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Essential skills for first line sales managers and the key success metric

sales managerIf you are a bit too slow in stepping backward, or you have a burning desire to reduce your over-achievement compensation, then you may find a sales leadership position in your future. This post addresses the must-have skills/competencies that you need to have in order to succeed as a first-line sales manager.  Before we get into it, I would like to posit that success as a first-line sales manager should be defined in terms of the financial outcomes and development progression of your team, discounted by the time it took you to deliver it.

When thinking about your intentions for your fiscal year, you should be thinking only about how you can accelerate increased capability and attainment of your team – From this standpoint all other goodness flows.  With this in mind, I would offer the following skills that you should acquire, many of which you need to gain through mentoring and observation, rather than through courses:

Coaching and Mentoring
I have been deliberate in this distinction because these are separate skills to be used in different contexts:

Daily coaching and 1:1’s:  Successful leaders know the behaviors and skills needed to excel in a sales role – Conversations are around well defined tasks (like prospecting) with a clear focus and specific outcomes in mind.  A great leader will have developed conversation frameworks for delivering corrective coaching that leaves team members feeling energized and enthusiastic, as opposed to deflation and feelings of inadequacy.

It is key that you have a 1:1 format that is truly effective – If you want to know how, read this: How to conduct 1:1 meetings

Mentoring during development reviews:  Mentoring is about the individual and broader work life topics.  The focus here should be on career and personal development, rather then the specifics of task performance or skills.  I think the quickest path to learning mentorship is experiencing  it as a recipient – If you don’t have a mentor, you should get one.

Territory management
The biggest bane of a first line manager is the annual territory review – A good sales leader balances the portfolio and has a defensible, consistent process for allocation.  That being said, ALWAYS give the best opportunities to the best reps, regardless of politics or egos.  You are not operating an egalitarian society, but rather a meritocracy.

Territory forecasting
Learning the art and science of forecast aggregation and discounting is key – Find a coach.  If you don’t know the difference between a pipeline and a weighted probability forecast, then put this at the top of your list.  Every time a sales manager describes their open pipeline to me as a forecast I lose another clump of hair.

Sales enablement
The new sales manager needs a diagnostic framework for determining the development/training/collateral/systems needs of the team.

Internal influence and organizational politics
If you come from an enterprise sales background, this will come naturally – Key to success of a sales leader is accepting a quota that is reasonable and can be attained with reasonable certainty.  No one respects a pushover that gets excessive quota laid upon them.  Having strong internal influence and negotiating power is essential to sales leadership survival.

The key success metric
Aside from hitting quota, the catch-all metric can be delivered as the following question:

“How many of your team would want to work with you again if given the opportunity?”  That’s it….  It likely means you provided the environment for success, were a strong advocate, respected, enjoyable to be around and a great coach.

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