In sales, we rely heavily on our sales managers. They are our cheerleaders, teachers, coordinators, and team mates. That is, they are if they're good at their jobs. If they're bad at their jobs, they are our critics, our nightmares, our worst enemies. Is it time to replace your manager?
Often in a sales structure, the best salespeople are "promoted" to sales manager. Sometimes it's about seniority. Occasionally it's a question of the boss's favorite. None of these are the best way to hire a great sales manager.
The best sales managers have five primary skills: 1) They can consistently teach others to sell the product or service in a changing marketplace. 2) They are fantastic motivators of individuals and groups. 3) They always play fairly, setting a terrific example and creating a professional tone for the department. 4) They work as hard for their team as they do for upper management. 5) They would always rather help than scold everyone on their team.
If your manager doesn't meet these five criteria, all the rest of their skills really don't matter. Daniel Pink (author of Drive, To Sell is Human, and others) explains it well. The best performers in any sales organization take ownership of their work, feel it is important, and have the autonomy to self-manage and develop personal approaches to their tasks and environment. If your manager can't stimulate and support these three attributes, it doesn't matter how well they know the product, how quickly they can file reports, or how well the sales force is doing today.
Long-term success (we all want it!) comes from ownership, pride, and autonomy. Ownership, pride, and autonomy come from being good at your job. Being good at your job comes from clear expectations, and constant fine-tuning of skill. And fine-tuning skills comes from a supportive, objective voice confirming your strengths, and helping to develop your weaker skills.
As a sales professional, this is the boss you want, and the environment you need to do your best. We all know it. And when we have it, we're substantially less likely to look for opportunities outside the company. If you, the sales pro, don't have it now, it's probably time to look for an opportunity to get it. This is your career! You want to develop as well and as quickly as time will allow.
To upper management: I'm not saying there's no room for discipline! (See "clear expectations" above.) I'm reminding that carrots and sticks have gone the way of the two martini lunch. It's okay sometimes, but it doesn't work as a primary activity. Simple compliance is out, and motivation to comply and improve is in. If your sales team doesn't work this way, you have a problem, because the competition's team probably does. You don't want to lose your best people to the competition! Give your sales team the most vital benefit they can get: a terrific, qualified sales manager.