I try not to play favorites, in business or life, but David Brock is apologetically one of my absolute favorite human beings.  He consistently demonstrates high levels of integrity, generosity, humility and brilliance in a way I rarely see anywhere.  I’ve learned a ton about sales and business by talking with him at events, and reading from his excellent blog.

I was particularly excited to read his new book, Sales Manager Survival Guide, which is a refreshing, highly accessible and much-needed set of best practices for sales managers of all levels and tenures.

And of course, profits from the book will go to Charity:Water, a worthy group that David has supported for years.

Last week I sat down with David to talk about sales management, the general lack of good sales manager content, and how other departments can help support sales managers to be more successful.

Why is there so much great content out there for salespeople and sales strategy, but so little for sales managers?

I think there are a number of reasons, some good, some weak.  To be honest, developing content, training, materials for sales people is where the money and eye balls are.  There are orders of magnitude more sales people than managers.  (the managers are also customers of sales content, but the reverse isn’t true).  The second is, when we talk about selling, we are most often talking about how we reach and engage customers, how we move them through their buying cycle, how we work to solve their problems.  The target audience for that is primarily sales people, secondarily sales managers.  So it really makes sense that there is so much content for sales people.

There’s far less content for sales managers, partly because of the numbers.  Partly because sales managers can leverage a lot of general management/leadership content.  But I think a lot of it is there is a real misunderstanding by everyone, including sales management about what their job is.  The job of sales managers isn’t selling—that’s what sales people do.  The job of sales management is to maximize the productivity and performance of each person on their team.

So while the sales manager is involved in selling, the issues are more business management, leadership, people development, coaching, performance management.  It is getting things done through their people.  To the degree sales managers and the world think the job of sales management is about selling, then the content they develop for sales people suffices.  But only when you understand the job is different then you recognize the different needs for content.

What are the most important attributes of a great sales manager?

Table stakes is they have to be good (not necessarily great) at sales, otherwise they struggle to understand/empathize with sales people, or to be credible.  But I think there is too much emphasis on sales skills as an attribute for sales managers.  But there are two key dimensions to the job.

The first and most important is people.  Their job is to maximize the performance of each person on their team, so they have to 1) really understand and learn about their people-strengths, weaknesses, dreams, behaviors and attitudes.

2) They have to be able to coach, teach, help the sales people learn and develop—to reach their full performance levels and full potential.  You can’t do 1 or 2 if you don’t really care.  The second dimension and this is where the paradox comes in, you have to be a good business manager.  By that you have to understand the business of selling and the business of the sales function—which aren’t totally the same.  The later focuses on performance, effectiveness, efficiency, etc.

The challenge is how to you blend and manage the inevitable conflicts in the people side of the business and business management side of the business to both achieve your goals and maximize performance of people.  The final aspect to this is caring and believing.  If you don’t really care about your people, their success and their development; if you don’t believe in their ability to perform, perhaps more strongly than they do, you will never be a “great leader.”

What are the attributes of a great potential sales manager (likely among the direct sales force today) that you look for?

This is a fantastic question, it’s rarely asked.  Again, strong selling skills are critical.  Strong problem solving, critical thinking skills are critical.  I look for people who are the informal leaders in the organization.  They are the people their peers go to for advice, they willingly give that advice, help and support.  People who are informally coaching, mentoring.  People who are good team players and care less about being the super star than helping the whole team achieve their goals.

How do leaders outside of the sales organization effectively manage, coach and improve sales management?

This is really a question about leadership.  At all levels of the organization, performance is really about the people and individual contributors, where it is in sales, marketing, product development, manufacturing.  Great leaders realize their jobs are to help people perform to the highest level possible, to have clear direction, clear goals, and to remove roadblocks to performance.  If a leader has those characteristics, then they will be able to effectively lead sales executives and leaders.

What are the best ways for marketing to support sales managers?

Just provide higher quality and quantity MQL’s/SQL’s—OK seriously.

I think the issue is about supporting sales people, helping them improve their effectiveness, efficiency, and impact.  Those are the things sales managers are trying to achieve, so if marketing does that, they will be in alignment with each other.  That’s a great starting point.  I think engaging the sales manager in these discussions, to understand what and how they are trying to drive performance in the organization, so the things marketing does are in alignment with the priorities of the sales manager.

I think healthy pushback is good.  I’ve seen too many times, sales managers in trying to help their sales people, unwittingly ask for the wrong thing—for example more leads.  Helping the sales manager understand what drives results and outcomes, and the marketing programs that most effectively help the manager and sales people in doing this is critical.

Get your copy of Sales Manager Survival Guide here!