Strategic Stuff

As a Sales Manager, what should you be managing, exactly?

By August 20, 2018 No Comments

I’ve the impression that many people believe that managers basically manage people. In a way this could be true because managers normally have people who report to them. However “managing people” is not a concept that leads to action, points to results, or indicates what you should do, or how, neither as a manager, or as somebody that reports to someone.

The Challenge

To me this understanding of what a manager is has a flaw in the digital era -the era of hyper-fast changes: If somebody is my manager, as if he or she “manages me”, that implies that I play more of a passive role of a “managed” resource (as in a Human Resource, right?). In turn the one who manages takes the bigger stake in the responsibility and decision making. Could that be your case?

As startups and scaleups here and there start embracing the concept of “People and Culture”, what we see is that not only people are the core and most important aspect. Workflows, plans and strategies should be designed for them, around them, and thinking of them so they are able to develop, learn, take the lead, and perform. In this context it becomes strategic,  relevant and even practical, to rethink what managers should really be managing. There’s many good reasons to attract, and retain talent.

Take Action

Independently if you are in retail, B2C or B2B, to foster a Sales Operation where people are actually the most important component, start by understanding what you are really managing.

Don’t manage people as if they were an asset or resource. If you think you are doing just that, most likely most of the weight of decision making relies on you, and your team frequently needs your approval and OK before taking action. Sure you have more control, but in return you are probably tied up in the tactic more than strategic side of things, and this context blocks your people from being action and goal oriented, self reliant, and ultimately independent. In my experience, teams managed this way tend to perform less, and needless to say, are not a place where over-achievers last long.

If you identify with this, try encouraging independence, try letting go of the control a bit and probably most importantly: be prepared to support, encourage and lead a team that makes mistakes.

Many Sales Managers and leaders are up for challenges, are you? If so, test how are you doing with the following bullet points, and grade it, 1-5 (1 if the condition is not present at all, 5 if the condition is totally there), you’d like to get as many 5s as possible.

Manage expectations. We all have expectations, right? Probably one of the most confusing things for a team (and for people in general) is not having clear expectations. Start providing your team clarity, vision and perspective:  Your team needs to understand, what are they doing, why are they doing it, how is it done, how does it look when done correctly, what to do to get back on track, when it should be completed, how long should it take, and similar questions.  Confusion leads to misaligned goals, disengagement, and ultimately poor performance. 

Manage performance, not results and outcomes. Results are literally an output of our actions, and there’s not much really you can do with them. What you can do is influence the factors to produce the desired results, and in this context the main factor is your team’s performance.

Guilty on this one? Try using the questions above, on a frequent basis to enable, and facilitate performance.

Manage data. This is tied to performance too. Sales and sales operations is about numbers, ratios, duration, probabilities, and all this is reflected in numbers. To manage data you need a clear system and workflows. Managing data means gathering, interpreting, sharing, and making decisions based on it. Why? Decision -making is always tricky, and subjective. Data adds objectivity and helps measure the impact of our decisions. Measure what matters only and share/distribute the information on a clear and timely basis. Data is managed through KPIs (Key Performance Indicators), OKR (Objectives and Key Results), or a Balanced Scorecard, for example. Without the proper set of smart metrics, a clear starting point and a clear target, chances are you and your team will not get too far, for too long.

Manage the Pipeline. Oh yes, the ultimate responsible that the pipeline is filled with the right number of prospects, warm prospects, hot prospects, and ready to close prospects, and that they are all steadily moving to the next stage in the sales cycle is you, the Sales Manager. Not your team, not marketing, not product teams, not the CRM… If results frequently present a deviation over 20% get help, immediately.

Manage your team’s careers. Really? That’s a big responsibility. The time your team spends under your leadership, wanting or not you will be pushing, blocking, supporting, inhibiting, accelerating and ultimately creating or not the conditions for each member to move forward in their careers. Take responsibility, prepare them for a big leap, acquire skills, learn and grow. Sales leaders who do this, actually know this is half of what makes this role amazing.

Manage strategic milestones. People need perspective and purpose. Managing day to day activities and tasks of your teams without a strategic perspective is like asking them to permanently perform from inside a trench with no indication of what’s happening outside. To the questions mentioned earlier ad:  Where are we headed? Why do we want to achieve that? How does it look when we get there? What does that milestone actually mean, for our customers, for us (as a team and individually), for the company? People need to be part of something bigger and more relevant than daily/weekly tasks, and that goes in the direction of having a purpose: Manage quarters, product launches, sales campaigns, conquering segments, and other milestones that give sense and purpose for people to perform.

Manage customer success. No use if everything we do from the sales operations perspective is not directed to helping customers succeed. Your customers have their plan, their strategy, and your offer will or will not help them succeed. Customer success means you and your team working with shared goals with your customers. It means a dialogue with them, understanding how valuable/or not your solution is for them, how are they measuring value, how it can be enhanced… Truth is that many Sales Managers, and Sales Teams, take the option to forget about customer success, and focus on their own company goals. The thing is that statistically this is not very sustainable.


How did you do? Did you take the challenge and grade? How many 5s???

As often, this is your starting point only. As often, not starting immediately will get you nowhere. If your approach is to look for 10 other articles and books on the topic before you take action, this time try a different approach: test one idea today. 

Are you reading this and you’re not a Sales Manager, but you have one? Good! Are you a Sales Manager, and in turn you also have a manager? Good! Taking action and taking responsibility means you can start supporting the Sales Manager(s) in your organization by challenging the status quo. Wait a minute, should I help my boss develop and grow, and transition into a more coach/mentor role? That’s exactly what we mean.

The minute you discover a big chunk of your career is about developing others, your perspective will be changed for good. Click To Tweet

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