Sales Managers Can Have A More Predictable, Successful, Low-Stress Job By Doing This One Thing

Randy Illig

Sales manager is a stressful job at many companies, but it becomes even tougher when the job focuses too much on “sales” and not enough on “manager.”

Managers can become obsessed with The Number, as in: Will the sales team make The Number this week? What about The Number this quarter? Or this fiscal year?

In some ways, the singular focus on hitting the sales target is understandable. Most sales managers had been sellers themselves. Often, they still think like an individual contributor even though they are now in a leadership role. The sales managers see their jobs through the eyes of the sales doer. They believe their job is to hit The Number by helping each person on the team hit their number. 

Stress is not sustainable

As a result, they’re working all the time. They’re involved in every deal. They’re reading proposals, helping their reps prepare for meetings, and dispensing all kinds of advice, helpful or not. 

And they are extremely stressed. It’s an unsatisfying and exhausting way to live. It’s also bad for business.

The problem with this approach is that it’s not scalable. As the company grows — and the sales team grows — the sales manager doesn’t have the time to continue to work individually with each seller. The sales manager becomes the bottleneck to company growth. 

If you spend all your time obsessing about The Number, then you’re not doing enough to grow and nurture and develop talent on your team. 

Embrace the art of coaching

The irony here is that if you flip priorities and focus on advancing talent, then hitting The Number will become much easier. 

I’m a big believer in creating a peer-to-peer coaching culture within a sales team. 

The idea is to have sellers pair up or form small groups to counsel and give advice to one another.  

Say you have 10 people on your team. That means there are now 11 people who can help, instead of just one overworked sales manager.

It does take effort to create a new coaching culture. The natural instinct of many salespeople is not for collaboration — sometimes salespeople may as well work in a cave. They’re very much loners who work on their own and do their own thing. 

But here’s how to change. The manager decides that the sales team will truly work as a team. Every time someone meets with a client, the team will prepare by coaching each other. 

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Working the new paradigm

One sales rep comes up to another and says, “Hey, I want to prepare for my upcoming meeting. Can you help me?” 

The two sellers don’t talk about what they’re going to do in that sales meeting. Instead, they actually do what they’re going to do. They role play — as a seller and a buyer.

It’s a big shift in thinking that can be intimidating. Human beings seem willing to do anything to avoid actually practicing — role-playing in front of a peer. So, it’s key for the sales manager to create a culture around preparation, practice, and role play. 

Some sellers may naturally resist at first. My advice is to make them try it. I believe they’ll be pleasantly surprised by the results.

I’ve done this exercise hundreds of times with many companies. I take a group of salespeople, spend a few minutes teaching some peer-to-peer coaching methods, and then group the sellers into pairs of threes or fives. Then they role-play how to handle their next sales call.

After about 20 minutes, I bring them back and ask them to rate the experience. 

Over the years I’ve found that hardly anyone says they received no value at all. Most say they received significant value. A major percentage say the role-playing exercise provided dramatically increased value. 

The reality is the more that sellers practice with a peer, the less nervous and awkward they feel. The salesperson gives and receives good peer coaching from individuals who know what it’s like to be out there. The likelihood of having a better outcome with a client goes way up. The chance of winning increases. 

And when they win more, they make more money. Because it’s peer-to-peer coaching, it’s all scalable. Happiness increases. The team does better. Talent improves.

The next thing you know, the sales manager makes The Number.