How to crush it as a new sales manager
A step-by-step guide to developing the skills to be a successful sales manager
Making the jump from salesperson to sales manager is a huge achievement in your career but it can also be a huge shock when you suddenly find yourself working twice as hard for less money as you struggle to get your new sales team performing at the level you did when you were the top rep.
The reality is that managing salespeople is a very different job from being a salesperson because it requires learning 4 new skills::
This post summarizes what I’ve learned from coaching dozens of first time sales managers to master these skills.
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1. Analytical skills
Common analytical mistakes that first time managers make
One of the biggest differences between being a top salesperson and a top sales manager is that sales managers need to have very strong analytical skills in order to diagnose and fix issues in their team. However, most new sales managers fall short in this area by:
Not understanding which metrics to track, and why they are important.
Making decisions based on the most recent call, or the loudest voice on the team.
Relying on gut and getting saddled with unrealistic revenue projections.
How to develop your analytical skills
Align your plan to the strategy set by your leadership team. This maximizes your chance of getting the support you need to succeed. If the company strategy is to focus on expansion and you focus instead on prospecting new logos, you’ll get frustrated with the lack of product support for new features and you’ll miss your expansion goals, putting your performance under the microscope unnecessarily.
Understand the stages in your customer journey, in particular the volume and conversion metrics that define each stage, the baseline values for each metric and the reasons why the values are the way they are. This helps you identify the overall and rep-specific weaknesses in your sales motion. The most effective way to do this is to run a retrospective on your previous quarter.
Build a realistic sales forecast based on your current weighted pipeline, additional pipeline to be sourced from sales and additional pipeline to be sourced from marketing, and be clear about what you would need in order to make your forecast higher. For more on this, go read How to build a sales forecast.
Be systematic about gathering product feedback. One of the most important analytical jobs of a sales leader is to bring customer feedback into the organization. It helps inform strategy, validate hypotheses, build messaging and drive the roadmap. It also needs to be brought in aggregate, rather than piecemeal in order to detect the patterns needed to set priorities. For more on this go read How to gather customer feedback in a way your product team can actually use.
2. Delegation skills
Not delegating leads to burnout
First time managers frequently report feeling overworked, drained and can often burnout. The root cause of this is taking on all the important and urgent tasks themselves to make sure they get done well, instead of delegating them to their team.
For sales managers, this manifests in mistakes like leading sales calls for them, building slides for them, building orders for them, running legal review for them and even doing prospecting for them.
Avoid burnout by learning how to prioritize your time and what to delegate
The simplest way is to learn this is with the following matrix:
An issue is Important if it can be directly tied to a company KPI, because moving a company KPI is an outcome rather than an output. An issue is Urgent if there is a negative consequence of it not being resolved in the immediate term (e.g. <30 days at a large company, <15 days at a small company, <7 days at a small startup).
Important + Urgent = Delegate it
The reason to delegate these issues (rather than doing them yourself) is that they are the best opportunities to develop and motivate your team members.
There’s no better way for someone to learn and grow than to work on a pressing issue that directly impacts the success of the company, because you are taken out of your comfort zone. And given how visible these issues are, working on them creates the opportunity to be recognized, which is a great motivator.
Examples of Important + Urgent jobs for sales managers to delegate
Following up with a hot inbound lead from your CEO. Delegate it to an AE
CEO wants a summary of a deal for the board. Delegate it to an AE and then review it.
Important + Not Urgent = Analyze it
The reason to analyze these issues is to prepare for the day that they become Urgent.
Spending time analyzing an issue from different angles enables you to put the right parameters around it so that you can delegate it effectively in the future. The things to figure out include defining the scope of the problem, the impact of solving it, the priority relative to other initiatives, the skills needed to solve it, the framework to apply to solving it and the likely friction you will run into during execution.
Examples of Important + Not Urgent jobs for sales managers to analyze
Analyzing the customer journey to understand why win rate is dropping.
Listening to proposal calls to identify why an AE is over-discounting.
Not Important + Urgent = Wait it out
The reason to wait out these issues is that you want to assess whether they are likely to become Important (in which case you can delegate them) or Not Urgent (in which case you can ignore them).
You always get a ton of these issues flying around when you are in a middle management role at a larger company, or in an executive team role in a company that is not doing well. The key is to pay attention but not commit resources. This is easier said than done but I’ve found the best way is to ask the requestor for more information and seeing what they come back with.
Examples of Not Important + Urgent jobs for sales managers to wait out
A colleague asks for a data point that they should be able to access themselves. Let them figure out on their own.
An AE asks for help getting custom features built for a prospect that is outside your ICP. Let them figure out on their own why this is a bad idea.
For more on delegation skills, go read the full article on How to prioritize your time.