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7 steps to becoming the sales manager everyone wants to work for

Obtain the right background and experience
Master the numbers of sales
Know how to set the right goals
Add more deals
Maximize your conversion rates
Close more deals
Embody a sales leader

Sales is an art and a science. And if you’re going to lead a team of salespeople, it’s key that you master both.

Today’s sales managers are experts at managing time — they ensure that their team is spending time on activities that lead to closing as many deals as possible. A manager can make a sizable impact by influencing the specific activities that ultimately lead to a completed sale. Understanding this process and supporting a team to optimize it is integral to becoming a sales manager.

So whether you’re just starting out or on your way to becoming vice president of sales for a high-flying startup, here are seven steps to jump-start your journey:

Obtain the right background and experience

As sales manager you’ll undertake a wide variety of activities, such as overseeing regional and local sales representatives and their staff, resolving customer complaints and preparing budgets. To fulfill these job requirements, most sales managers hold a bachelor’s degree and experience working as a sales representative.

“You can’t manage salespeople if you haven’t sold yourself,” said Omar Koukaz, a high-tech sales veteran and business adviser. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics supports this notion — sales managers typically enter the career from other sales jobs or related occupations, like purchasing agent.

Master the numbers of sales

Besides setting goals and analyzing data, you’ll need to understand your sales pipeline and how to optimize it. Pipedrive’s Sales Pipeline Course outlines the sales pipeline, which consists of every phone call, meeting, email and sales conversation you’ve had with your contacts during a sales cycle. But not every conversation will result in a sale. If your typical sales cycle is six weeks, take note of the prospects that fall outside that scope. Use this awareness to calculate your sales close ratio.

You should also know what items and activities drive your pipeline. Koukaz suggests quantifying your progress to help you become a better salesperson and manager.

Focus on the right numbers, if we figure out that it takes at least seven quality touches just to get a meeting with the right person in an organization, leverage your knowledge to better target who you reach out to. We can use the numbers to tell us that targeting the right people is a big part of our funnel.

Sales manager KPIs, or key performance indicators, focus on new customer acquisition and revenue growth, with the most common KPI for sales managers being how many products the team sells.

Know how to set the right goals

A study in Harvard Business Review found 80% of companies set the wrong kinds of goals for their staff — they solely focus on “results-oriented goals,” or sales benchmarks. This is less effective than establishing activity-based goals, ranging from talking to a certain number of prospects everyday to conducting demos. According to the study, these “good goals” take the focus off the endgame of closing deals or selling, and place it on the individual activities that lead to success.

Koukaz emphasizes that “you should optimize for success and know the numbers that you must understand and measure — the ones that improve your pipeline activity. Think of creative ways to engage prospects to increase the top of the funnel.”

Add more deals

If you’re leading a sales team, you’ll have to know how to add deals to the pipeline. To achieve this, you might consider setting a daily or weekly goal for contributing deals. They can come from anywhere, so take advantage of your existing assets like referrals from your customers and connecting with old contacts.

Maximize your conversion rates

You can improve your conversion by, first, making sure that you’re hitting the right targets in an organization. Decision-makers may be difficult to reach, but try to avoid wasting time on individuals who are unable to purchase your product or service. Be proactive about approaching these prospective customers and don’t wait for them to come to you.

It’s also important to know the buying process in your target organization. “In some cases you only need to reach out and gain approval from one person in an organization” Koukaz said. “But with more complex sales you’ll need to canvas an entire organization, which multiplies your number of touches (or communications).”

Koukaz offers up 3 steps for improving conversion rates:

  • Understand your space very well and know what’s considered “normal” in that type of sales process.
  • Understand who is buying your product or service.
  • Know what their buying process looks like.

You might also maintain an optimal “buyer profile” to help foster relationships with prospects who fit your qualifications. Koukaz even suggests creating several buyer profiles. Integrate your understanding of customers’ businesses into the profile to ensure you meet their needs and wants to sell more efficiently.

Close more deals

Once you’re closing more deals, you understand sales and can execute a sales strategy for a team. Achieving this can be a fact-finding mission: First, understand the decision-making process within organizations you’ve sourced as prospects. Do you know what they require to move forward with purchasing? Having this information will enable you to close deals faster. Applying light pressure on prospects and knowing when to walk away may also speed up the sales process. Moving on quickly can help you make time for other prospective buyers.

Koukaz advocates leveraging your past deal experience to inform future strategies. “Your past deal experience is the greatest leading indicator for being a great sales manager,” he said. “Look at past interactions from converting a lead to closing the business and reverse engineer that process. See if there are areas that you can optimize. Learn a buyer or company’s buying process for whatever you’re selling and map your strategy to their activities.”

Embody a sales leader

Now that you’ve obtained the right experience and mastered the art and science of sales, you’ll need to prove that you can lead a sales team. Think strategically about each person on your team and how you can encourage them to do their best. Communicate your vision to your sales representatives and use empathy to boost productivity.

Based on his own decadelong career in high-tech sales, Koukaz said: “The best sale leaders are those who have an intent of service to their team members and their clients. They’re the most effective.”

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