Leading the Pack
At the wizened age of 27, I became a staff manager for the first time. All Type-A bluster and bravado, I thought that simply relaying my wishes would be enough to get stuff done. Au contraire--I soon found that it takes much more than smarts and expertise to manage. It requires great empathy, mucho compromise, and a willingness to play traffic cop to discord in the ranks.
I asked entrepreneurs and experts what personality characteristics a sales manager needs to run an entrepreneurial sales force. Whether you're managing your sales staff yourself or hiring someone to do it for you, these are the qualities you'll need:
- Clearly articulating expectations to your sales team is essential. Frank Bell, 38, is founder and CEO of Intellinet Corp., a provider of IT services in Atlanta. Bell names vision and clarity as the top traits he needs to effectively lead his sales force of seven. According to Bell, whose company made $10 million in sales in 2003 and projects $12.5 million for 2004, "Clarity is essential for the sales team to understand which clients are strategic and what types of deals we are best positioned to deliver."
- All employees, including sales reps, operate best in an environment where they know what's expected of them. Elements of consistency include a simple compensation model, regular sales meetings and performance reviews, and unwavering communication. For Eric Ansley, 34, president of Aaxis Technologies Inc. in Washington, DC, consistency is the premier characteristic he requires to manage the five-person sales team at his $1.8 million business. "Creating a selling environment where good selling practices occur every day is a key to success," says Ansley, who strives to make exercises such as team cold-calling sessions and sales meetings habits.
- Grant Mazmanian is president of Pinnacle Group International, a company in Media, Pennsylvania, that provides behavioral assessments for small-company sales teams. Mazmanian likens the urgent sales manager to Merlin, the magician of Arthurian lore who could foresee the future because he lived his life in reverse. Urgent sales managers are already at "Z," working their way back to "A," and they prioritize all that has to be accomplished to fulfill objectives, such as quarterly sales goals. A manager with the urgency trait is always five blocks ahead of his or her sales reps, waiting for them to catch up.
- This may well be the trickiest trait to master. Empathy for your fellow human can make for stronger relationships with reps--as long as it's tempered with attention to bottom-line performance requirements. Show your reps that you do care about their lives outside of the office, but expect them to do their jobs.
- An eye for good talent:
- Be urgent, be empathic--but if you haven't hired the right reps, all your brilliant skills may be for naught. Ansley cites hiring top-notch talent as his biggest challenge. "In our early days," he says, "we were eager to hire people just to get them out in the market." He laments that rush to fill positions and says he should have been more selective at the outset of his business.
Pinnacle Group International conducted a study in November 2003 to determine the management styles, motivators and temperaments of successful sales managers in small companies (those with less than $15 million in sales). According to the results, top sales managers tended to have an entrepreneurial, hands-on management style. They also relied on coaching and upgraded hiring standards to improve the sales team, and used prospecting and cold-calling to increase sales.
Kimberly L. Mccall (Marketing Angel) is president of McCall Media & Marketing Inc. and author of Sell It, Baby! Marketing Angel's 37 Down-to-Earth & Practical How-To's on Marketing, Branding & Sales.