Advice for Sales Managers from their Salespeople

A few years back a leading office products company surveyed its 1,500 B2B salespeople, asking them to rate how well their sales managers did in 80 categories. Their findings suggest a lot about what salespeople think their sales managers need to do differently to accelerate team success.

Sales managers’ #1 highest-rated item out of 80  – where sales managers did the absolute best according to their salespeople – was  “My sales manager wants me to succeed.”

The item that sales managers ranked absolutely worst at – dead-last at #80 in the survey – was “My sales manager views one of his/her priorities as developing my individual skills.”

Interesting, yes? So sales managers want their salespeople to be successful but were not providing the hands-on sales coaching and teaching that salespeople need to actually get better. The manager’s heart is in the right place, but not how they apply their time.

This pattern was borne out by the additional items at the bottom of the list. According to salespeople, their sales managers …

  • Are not clearly communicating the criteria used in evaluating sales rep performance
  • Are not working with salespeople to create a plan for their development
  • Are not dealing effectively with salespeople who do not meet their commitments

(My reaction is that if sales managers are not doing these things day-in and day-out, then they aren’t really managing their sales team!)

I’m willing to bet that if you asked the sales managers at this office products company how they thought they were doing, they would have rated themselves much more highly in the management skills than their reps did! I’m confident in that prediction because I was once in a similar position.

Years ago when I was District Manager, I decided to get feedback from my troops. So I created a survey. I instructed my sales team that I valued their candid feedback. And to protect their identity, I instructed our receptionist to collect the rep surveys and re-word any written feedback in summary form before providing it to me.

This feedback turned out to be incredibly valuable, and in some cases difficult for me to swallow. At the top of my list of “lessons learned” was that a few of my salespeople saw me as what I now call a “gunny-sacker.” Though I could identify problems early on, I often didn’t talk with the reps about ineffective behaviors until the problem had gone on for awhile or gotten big. So by the time I talked to them about it, they were caught by surprise and the stakes were high. Naturally, they became defensive when I approached them.

So… I changed. I made a conscious effort to provide my salespeople with more frequent constructive feedback. When I saw a behavior that was unsuccessful I immediately took them aside and talked about it. This gave them the opportunity to change their negative behavior before it became a bad habit. And I learned one of the maxims of effective sales management leadership: that the sooner you address a negative situation, the less negative emotion is involved in fixing it.

The results from the office products internal survey bolstered my opinion (based on my own experience) that all sales managers need to get feedback from their teams.

To help you get started, download this sample Sales Managers 360 Assessment which is based on a longer form I use in my courses. It includes both general open-ended questions and sample questions in a number of skill areas that are necessary for effective sales leadership. You can distribute this form or use it as the basis for developing your own version.

As I know from personal experience, it’s not always easy to get feedback…  but it’s always helpful. And it’s absolutely essential if you want to keep improving your sales management skills.

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Kevin Davis

Kevin F. Davis is the author of The Sales Manager’s Guide to Greatness”, which was named the 2018 Axiom Business Book Award Winner, Silver Medal. Kevin is also the author of Slow Down, Sell Faster!”.