The most important part of a sales organization are the front line sales managers. Your ability to scale is directly related to your ability to hire front line sales management and their ability to train and motivate reps.
Regardless of whether you look for your sales managers inside of the organization , or outside, these are things you should be looking for:
- Selling skills
- Trust / Buy-in
- Coaching Development
So what does this actually mean?
You need to know how to sell in order to be a sales manager at a startup. More often than not the manager will be teaching new employees how to sell, which is a tall order if the manager has never done this before. It’s preferable if you’ve sold at that particular organization, but ultimately a solid selling experience from any similar organization will do.
Why would I not only hire rock star sales reps as managers? SDR teams focus on sales fundamentals, and any person who has sold with moderate success will have these skills. The key skill that we will be looking for isn’t someone that has off the charts selling skills, its going to be someone that can communicate the basic selling skills in a structured way. Surprisingly, top performers tend to do this very poorly. If things come naturally to someone, they have a hard time explaining it to others.
Sales people are a skeptical bunch and the only way they’ll let you lead them is if they trust you. Why?
Performing poorly in many sales organizations has direct negative consequences ranging from lower pay to potentially loosing a job. With the stakes being high, the sales team is really only going to take advice from someone they believe will help them get results. Manager’s can do this by 1) showing that they care about their team members as fellow human beings and 2) by helping them improve their selling results. It’s a process, and it should be the biggest priority for a new sales manager.
Sales is difficult… Sales often involves a lot of failure…Sales requires falling, getting back up, and trying again. To keep doing this process, sales reps need to be motivated, and a great sales manager will be there to keep the energy high. Good sales managers know exactly what a rep needs to do to be successful. Great sales managers can come up with 1,000 different ways to make those things fresh and exciting for their team. You can be a technically sound managers, but without the ability to motivate (or earn buy-in) your team isn’t going to run through walls for you.
Sales teams change over time. Startups change over time. Sales teams in startups change faster and more often than any sane organizations should. Good sales managers need to be strong communicators-of-change to help maintain the confidence and credibilty with their teams. We’ll see in the next criteria that strong communication is the foundation for creating a respectful environment of accountability.
The sales team is often the first place in a startup that fosters an environment of extreme accountability. There are numbers to be hit, everyone in the company knows whether or not they where hit, and there are consequences…
To hold sales people accountable in a constructive way, you need to find managers that understand the importance of 1) getting buy-in , 2) clear communication around expectations. The strongest managers know that they need to earn the right to hold their teams accountable in a firm way, and they put in the extra effort to get there.
Coaching / Development
Most startups don’t have the infrastructure in place for a strong on-boarding or ongoing training program, so these responsibilities fall to front line managers. Look for managers that realize teaching people is a process and not a single moment in time. Developing sales reps is an ongoing process that takes a huge investment from the manager. It’s a key component in the consistent long term performance of a sales team.
Pro Tip: Yes, some sales people will be self-starters. Your first couple of sales people may be able to train themselves, but as you scale the team there will be a lower percentage that can figure out everything on their own. In a high volume, short sales cycle environment it tends to be around 10% of the team that will just do everything on their own, you can’t rely on these people to build an entire sales team.
Scaling a sales team is all about repeatable scalable process. Some top sales reps are complete anomolies, and can perform 3x higher than their peers with no apparent rhyme or reason. This breaks down at the sales manager level as those managers need to drive performance with multiple sales reps (not just the very best). In the long run, the highest performing sales managers have a structure for each of the things they do.
Ex. A structured approach to coaching and development would involve tracking the skill each rep is working on each week, along with tracking the progress. A structured manager would focus on one skill until they saw improvement, and then they would move on to the next skill in an individualized curriculum for each sales rep. An unstructured manager would just coach on the fly based on any situation that came up in a sales call, regardless if it was actually a critical skill or note.
The best sales manager, on his or her best day can only observe 30% of what’s actually happening on a sales floor.
Why? The first barrier is non sales activities like recruiting and 1:1s. These are critical, but they take a manager away from the floor. The second barrier is that even 100% perfect vision of the floor won’t tell a sales manager what’s happening over time.
To help see another 20-30% of what the sales floor is doing, a manager needs to be able to extract and interpret metrics. These could range from dials and talk time to % new business or first-meeting conversion ratio. Seek people who have drawn insights from metrics, and successfully taken action on those insights.
Hiring managers is going to be a long arduous process, it will take time to find people with even a handful of the traits above. But its worth it, because a great manager can motivate 10+ reps and scale a culture of success to your teams. Nothing will impact your sales people more than great front line managers, it will dictate how fast you can scale.