Imagine it’s a typical workday and one of your salespeople bursts into your office or calls you on the phone. “Hey, Boss! Guess what! I have an inside track on that MegaCorp deal. It’s looking really good! This could be the biggest deal I’ve ever landed!”
Pop quiz: What do you do as this person’s sales manager?
I’ll admit that in the early years of my career, right after I’d been promoted from a salesperson to a sales manager, I would have pumped the salesperson for details. I’d have asked for specifics of the deal and for descriptions of who the players were and what each of them thought about us and our products. I’d have asked for the date and time of the next meeting so I could tag along. And then in the meeting I would have taken over control of the meeting quickly rather than observe my salesperson in action.
In other words, I would have leapt in and done everything I could to close the deal because that’s what all my sales instincts would be screaming at me to do. I was used to being what I now refer as “the player” – a manager who chases the team’s big deals with all the selling skills that can be mustered.
Eventually, I came to realize that, as someone who was newly promoted into sales management, following that sales instinct was wrong. That by doing so, I was stifling the opportunities for my team members to learn and grow. To become an effective manager, I needed to change my mindset from that of a salesperson to that of a leader.
The first big change in mindset was the one I just described: shifting my focus from closing deals to coaching my sales team. The only way for my team to get better was if I stood back and allowed them to use their skills (such as they were!), then help them learn from their mistakes and understand specifically what they needed to differently to improve.
A second big change for me was acknowledging that my efforts to get my team to like me and to be considered popular was undermining my authority. Being an effective leader is more about having people respect me than it is about being their pal. On occasion, a good sales manager has to make decisions that will be unpopular with their team. I needed to focus on making sure that my salespeople understood the reasons for my decisions and what it meant for them, day in and day out.
A third mindset change that came as a shock to me was that I was putting too much effort into the underperformers on my team. I felt, coming into the management position, that it was my job to make sure that everyone on my team succeeded. The failure of a salesperson would mean I had failed as a sales manager. The attribute of “tenacity” had served me well as a salesperson, and I was sure that I should “never give up” on a salesperson now that I was a sales manager.
As you can guess, I came to realize that thinking was mistaken. I have a much different perspective on underperformers these days. If they are willing to learn and improve, that’s one thing. But if I allow a consistent underperformer to remain on my team, I’m setting a bad example. I’m showing all the other team members that I will tolerate mediocrity! By watching me, underperformers develop a clear understanding of what kinds of performance is “just good enough not to get fired”—and that’s the low standard some strive for.
I had to learn that I needed to set standards of excellence, not standards of just good enough. And sometimes that means letting underperformers go, sooner rather than later. I never fired anyone willy-nilly, and I had to make sure that I had given the underperformer enough training and coaching that they could improve if they wanted to. But if they didn’t improve quickly despite my best efforts, then it was in my team’s best interests that the underperformer find a different opportunity.
One Thing to Try: Pick a mindset to change
I challenge each and every one of you who is newly promoted into sales management to think about what decisions you make every day: how you allocate your time, where you devote your attention, what you’re doing or not doing to help develop your team, and what kinds of results you accept from your team members.
Can you say with confidence that those decisions you make are rooted in a leadership mindset? Or are they based on your sales instincts, just as many of my decisions were early in my sales management career?
If the latter, think about how to reframe your mindset to that of a leader whose goal is to see improvement across their team. What do YOU need to do differently so that your team has the opportunity to learn and improve? That’s the mindset you need to become a peak performing sales manager!
For additional ideas on another mindset that every sales manager needs to adopt – how to be proactive instead of reactive – download my article, “5 Things Proactive Sales Managers Do Differently.”