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Secrets to Developing Successful Sales Managers

Cabrera_newToday's blog post is by Christopher Cabrera, CEO of Xactly Corporation, the industry leader in sales compensation automation.

Back in November, I wrote here about how sales managers who are on the cusp of hitting quota sometimes hang on to low-performing reps in the hope of eking out even a few more sales.

Obviously it’s not good business to keep poorly performing sales reps on the books. But the underlying issue ­– and perhaps the more important one ­– is that first-line sales managers have a huge impact on company performance, yet they’re often overlooked for training and career development. They may get a workshop or two when they’re new to the manager role, but after that, the training emphasis shifts to the sales staff.

At Xactly, we’ve been thinking a lot about this lately because of a Webinar series we’re conducting with the management experts at ZS Associates. Andy Zoltners and Marshall Solem of ZS have some keen insight into problems that arise at the manager level.

One such problem can be traced to the structure of the typical sales career path. Got a sales rep who knocks it out of the park every quarter? Paid his or her dues, put in the time, deserves a promotion? There’s your next sales manager! Trouble is, great reps don’t necessarily make great managers.

That makes sense when you think about the characteristics each position requires. A top-notch sales rep, for example,

  • wins through personal effort,
  • is customer-centric,
  • sets a personal agenda,
  • and is focused on results.

The traits of a good manager are completely different. These managers

  • win through leading others,
  • focus on both customer and company,
  • balance the demands of many stakeholders,
  • and act strategically.

Sales managers also have to maintain a balance among three roles: they’re people managers, business managers, and customer managers. When the company changes its strategy or new regulations come into play, it’s up to the manager to communicate to the field. When the field reports on changes in the marketplace, the manager communicates with the company on how it needs to adapt. Not everyone can balance the competing needs.

Promoting good reps who aren’t well suited to management is a classic lose-lose situation. The star seller most likely will be replaced by someone who isn’t as strong. And ZS research has found that performance deteriorates over time in territories run by weak managers.

So what can a company do to ensure a strong team of first-line managers?

  • Hire for characteristics. Train and coach competencies.




Market knowledge

Empathy, listening skills

Business savvy

Social skills

Hiring skills


Region planning and management skills


Negotiation skills



Ideally, a first-line sales manager will possess all of those characteristics and competencies alike (although that’s asking a lot). But if you have to make a trade-off, go with the characteristics. Market knowledge and planning skills can be taught; integrity and decisiveness can’t. Or, as ZS’s Solem puts it, “You can’t send a duck to eagle school. If you want an eagle, you have to hire an eagle.”

  • Give sales managers the support and training they need to be effective and efficient, including the following: 
    • Data and tools: dashboards and metrics, tools for territory goal setting or territory realignment, and tools for budgeting and expense management.
    • Processes and systems: processes to help manage performance reviews, hiring, and goal setting, so all managers operate in much the same way and don’t have to make up processes on their own.
    • People: administrative staff and regional analysts to help managers understand the business, and a “traffic cop” to manage requests from headquarters for field time and manager time.
  • Create a career path for sales reps that lets them advance without becoming managers. This could mean setting up different levels of responsibility, from junior rep to senior rep to key-account exec assigned to global accounts. Seasoned salespeople could be given extra internal responsibilities, such as leading task forces to address issues within the organization, or coaching and mentoring new reps.

Some salespeople assume the management mantle seamlessly, but don’t assume everyone can make the transition. Use these tips to keep management problems at bay and your top sellers doing what they do best. 

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Aubryn Smith

The job of the Sales Manager is much more different from his sales representative..He must always coach his team to ensure that the goal is achieve..He have to set the environment that keeps his team motivative at all time. He has to ensure that the company meet it revenue target..Training is a must for sales managers.

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