Some of the best sales agents, whether inbound or outbound, are a bit selfish and focused on one thing: Hitting targets and making money. That really isn’t it a bad thing, you want them hungry to hit those goals. But at the same time, some of them are equally capable of helping everyone else on the team, and this means they could make brilliant sales managers.
On the other hand, a sales manager has to be 100% focused on the team, going the extra mile to help their reps perform to their best of their ability.
Clearly, those are two very different roles with different priorities. Inevitably, that means they require different skills and characteristics. For that reason, there’s no guarantee that a brilliant salesperson will make a brilliant sales manager, or even a good one.
However, some reps thrive with a little more seniority. Here are six signals that a salesperson has what it takes to make the leap to sales leader level.
1. They Have Strong Manager Traits
As a salesperson, you’re given a target, and it’s your job to hit it. But as a sales leader, numeric goals are only a small element of your role.
In particular, you need to be able to lead a team. People management doesn’t come naturally to a lot of salespeople, and many lack the necessary characteristics to do it effectively.
This isn’t an issue that’s unique to the world of sales – going from the “shop floor” to leadership level is challenging in any field. But salespeople are so focused on individual results that the transition feels a lot less natural and becomes a lot harder.
Whatever their job title and background, good people managers share similar traits. Key characteristics to look out for include:
- Confidence: This isn’t an issue for most top-performing salespeople. But they can’t just be confident in their own abilities – they need to build confidence in their team, too.
- Curiosity: Once an excellent salesperson hits on an effective system, they tend to stick with it. In contrast, a sales manager should always be striving to improve systems, sales funnel builders, and processes to drive team performance.
- Patience: Managers can’t fix everything themselves; they need the patience to wait for their actions to take effect.
- Creativity: From coming up with new competitions and incentives to motivate their reps, to identifying new ways to overcome common challenges, sales managers often need to think creatively to drive results.
- Ability to manage conflict: Not all salespeople have big egos, but some certainly do, and conflicts will naturally arise from time to time. Managed effectively, those conflicts can actually be a positive, bringing the team closer and focusing them on hitting targets.
2. They Understand the Value of Training
Some people are naturally blessed with traits that make them effective reps. They might be particularly confident, or eloquent, or fast-thinking. However, no one becomes a great salesperson without putting in the legwork.
If a rep understands how sales training can help improve their performance, that suggests they’re adaptable and open to new ideas – which, in turn, makes them a strong candidate for the role of sales manager.
What’s more, every sales manager has to devise and run training sessions from time to time. Maybe the team has adopted a new sales tool, or perhaps your reps are struggling to hit target.
In this case, it pays to have a sales manager with a proven track record of engaging with training sessions and putting the learnings into practice. That way, they understand the type of training material that adds most value for sales teams.
3. They Coach Other Reps, Even When It’s Not Their Job
Even on a team of similarly qualified and experienced salespeople, it’s common for one to become the “go-to” for other reps when they encounter problems. Look out for the way your reps interact with one another and you’ll soon identify this.
Perhaps they regularly turn to that person when they’re facing a tough negotiation or struggling to overcome a specific objection. Maybe this salesperson goes through call recordings with other reps to identify areas to improve on. These salespeople are there for support and advice.
That “go-to” rep might not be your best performer, but they have an innate ability to coach their team-mates through challenging situations.
Because they have their own targets to hit, they don’t have the bandwidth to do all the work. Instead, they’ll talk their colleague through the process, empathizing and offering guidance where relevant, until that colleague can fix the problem on their own.
This coaching ability marks them out as an excellent candidate for the sales manager role.
4. They Have Excellent Time Management Skills
Sales reps spend almost two-thirds of their time on activities that don’t generate any revenue.
Once they’ve handled all their admin tasks and got through all the rest of their downtime, that only leaves about 14 hours in a typical 40-hour working week for key actions like sales prospecting and cold email outreach.
Yet despite this, only 22.9% of reps follow any form of structured time management plan. They simply plow on, hoping to hit their targets despite all the distractions.
Those one in five reps who do have a structured plan for managing time are better suited to becoming sales managers down they line. Because managers have an entire team to look after, plus their own responsibilities to fulfil, it’s vital they’re able to manage their priorities effectively.
5. They’re Passionate About the Company’s Mission & Goals
The path from top-performing salesperson to sales leader seems like an obvious progression. More responsibility, more money, more benefits.
But you shouldn’t promote a candidate simply because they think becoming a sales manager is the logical next step in their career. They also need to be passionate about the company, driven to take on those extra responsibilities, and willing to go the extra mile to propel the business forward.
This sort of passion can often be contagious.
When a sales manager is genuinely bought into the role and dedicated to helping the company succeed, they’ll be prepared to put in more time and effort to develop and upskill their team. In turn, their reps become more engaged too, which leads to better results for the business.
6. They Know How to Overcome Tough Times
Out of these two imaginary salespeople, which one do you think would make the better sales leader?
- A rep who’s never experienced a downturn in performance and hits target month after month
- A rep who’s battled through lean periods, sought advice and coaching, adapted their approach, and bounced back
Admittedly, you need to know a lot more about someone to ascertain whether or not they’d make a good sales manager. But based on those descriptions alone, I would pick the second rep every time.
There are two main reasons for this.
Firstly, reps who face and overcome challenges make better managerial candidates because their experience of battling through hard times makes it easier for them to empathize with struggling team members and offer helpful advice.
Secondly, advancing to managerial level brings challenges that most reps will never have faced, or even anticipated, before. The knowledge that they’ve survived other issues in the career gives them a thicker skin and helps them react to new challenges with confidence and positivity, which makes them more likely to succeed as a sales leader.
Think we missed any characteristics of a great sales leader? Let us know in the comments!
About the author
Sujan Patel is a partner at Ramp Ventures & co-founder of Mailshake. He has over 15 years of marketing experience and has led the digital marketing strategy for companies like Salesforce, Mint, Intuit and many other Fortune 500 caliber companies.