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What Makes a Great Software Sales Manager?



A software sales team cannot find success without an effective sales leader in charge. A sales manager will have to wear many hats, from sales to analysis to occasional diffuser of difficult situations. Sales management is not for the faint of heart, but for those individuals who possess leadership skills, it can be a lucrative and personally rewarding career path. Here are some of the most important traits that a successful software sales manager possesses:


#1: An effective software sales manager builds a great team.


This includes hiring the best talent and developing current team members through encouragement, coaching, and training. Sometimes a sales manager needs to stretch team members outside their comfort zone, perhaps through a sales seminar or a course that develops their skills. Other times building a great sales team might involve some one-on-one discussions about personal development like finishing a degree or discussing potential career trajectories. Sales managers need to know everyone on the team and develop a game plan of how they can bring out the best in the group—and from within every individual salesperson. Part of building a great team is building a culture of rapport, communication, and teamwork among the team, and that can involve juggling a lot of personality types.


#2: A great sales manager knows the product and the sales process.


Sales management is largely about motivating your team towards success, but you will need to help them along the way. Many times that help comes in the form of product knowledge or some pointed insights about where they can improve in the sales process. A deep knowledge of your SaaS product will help you assist an account manager in navigating difficult questions from clients, overcoming objections, or thinking of additional ways the product can be presented as a fit. Knowing your product will also help you pass that knowledge along to your reps, so that they in turn are better equipped on the front line of customer acquisition. Along with knowing the product, you’ve got to define a process that is simultaneously standardized and flexible enough to create a healthy pipeline. This strategy can turn your group of individual salespeople into a well-oiled sales machine.


#3: An effective sales manager leads by example.


Management and sales are two different skill sets, but a sales manager will need to prove their chops in the sales game if they’re going to lead a team of sales professionals. You can’t promote someone to the role of head chef if they don’t know how to cook. You can’t be the captain of a ship if you don’t know how to sail. Similarly, a sales manager needs to know the sales process, as well as anything makes the sales cycle unique in their industry. This knowledge will help them coach their salespeople from a place of experience. In some contexts, a sales manager stepping into the process can provide a real time example of effective tactics such as asking probing questions, active listening, and closing. It’s also important to know your industry and promote the idea of keeping up with industry news among your team.


#4: A great sales manager works with numbers.


It’s impossible to analyze success in sales without metrics. Sales metrics give you a pinpointed understanding of where your team—and each individual salesperson—is succeeding or needs work. Bringing metrics into a conversation can help avoid ambiguity and give sales professionals on the team clear goals to aim for. Key performance indicators may vary in your industry, but having a CRM to keep track of stats like closing rate, sales pipeline coverage, and lead response time will go a long way towards helping your team meet and surpass sales goals. Sales metrics can also help a sales manager fine tune the sales process for each and every team member, finding parts that need work and making adjustments accordingly. One size does not fit all, and sales metrics can pinpoint the nuances that are different for every person.


#5: An effective sales manager promotes accountability.


Accountability can come in many forms. While it might seem Draconian to keep a running tally of bathroom breaks or how many minutes inside sales reps are late from lunch, you cannot shy away from discussing issues with your team. However, the best way to promote accountability among your direct reports is to set an example by holding yourself accountable for the overall success or failure of the team. As a sales manager, you are the leader, and you cannot blame your direct hires. The best leaders take blame when things go wrong, and give praise to others when things go right. Part of promoting a culture of accountability is keeping an open door and communicating clearly with your team about what is expected from them. Sales reps who admire their manager will perform better than ones who don’t—so be a sales manager your team can admire.


#6: A great sales manager inspires.


You may have noticed that we didn’t title this article “What Makes a Good Software Sales Manager.” That’s because a good software sales manager is aiming to be great, not just good. The mood of the sales manager sets the tone for the team, so if you celebrate success and feel motivated to win, you’ll inspire your team towards the same. A sales manager needs to be a “people person” with a higher degree of emotional intelligence and the ability to manage different personality types. While sales is all about numbers, it’s also about human connection, problem solving, and success. A great sales manager puts the team first and is actively involved with minimizing conflicts, encouraging those team members who need a boost, and helping overly-competitive individuals cool down when necessary. You’ve got to be a cheerleader and a coach, and moreover, know when you need to be what.


At the same time...


A sales manager is the captain of the ship, and whether it sails towards success or gets dashed on the rocks is entirely up to them. However, not even the most effective sales leaders can lead effectively without great talent, or at the very least, talent that is coachable.


Unfortunately, putting together a team, expanding, or replacing team members who have left can be one of the biggest challenges for managers. With so much on their plate, devoting time to a thorough vetting process might not be possible. In some companies, sales managers play a bigger role in the hiring process, and cannot just pass it off to HR. Even if they can, it’s best to stay involved in the hiring process.


Working with a software sales recruiter can help you screen the influx of talent and find the most competent candidates that are hiding behind the plethora of paper resumes. I’ve been in software sales for almost four decades and know the industry—and its candidates—very well. Let’s connect! Send me an email at mike@michaelblair.com, and discuss the particular needs you have as a sales manager, and what type of talent you need to bring on to your team.


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