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Becoming A Sales Manager – Tips To Help Ease The Transition

Image of Michelle Farnsworth
Michelle Farnsworth


Congratulations on your newly appointed role as sales manager! Being promoted from a sales representative to that of a sales manager is a major accomplishment, but as you are undoubtedly discovering, the characteristics, skills, and mindset that made you a successful sales rep are dramatically different from the qualities you will need to lead and manage your sales team.

And not only that, but yesterday these salespeople were your peers and colleagues and now they are expected to report to you as their manager. Some are envious that you received the promotion over them, others expect special treatment because of your past friendship as coworkers, and still others are worried because you know the justifications and excuses they have previously used when they failed to live up to expectations or goals.

More often than not sales managers are promoted and then left to their own devices, blindly feeling their way through the demanding world of leadership. After talking with some of the best sales managers around, we put together their top 6 tips to help ease your transition from sales rep to sales manager.

Set Well-Defined Expectations From the Get-Go

From the very first day as sales manager you need to be clear about what you expect from each and every
one of your team members, both individually and as a collective group. Create ground rules, boundaries, and expectations so that there are no questions about exactly what is required of them. You simply cannot blame a salesperson for not completing a task you never explicitly said they had to do, no matter how obvious it may have seemed to you.

With that being said, one of the worst things you can do as a new sales manager is to go in there and start making changes without first listening to and learning from your new sales team. What do they feel is working well? What could use improvements? What is most important to them? Ease the transition by listening to them, and in turn they will feel heard and help validate your first-time decisions as new manager.

Create an Atmosphere of Accountability

Generate accountability within your sales team by ensuring that you follow up on instructions and advice that you have previously given. Top salespeople like being held accountable because they can see how well they are doing, how far they have come, and can also identify areas where they may need to put in additional effort or modification in order to attain optimal results. Weak salespeople tend to make excuses, push back, and eventually crumble (or quit) from the pressures of accountability.

By following up with your team you are also able to gain more insight into some of the challenges they are facing, better enabling you to advise them on how to overcome these issues. Have your team hold you accountable as well. The first step in building a work environment in which constructive criticism is well received is to encourage your staff to give you feedback on your own weaknesses and responsibilities. Incorporate their feedback in an effort to improve and create camaraderie. Sales success isn’t measured by personal contribution; it is measured by the contribution of an entire sales team.

Take the Time to Train

If you have spent any time in sales, chances are you have had to sit through a sales meeting that was a complete waste of your time. Rather than learning something that would actually be beneficial to you out on the sales floor, reports and numbers were simply read and acknowledged, and often inflated. No learning. No development. Remove demands on your sales team that do not directly help drive revenue, allowing them to make the most of their time.

As a sales manager, make it a point to use these meetings wisely. You have your entire team together in one room – do not waste this opportunity! Consider this: If you have 10 salespeople attend your one hour meeting, that is a total of 11 man-hours. Since you can do nothing with the numbers once they have come in, make sure to use that time wisely and train your team by sharing lessons and offering practice handling challenging, real life situations, rather than simply spewing out the facts and figures. Imagine what kind of positive impact this would have on your team’s future performance!

Lead More, Manage Less

The primary role of a sales manager is to provide leadership and guidance. The most effective managers out there find numerous ways to work alongside their team members in order to lead, guide, motivate, and reward them in a variety of social settings. They are the leaders who are out in the field, doing the dirty work right along with their team. Not only will your team see your dedication, you will be able to get to know them on a more intimate level. You will learn how they sell, find out what their likes and dislikes are, discover what their strengths and weaknesses are, and see what areas they could use some improvement in just by working shoulder to shoulder with them. The bottom line is sales reps don’t want to be managed, they want to be led.

Choose Your Sales Team Carefully

The number one job of any sales manager is to constantly be recruiting. If you are always on the lookout you won’t have to compromise when it comes time to replace or expand your team. Wrong hires in sales are typically the single highest hidden business cost because of:

  • Recruitment costs
  • Interviewing and selection
  • Training costs
  • Salary for the hire’s duration
  • Wasted time of other sales force
  • Opportunity costs (for example, if they contact a prospect but then leave the door open for a competitor to win)
  • Management time in managing their underperformance
  • Impact on your team’s morale
  • (You get the idea…)

Need a little guidance on how to find that A-type sales rep? According to Sales Executive Mark Roberge, the following are 5 common core characteristics, in order, that predict success of a new hire in most sales environments:

  1. Coachability
  2. Curiosity
  3. Prior success
  4. Intelligence
  5. Passion

The stronger your sales team, the better your results will be. If you want the best, you simply need to hire the best. Be committed to hiring the top talent available, even if they cost more up front, because the pay off will be well worth it.

Let Loose and Celebrate

More often than not, criticism or the delivery of bad news makes up the bulk of communication between managers and their teams. The best way to dispel some of the pressures your team may be feeling is to reward their wins – however large or small– as often as possible. Make it a goal to regularly comment on and commend any good news, efforts, or results because a little appreciation goes a long way in developing a driven and resilient team. See it as a chance to give everyone a little boost of motivation! Want some ideas?

  • A thank you
  • A high five in the hallway
  • A card or an email
  • A company-wide email recognizing certain sales reps accomplishments
  • Addition paid time off
  • Bonuses
  • Learning or certification opportunities
  • Paid attendance to an upcoming trade conference
  • Small gifts
  • New leads
  • Celebratory lunches that include food and acknowledgment
  • Request the CEO take them out for lunch
  • A night-out as a team, bowling, mini golfing, dinner, movies, you name it

By recognizing efforts and holding celebrations, you will create a social, friendly, and competitive work environment- one that will thrive!

First-time sales managers need guidance, they need mentorship. They are uniquely positioned to influence and empower sales reps to greater levels of success. You determine the tone, culture, and expectations of the work environment. Seek the guidance and mentorship that you need and you will undoubtedly succeed in your new leadership role.

We recently published a free, in-depth eBook full of tips about how to implement and enhance your sales coaching. You can get it here.

Learn 5 Tips to Implement an Exceptional Coaching Program


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