The Top Five Qualities – and Three Wild Mistakes – That Define a Great Sales Manager

connecting the dots
Sean Murray
Sean Murray
In Sales Coaching and Motivation, Sales Performance Management
Sean Murray is the Vice President, General Business Sales at Xactly Corporation. He is a dynamic and goal-oriented executive with a 15 year trend in global sales, marketing, and operations leadership. He attended the University of Rhode Island where he received his B.A and Masters in Marketing Communications.

Being a great sales manager is no easy feat. Your team’s success depends on you making sure your reps are closing those top deals and every member is engaged and inspired. But what are the qualities that make a great sales manager – and what are the worst pitfalls to avoid?

Five Star Sales Manager Qualities

    1. Being an outstanding coach
      Enabling your team to work to the best of their ability is possibly the most important quality of a sales manager, and that means being a great coach. There’s a clear difference between sales training and sales coaching: training means delivering a structured lesson to two or more, while coaching involves one on one mentoring tailored to that individual. Great managers can adapt their coaching style for each rep, reflecting how they absorb information and their own individual strengths. By being a great and consistent coach, you empower your team to improve their results – and ultimately protect your long term success.
    2. Hiring the right people
      Learning how to interview and ultimately hire the right people is possibly the most difficult part of a manager’s job. Stars focus on competency-based hiring rather than experienced-based; I myself avoid looking at resumes and go straight to the candidate’s abilities. There are exceptions to this rule – for example, where the rep is bringing a portfolio of clients into their new organisation. But generally if you can ensure that you have the right mix of skills in your team, you will be building a long term winning formula.

      Download our guide, "Inspiring Sales Rep Performance," to discover top tips on how to inspire sales reps and maximize their selling power from 10 industry experts.

    3. Intervening – at the right moment
      Stars are able to pick the right moment in the sales process to step in and support the deal. It’s important for managers to allow reps space to build relationships and complete the sales process, but then ensure that they spent their (limited) time in the most effective way. That means observing from a distance, then chiming in at the very beginning of the process and in the closing stages. That way managers can ensure they’re adding the most value without overstretching themselves – or stepping on reps’ toes.
    4. An analytical approach
      Great sales managers have a sharp, analytical mind. Advanced CRM and commission calculation platforms produce lots of data that managers can access. Those who succeed in this role will not only read this data, but work out the story that the data is telling – and then act on that. Sales managers should be able to unlock the power of their data – and create more informed sales strategies as a result.
    5. Prioritise, prioritise, prioritise
      There are a hundred different things that a sales manager can do in an average day – and often as many calls on their time. The best of them will identify the areas where they can add the most value – coaching a team member, supporting the close of a major deal, etc.  and ensure that those tasks are done first. That way you can ensure that you are best-placed to drive your team forward to success.

Three Mistakes to Avoid

    1. Focusing on the admin
      While all managers must deal with tracking, under-performers tend to spend too much of their time on this. Administration can be a huge burden, not just on sales managers but the entire team. While it’s important for managers to have awareness of the number of calls and emails reps are sending, you shouldn’t spend too much time getting bogged down in this detail; investing time in coaching will reap more rewards in the long term.
    2. Micromanaging
      It can be tempting as a manager to get very involved in the minute detail – both of the sales process and the way that reps are working. But micromanagement is a big mistake that will stifle the development of team members and ultimately lead to bad feelings in the office. Managers should trust their team to act and spend their own time more productively.
    3. Abusing the position
      The worst leaders can try to use their position to exercise power over the team. This is destructive behaviour that will ultimately damage the prospects of everyone. Managers should consider their approach carefully – and be aware that their position is a privilege, not a right.

As a final thought on sales manager qualities, the best always remember that they work for their sales reps, and not the other way round. Stars do their best to work in the interests of the reps at all times – because the team’s success is their success. Managing by this strong philosophy will help to deliver outstanding performances, time and time again.


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The Top Five Qualities – and Three Wild Mistakes – That Define a Great Sales Manager