Every day, successful sales reps become managers for the first time. Sometimes they go through training or mentorship programs. But too often, they’re promoted and left to their own devices to figure it out.

I recently asked a couple dozen sales leaders (all of whom at one point were also first-time sales managers) what advice they wish they could have given themselves back then, and would give to any new sales manager now. Here are their responses.

“As a new sales manager, coaching is one of the most important skills you need to master to drive sales performance. Although we all have these images and ideas from the sports world about what it means to be a great coach, what we see on the surface is only a fraction of the type of work and dedication it takes to become a successful coach. Great coaches empower their teams to achieve their full potential. This involves actively listening, coaching to promote self-discovery, and inspiring their teams.”
Norman Behar, CEO and Managing Director, Sales Readiness Group

“Are you a manager or a leader? You know you’ve made the move to leader when you can can answer “yes” to this simple question. “Would each of my reps walk through fire for me?” From experience, reps don’t want to be managed, they want to be lead. As an example, one of my reps just last year was into fitness and working out. We ran a Spartan Race together. He literally jumped through fire as the final hurdle in the race! Whether your reps will literally “walk through fire for you” or figuratively, just remember, it is YOUR PEOPLE, not YOU, who get the job done every day!”
Chad Burmeister, Director of National Accounts, ON24

“The advice I give to new managers is generally the same – your success isn’t measured by personal contribution it is measured by team contribution. For a first time sales manager it is important to internalize this distinction and focus your attention on coaching and mentoring team members so that they learn to effectively drive their business and build their territory. It is no secret that first time mangers fail because they try and do the work FOR their team members as opposed to helping the team do its own work better.”
Ken Lawrence, Vice President of Sales, Medio

“Whether you are a first time sales manager or a seasoned manager starting with a new team, the worst thing you can do is to start by making changes without listening and learning from your new team. What’s working? What’s not? What’s important to them? This will help validate your decisions but also help you get buy-in from your team on your first actions as their new leader.”
Maureen Ezekwugo, EVP Doctor Community, RealSelf

“Spend as much time as you can building your team’s ability to compete and win. The stronger your team, the better your results. The opposite is also true. You can’t be the super-closer and win enough business to succeed. You can’t serve the organization before you serve your team. Your quota is the combined quota of all of your individual salespeople. The most certain path to making your number it work on ensuring that each individual member makes their number. Coach. Train. Develop.
Anthony Iannarino, Chief Sales Officer, Solutions Staffing

“Everyone needs a coach, your job is to teach sale process, allow for art in communication, and provide a stable emotional platform where sales people can learn from their mistakes. Listen to your team so you can course correct, however do not make knee jerk decisions. In order to be a solid sales coach you must become a consciously competent sales person so you can teach people to be the same.”
Jarrod Kleweno, Director of Corporate Sales, TalentWise

“A sales manager is equal parts drill sargent and cheerleader. As a drill sargent there are best practices and rules of engagement that you must teach, which may save your reps proverbial life. Instilling these lessons may sometimes require breaking a rep down before building them up. However once the lesson is taught and learned you must never forget to build them back up again. Confidence breeds success and therefore you must revert to cheerleader mode if you want the rep to take what you have given them and run with it.”
Jason Rasmussen, Director of Sales, Avvo

“Today’s managers must stop looking in their rear view mirror because managing high-performance teams in today’s dynamic Sales 2.0 ecosystem means stepping up your game. The new playing field is digital, diverse, and connected. The old rules absolutely do not apply.
Josiane Feigon, president, TeleSmart Communications

“Go buy a copy of a book called Cracking The Sales Management Code. Read it. Do what it says.
Steve Richard, co-founder, Vorsight

“Don’t give salespeople the answer they are looking for to solve their client’s problems, but help them clearly define the problem, ask the right questions, and then come up with their own solutions. Your job isn’t to make salespeople dependent on you, your job is to encourage them to think independently of you.
Gerhard Gschwandtner, publisher, Selling Power Magazine

“Coach and lead rather than manage your team. A sales representative responds best to those that assist them in becoming the best they can be instead of telling them what to do. Leading a team is not pulling reports in your direction. It is creating the vision that everyone wins if they follow your path.
Paul Leto, Director of Inside Sales, F5 Networks

“Courage is key. This is not for the faint of heart! Are you a change agent? Are you ready to go the extra mile for your team members or a client? Will you address a difficult problem within the organization head on? Will you work harder than your team members, be open to new ideas, take risks knowing they may not work out, work with all departments within an organization- all in one day- and still have fun doing it all over again the next day? Embrace each challenge as an opportunity to improve the organization, enhance the skills of your team members, or just celebrate a learning experience.”
Cathleen Poissant, Director of Inside Sales, Sesame Communications

“Focus on developing your people. Coach, coach and coach. It’s the best investment you can make.”
Jill Konrath, author of SNAP Selling & Selling to Big Companies

“I’m going to steal a quote from one of my favorite books First Break All the Rules: “Manage everybody fairly but not necessarily equally.” The opposite of which is mistake I made when I first got into management over 10 years ago. The tendency to view the world through your own eyes as a sales manager and what YOU were like as a sales rep can be dangerous. If you have clear goals, you have to remember that getting to or past those goals is all that matters. Nobody faults Tiger Woods for shanking the ball into the other fairway, then dropping the ball into a bunker and then getting up and down in two to save par right? It doesn’t matter how, it’s how many. So if you have a rep that is hitting or exceeding their goals but not achieving those goals in the prescribed corporate fashion or YOUR fashion, LET IT GO. As a first time manager, there will be many more issues to deal with…this is not one on which you should focus.
Kevin Gaither, Vice President of Inside Sales, uSamp

“Coaching your team effectively is the most important part of your job. Let me give you two quotes. “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”. Create a culture of coaching… you doing it, peer coaching, executive coaching.. it is all good. Second quote “Your calendar eats your intentions for breakfast.” Don’t let it….make sure your coaching time is sacrosanct. It is the one thing that will take your team from good to great so focus on it!!
Trish Bertuzzi, president & chief strategist, The Bridge Group

“First-time sales managers need mentorship. If you are new to a management job, it is very different than being a top sales producer, for example. Instead of trying to figure it out as you go, find successful sales leaders outside of your organization who you can go to with a question or a dilemma. If you are lucky enough to have an outstanding leader who you report to and who will help you fail fast to success, then gain as much knowledge and ideas from them as you can. If that person is not within your organization, find them elsewhere. They are out there.
Lori Richardson, president, Score More Sales

“Be precise in all things! Don’t ask how likely a deal is to close. That question begs for an imprecise answer. Instead, ask “what would have to happen for the deal to close,” or “what might happen that could derail the deal.” Don’t tell reps, “Some of you aren’t entering your call notes. This is unacceptable.” Instead, tell them what information you expect after each call and give them a means to provide the information easily, no excuses. Ambiguity leads to misunderstanding, tension, conflict, and lackluster results.
Nancy Nardin, founder & president, Smart Selling Tools

  • Kevin Markl

    Great advice across the board – things we see all the time in Toastmasters as well. Small note that the last few links to the authors LinkedIn profiles aren’t working correctly.

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