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The Intentional Sales Manager

Would you agree that the success of a team will be determined, in large degree, by the manager of the team?

For most they would agree. If that is the case, what specifically do we need to do as managers and leaders of teams to ensure success?

I sucked at my first management role. I was succeeding as a sales exec and managing a few accounts and was top performer year after year for five years. I became victim to the false evaluation of management readiness that was connected to sales performance.

Grabbing the opportunity, I assumed my teammates would do what they were doing. I knew them. I saw what they were capable of—but it soon became evident that my view and a manager’s view of activity and results were completely different.

Almost every day in management I longed just to be selling. Inundated with additional paperwork, dealing with requests and complaints from the team and above that I really didn’t want to deal with.

If I’m honest I became insecure in my ability and self-sabotaged my success. I left management on a negative note taking responsibility for what I had not done, and internally vowing never to return there again.

Fast forward six years, starting four businesses, selling one and interim sales director for two. I was in a manager role again.

I decided to embrace it with a new perspective and ownership. In exploring management and leadership I took in principles from great authors like John Maxwell, Ken Blanchard, Marcus Buckingham and Liz Wiseman.

It was these five principles and a lot of coaching that helped me when managing a 100% remote team in the UK and China, and growing existing account sales from 200K to 2.8 million in 8 ½ months.

ONE: Great managers…help activate every their team’s personal motivation and connect it to the mission and vision of the business.

This is perhaps one of the most difficult to execute on and it’s why its number one. When you can learn to tap into the motivations of others and align them to a common mission and vision, you can harness an almost unstoppable workforce.

I can’t say I ever got this perfect. There were two specific activities that got us very close. Close got us momentum large enough to grow 25% a quarter. Here are the two things:

  • Stop guessing and start asking: In my 1-on-1 we’d look at the week, opportunity reviews and such. The last 15 minutes of a good 45 minutes would be understanding where their personal focus was. I’d ask questions like. “Where were you most productive this week and why?” Or, “What changes in your thinking and focus when you’re doing your best work?” These questions were gold in understanding what the invisible switches were that got each member fired up.
  • Get clear on why it all matters to them as a manager of people regardless of how high up you are or aren’t. You should know why what you do matters, and importantly what it is connected to. After having your 1-on-1 you’ll almost always notice a common theme of reference. You should use this as a starting place to explore your communication with the team around improving performance.

TWO: Great managers..make decisions based on productivity, not politics.

I’m not sure there is a manager or leader on the planet who hasn’t at one point gotten caught up in the internal politics of their organizations. It’s important to find a place to seperate those things that are politically driven and those things that are productive.

It can sometimes mean exercising a little courage and saying NO—not just because you can and you have the right to, but because it’s right for the business, the team and your customers.

The filter you use to make decisions won’t always be clear-cut. Focusing on what helps achieve the goal is a good place to begin.

THREE Great managers..create a culture that holds themselves and others accountable.

There was a point in managing the remote teams where I had fallen behind on actions I had said I would get done. No one said anything despite the demands I was putting on everyone else. It took the courage of a team member stating that I hadn’t fulfilled my promise for me to realize we didn’t have a proper feedback mechanism in place.

I was losing respect and that needed to change. The most effective step we took didn’t cost me anything but time. In every sales meeting I’d give a short account of what I was up to, along with asking for everyone else. That was it. Being open and transparent in an appropriate manner allowed everyone to feel everyone was operating under the same conditions.

Trust went up and so did communication.

FOUR Great managers..keep watch on the trust, relationships and cohesion in the team.

Without trust no relationships thrive.

Trust isn’t a one-stop moment in time that is either gained or lost. It is on a continuum and is rarely equated in a few single actions.

As a manager and leader we need to be conscious of the trust and relational temperature in our teams. This means being honest and direct with what you see in your own behaviour and the teams.

I had a particular situation of two team members where trust was broken and relationship was deteriorating quickly. It was evident to everyone else. Being remote to the team it became challenging to monitor this well.

Having spoken with both of them with clear expectations. It was clear they both would have to be let go as their behaviors weren’t tenable to the health of the team.

It was sad but needed. The biggest lesson I took away, particularly when managing a remote team, was to institute a relationship code that everyone owned. It was like a mini team manifesto that each person received; a personalized physical copy in the form of their favorite cartoon character.

The top of the manifesto read: The team only wins when we all get better.

FIVE Great managers..know how to drive outcomes through questions and not commands.

I have to admit that there were times in managing that I came across more like a dictator than an empowering manager/ leader.

In sales it’s popular to focus on outcomes through KPIs—to look at the lead or lag focused on in your business. I actually didn’t find that to be helpful at all.

Instead of activity KPIs as my primary, I looked at the outcomes we wanted from the KPIs. These were then created, and were what I called CBAs (criteria based actions). CBAs were essentially guiding categories that helped shaped how the team would deliver on their KPIs.


KPI: Client Calls (10 value led conversations per week)

CBA: Trust, Care and Value

Trust – How and in what ways can you intentionally build trust in the conversation?

Care – How and in what way can you demonstrate care in your communication and engagement with your customers?

Value – How relevant and timely is the value we share, and how do we know what is impacting our customers?

We narrowed this down to five main KPIs each with three critical questions.

Just by having specific questions, the quality and focus of attention on the calls when up significantly. The team was making fewer calls, but we were converting higher and the feedback from prospects and customers was phenomenal.

What Next?

None of what I’ve shared may be new to you or may be some of it might. The key idea here is this. The right activities will get you a result but having the right intention will give you greater impact. Focus on intent and not activity first.

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