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After finding your first sales representative, especially if you’ve been the sole revenue generator in the company, the team dynamics inevitably change. Now, as a sales manager, you need to learn to trust others doing their job, and avoid micromanagement. There are so many new responsibilities! Great salespeople do not always happen to be great managers, so keep reading, and this article will help you to determine whether you have what it takes, and guide you through the basic dos and don’ts of a sales manager’s job in a B2B software startup.
What Sales Managers do in startups or other small companies:
In a small company, the most probable scenario, after hiring the first salesperson, is that you are still actively selling and, on top of that, managing the sales team. Now it’s all about finding a balance as well as effective prioritization, but more practically speaking, the following will probably be your new responsibilities:
- Recruitment (hiring, onboarding, and also offboarding)
(More about sales hiring here.)
- Overseeing or delivering training and evaluating their progress
- Creating a sales plan and goals (target and commission)
- Coaching and helping sales representatives
- Keeping an eye on their accounts
Also, you’ll probably have your portion of sales and operations. But that’s easy breezy, you already know what you’re doing there, right? The challenge can be setting up a healthy balance.
Traits and duties of a successful sales manager:
You’ll soon find out that sales managers don’t only plan, coordinate, observe, help, and coach sales representatives (plus work on their own deals). The job requires a lot of empathy, communication, and honestly sometimes also psychological skills.
The three soft skills underneath, we pick as the most important when managing the sales team. If you don’t think you tick the boxes, don’t give up on yourself, work on them. There’s no shame in not knowing…at first.
Sales managers should be able to:
- Manage, motivate, and skill-strengthen the team
Your goal is to shape high-performing and content sales representatives. Both the good and bad results are on you. It’s not your job to do everything for them but to help them, with your ultimate job; to become useless - which is sad but true. Therefore, you need to give the right training, guidance, and tools.
- Communicate and handle interpersonal matters well
You’re not a solo player anymore. From now on, you’ll be advising, talking, and meeting with your new employees regularly. It’s essential to remember how it felt being a beginner and have a lot of understanding. Do not assume everyone is on the same skill level as you are; this is a common misconception in experienced people’s heads.
- Organize their time and tasks appropriately
A tough one! On top of your existing workload, new managerial duties add up to a high number of demands on your work time. Therefore, plan your schedule. On Monday, we suggest you do regular 1on1s with your team, and for the rest of the activities (planning, doing business, training, etc.), you should have a time slot in your calendar, too. Know your priorities and expectations, and let the team know that you won’t be available 100% of the time for them.
What the structure of your regular 1on1 should look like:
One of the common mistakes we see in organizations is that they either don’t have any sales targets or compensation, or if they do, they don’t evaluate them on a regular basis. Therefore, sales representatives are not able to tell whether their results are good or bad. Plans give them direction and help them design their workdays, i.e., division between sales of services and product, etc.)
If a sales representatives’ target is 10million CZK a year, they will need to think about who their customers (mostly in size) should be to get them there. Half of the revenue could be done by a TIER 1 customer; a huge client. The other half can be around ten smaller companies. Based on this division, they’re able to plan outreaching activities accordingly. Together, create a transparent action plan. Identifying the way to your metrics is just half of the work, you’ll also need to know the metrics. Let’s take the same target - 10million CZK, one huge client, ten smaller clients. This information tells how many opportunities your sales representative should create. In our experience, this calls for 3 - 4 opportunities with the very big clients, and 30 opportunities with the smaller ones. Subsequently, you should also know how many qualified leads you need to have ready for this sales representative, and what sets of activities you need to carry out to open the opportunities.
Questions for you - Do you have a target? Is it achievable?
You should be able to tell based on past experience. If you’re a newbie, you have to make your best guess - setting the right sales targets is not easy.
Bonuses should be easily calculable. The most common scenario we see in companies is that the compensation plan is too complicated. This results in sales representatives not knowing:
- how much they (can) make on commission -> lower motivation
- which KPIs to focus on -> distracted, paying attention to maybe 70% of their KPIs
Another mistake we encounter is putting a cap on the commission. NEVER cap bonuses. Think about what happens once the sales representatives are about to go over their target: they simply won’t go beyond what they’re expected to deliver. If they did, next year they’d have to cope with a higher target. To sum it up, for free, they’d make their job more difficult. If they deliver their target three months before the term’s end, they’ll lose motivation and end up having a 3 month “vacation”.
3. Daily management of your sales team
Sales Managers, or founders or CEOs in this position, usually spend a lot of time with clients. However, your team needs your attention, too. Don’t hunt for deals only, go take care of your team. If you ask them what they need, they’ll surely agree with us - your support.
