Did you just land your first sales management position? Are you prepared to “hire slow, fire fast” and take on all the other management challenges? You probably can’t wait to roll up your sleeves and fix what’s wrong with the sales department, especially if you’ve been working in the organization for a while. After all, you know exactly what your coworkers thought about the old regime. You also have your own ideas about how the sales reps should be doing their jobs.
Some of your swagger may come from being recently trained on the latest tech trends and sales methodology. That background might give you credibility with the higher-ups, but it will do little to help you motivate your team. If you want to avoid the common mistakes that new sales managers make, Micah Rowland’s advice can help. Rowland, the CEO of Fountain, was a recent guest on our Manage Smarter podcast.
Understand First, Then Suggest
The people on your team won’t always respond well when you play your technically-superior-skills card during a discussion about how to get work done. If you’ve taken over a department that has valued relationship building as the way to close deals, it won’t be easy to convert the reps to the challenger method of selling.
Fortunately, most sales managers don’t have to change their department’s methodology. But they should be looking for ways to streamline administrative tasks. You can do your team and yourself a favor by taking the time to understand why tasks are done in a specific way before you roll out a new system. Your team members may have learned over time that they can maintain good relationships with other departments by giving them client information every week instead of every day, for example. Ask your team members for the history about a process and understand what drives the process, including the objective, before you insist on changing it.
And once you decide to make a change, explain the benefits to your team members. When they understand your thinking, they’ll be more likely to make it successful instead of trying to submarine you. They’ll also appreciate being consulted, because you’re showing you respect them as professionals.
Inexperienced managers, and unfortunately, some seasoned managers, fall into the trap of believing they need to have the right answer immediately when a question or problem arises. You may think your team members will respect you more if you have an immediate answer. If you give them the wrong answer, it will take longer to undo the damage than if you’d asked for some time to think about their question.
You might also be tempted to make a decision quickly so you can move on to more pressing matters. This hastiness on your part indicates to your staff that you won’t allocate the necessary time or energy to properly address their concerns. When you make your team members feel unimportant, they won’t reward you with loyalty or productivity.
Matching Skill Sets to Job Requirements
Another way to improve productivity in your department is to assess individual skill sets and match them to the requirements of the position. New sales managers can take advantage of their situation early in their tenure. You might think you know the strengths of each rep, especially if they were previously your co-workers. Don’t assume. Check out the detailed information available in sales hiring assessment test results that might be available for each employee. You may learn that the person who’s been doing business development is much better suited to account management.
And don’t skimp on training and coaching. A new sales manager may never again have access to the money they need to get a department on track. Start your tenure by determining where your reps are lacking in sales skills and sign them up for training. Employees of all ages appreciate professional development and realize that it can improve their earning potential and their effectiveness in a variety of selling situations.
What’s Wrong With “Hire Slow, Fire Fast”
One of the toughest decisions you’ll make as a manager is who to hire and fire. In the tech industry, the motto for many organizations is “hire slow, fire fast.” That motto doesn’t work in every industry, Rowland points out.
Regardless of the state of the economy or level of unemployment, it’s far more important to pay attention to fit. A good sales assessment test will tell you if a candidate is a good fit for a position. You also need to know if the candidate will fit with your culture. And if your candidate doesn’t look like a good match for you as the manager, slow down. It may cost you a lot in terms of energy level and time to work with an employee who needs to have every task spelled out if you are the kind of manager who wants team members to solve problems on their own.
Another time-suck for many managers is the failure to clean house. You may have inherited a poorly performing employee, or you may have hired them. Once you become aware of the situation, work on helping them improve their performance. If those efforts don’t succeed, do something about it. Too many managers, Rowland says, are unwilling to take on all of the work required to terminate an employee and hire a replacement. Inexperienced managers, in particular, may hesitate to take on this challenge. To truly make a difference in your department’s productivity and engagement, make a difference and “fire fast” when you need to.
Managing a sales department is never easy. And COVID-19 has just magnified the scope of your challenge. Take your time to figure out where your department has been, listen to your team members and put a plan in place to lead folks to new levels.