CFOs don’t usually play well together, that’s a way that you can win with your CFO, go in and get rid of all the tools that you’re not using, you’ll look like a hero.” So, there’s a tip for you.

11. Communication Skills

Communication skills, I don’t know any effective managers that aren’t expert communicators. They know how to passionately communicate things, they know when to be mad, they know when to apologize when they made a mistake, they know how to draft a message to an organization so that they actually understand it, they communicate and they ask for feedback and they’re not afraid for people to tell them that their baby is ugly. And I think that that’s one of the real important pieces to be an effective communicator is you need to be humble as well to say, “If you’ve got a way that I can do this better, please tell me because I’m making this shit up as I go.” You know I’m going to the extreme, but I think you really need to be looking for new ways and by communicating with your team, you’ll be able to find that.

12. Be Prepared

And then being prepared. Nothing drives a sales team more nuts than a sales manager the calls a meeting and, you know, that they put zero preparation into it. Be a professional, prepare for the meeting. If it’s an hour long meeting, you should probably be spending an hour to prepare for it, and that’s why you’re a manager it’s because you are putting that time in.

Now, the other thing is the whirlwind is going to suck you in. CEO calls you, got to run down to his office and deal with a problem and you’ve called the meeting and you don’t have anything prepared because your hour long preparation time got sucked up. Here’s a tip, build some pieces that are generic and can just be used at any time. I have probably 50 of them that I’ve built over the years and they’re just sitting in a folder and they’re called the “I ran out of time and I need to cover my ass,” whatever it might be, “Training on X,” or “Training on…” and I can just pull them up and I can deliver them to the team and be effective around that preparation piece.

13. Be an Expert in Your Industry

And then we’ve got the final one. I don’t care what it is that you’re selling. This is number 13 on our list of sales manager tactics. You need to be an expert in your industry. I don’t know any sales manager in the car business that is an expert in what cars they’re selling. They don’t just know their cars, they know the competition’s cars inside and out. You just can’t be a sales manager if you don’t have vast industry knowledge, because that’s part of your job at the top of that team is to teach that frontline sales team your industry knowledge and answer those questions on the fly.



So, industry knowledge, number 13 of the 13 tactics that sales managers can use to be more effective here in this wild world of sales in 2018. It’s the Master Sales Series. My name is George Leith. This is the “Conquer Local” Podcast. Please tell your friends to subscribe, we’re on iTunes, Google Play, Overcast, Sound Cloud and you can visit our website. We have all sorts of material that you can download and utilize in your sales meetings and I look forward to seeing you when I see you.