Several leadership related things you should not underestimate:
1. Learn how to coach your team.
Not only will you save yourself some time, but you’ll also develop them as people and sales representatives, too. If someone is coming for advice, there are two ways to approach it:
- You tell them the right thing to do
- You start asking them questions that will get them to the right solution
Asking questions is more effective in the long haul. The questions will be repeating - it’s a pattern. “What is their priority?” “Did you discover their need?” “Is that what you think, or is it what they told you?” Later, before coming to you, they’ll ask themselves first and this time be able to solve the issue themselves. Once they get used to this, they’ll come only with more complicated matters or just to confirm what they’ve come up with.
2. Train your team frequently.
If you want more and more revenue delivered, you need to give your team the right tools and know-how first. Keep improving their skills internally, externally (soft/hard skills, even outside their primary job description,... training) and you’ll:
- Increase productivity and improve performance (10% cost increase in education can lead up to 8,6% increase in productivity, EQW1)
- Reduce turnover (12 times less likely to leave the company, IBM2)
- Save money (training is simply cheaper than hiring)
- Stay ahead of competitors
Btw, check this survey by PwC3, asking millennials "Which of the following characteristics make an organization compelling to work for?":
Apart from training, another way to improve skills is to analyze meetings. Like in sports - the best teams record their performance and look at what was happening in retrospect. The same applies to sales meetings. Moreover, letting the team educate others makes them repeat the information, and keep it active—the same applies to becoming mentors for newbies.
3. Set up weekly 1on1 meetings.
1on1 is time dedicated to you and your sales representative only. They have your full attention. Nothing beats a F2F meeting with your team members, so ideally, plan them on-site.
These meetings help:
- to show you care about what is happening in the work life of your employees
- to get an insight into whether you have a good strategy in place
- to collaborate on deals: get updates and help
- to set a sales routine
- your sales representatives to own a meeting - it can be one of their first ones, so it lets them practice
Here are some essential leadership tips for your 1on1s:
- Make them a regular thing and have them in calendars
- Start with a small talk, read the room, warm-up
- Have an agenda set, have them own it, and see it through their eyes
- Be on time and don’t cancel - show you genuinely care (you can agree on canceling if there’s nothing to discuss)
- Thank your sales representatives at the end - show you value their time
In SALESDOCk, we meet weekly because our sales team is 100% allocated to sales. If your sales guys split their duties between sales and another field, it’s OK to schedule them bi-weekly.
Our weeklies focus mostly on business deals. We start with the most important, close to winning, ones. Those in the initial stage of discussion, far from closing, we save to the very end. 45 minutes should be enough to go through all topics:
We talk about our target, how we’re coping with it, the expected revenue for the upcoming month, whether it’s enough to hit the yearly target, etc. If there are money gaps, we create a set of activities to stay on the track of getting to the target.
We look at their pipeline, talk about how opportunities moved forward, what exactly happened, and validate whether they’re in the right phases. This prevents us from having opportunities backfiring on us. Then, we discuss what they need and the strategy to win these opportunities.
We also challenge ourselves by asking, “Is there any reason this opportunity should not be in this phase?” If yes, we move it back to where it belongs. The strategy here is to be realistic, rather than optimistic. Instead of thinking of reasons they should buy, think of red flags. Challenging ourselves keeps us proactive. The goal here is to have no BS in the pipeline.
This “no BS” culture needs to be rooted in your team. Strive for a clear overview.
c) Sales Qualified Leads
Getting to the ‘not that hot’ deals makes us talk about the number and type of activities done. We usually ask our sales representatives:
- How many leads they qualified in the last period (week)
- What is stopping them from qualifying?
- What happens on the call?
- What stops the leads from becoming opportunities?
By asking the questions, we want to understand, again, whether we have the right strategy in place, and if not, work on it together.
Newbies, before they dig deeper into sales, are shortly asked about the number of calls/emails. Then we discuss whether they have enough leads to work on and know how to get/create new ones, etc.
d) Next Steps
We set up the activities for the next week, discuss general challenges, do Q&A, etc.
Wrapping it up
Though our instructions are quite detailed, we lay a great deal of emphasis on avoiding micromanagement and promoting independence in the team. Give your team freedom and let them show you whether they deserve it. This way, you’ll make them grow and get extra time for your own growth and duties, and honestly, you’ll be less of a pain in their ass.
We like this approach from Close.com! Check what they're up to motivating their sales team.
Keep your company culture healthy and reward your sales team for the great work they do.
2 IBM: The Value of Training https://www.ibm.com/services/learning/pdfs/IBMTraining-TheValueofTraining.pdf
3 PwC: Millennials at work reshaping the workplace https://www.pwc.de/de/prozessoptimierung/assets/millennials-at-work-2011.pdf