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HOW TO SELL ANYTHING

What Has Changed in Sales? The Sales Manager

You need to be more than an expert in persuasion. You need to train reps and to ensure IT launches tools effectively and marketing produces content the team can use.
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Any sales manager who’s been around the block will remember the old American Airlines commercial set in a boardroom meeting, where a manager tells his team that the business is struggling and it’s time to get out there and sell. He hands airline tickets to each person on his team so they can hit the road and get in front of customers. That scene used to capture the epitome of a sales manager’s meeting: getting your team pumped and sending them off to meet with prospective customers.

Being a sales manager isn’t like that anymore.

With the advent of technology like social media platforms and CRM software (marketing automation tools, sales intelligence software, auto-dialers, etc.) the sales process has changed. More importantly, so has the role of the sales manager. A successful sales manager is no longer just an expert in persuasion, who has mastered the art of the weekly sales meeting pep talks. To CEOs, sales managers today are department liaisons, making sure IT rolls out new sales technologies effectively, and marketing produces content the sales team can actually use. To sales reps, managers are coaches--training them on new sales tools and encouraging best practice sharing.

There's a lot more expected of a sales manager these days. Here’s how managers can further develop their skill set, evolve their role, and surpass those expectations.

Operations Fluency

Technical competence is key. A manager doesn’t need to write code, but they do need to have enough technical aptitude to be dangerous. A manager may not have the skill set to do behind-the-scenes work on a CRM system, but they should at least understand how these systems function and understand the data available. In a day when we track every single thing in sales--from calls, to meetings, to lead scores--metrics and operations are everything. That means when a company goes live with a new CRM system, the sales manager should be on hand to align IT with the sales team’s concerns and reconcile that day-to-day knowledge of how a salesperson functions. They must be an operations executive, understanding both the metrics of the business and the talent of the people within that organization. 

Agility is important too. With an understanding of innovative sales tools, managers can comprehend which would and wouldn’t benefit their team. New sales tools like DocuSign, capturing electronic signatures, or ClearSlide, a web-based tool that let’s reps share presentations and measure their prospects response to those presentations, can make a huge impact on a sales team’s effectiveness and efficiency. These tools are technologies. Without a solid grasp on technology, how can managers leverage new tools appropriately?

Social Savvy

Social intelligence is imperative to sales success. Social media channels aren’t just for research and chasing down leads. Managers must educate teams on the art of social selling, which when done effectively positions reps as thought leaders through their tweets and blog posts, and by being actively involved on LinkedIn. A sales manager who hasn’t heard of the concept better get familiar with it quickly because its something that turns into inbound leads. Some forward-thinking companies have begun social selling, but much of the sales industry still leverages content that reads more like a sales pitch than relevant industry commentary. 

Social matters when recruiting and hiring as well. When a savvy sales manager goes to hire a salesperson, they’ll check the candidate’s social media channels to monitor activity. They’ll not only look at the quality of the content posted and the frequency of how often that person engages, but will also consider their influence. For example, when I get a resume, I immediately look at the candidate’s LinkedIn profile. If I see a sales professional with more than five years of sales experience and less than 300 LinkedIn connections, it’s a huge red flag. In an industry founded on connections, building good rapport, and fostering strong relationships, you absolutely cannot ignore the number of "connections" that a sales rep, let alone a manager, has on LinkedIn.

A Knack for Marketing

There has always been a gap between marketing and sales departments. Sales thinks marketing is out of touch; marketing thinks sales doesn’t follow-up. But breaking through that traditionally tense wall and aligning marketing with sales can significantly improve an organization’s business by streamlining the customer’s path to purchase. A sales manager who can speak the marketing talk, but who also has feet on the street through their sales team, can foster communication and a much more productive relationship between the two departments.

According to a recent Corporate Executive Board study, 60 percent of a prospect’s buying decision happens before they even talk to a salesperson. So the question is what is that customer reading? Where are they reading it? Who does it belong to? So who can answer the question as to what buyers are reading about? Sales reps. They’re the ones who talk to potential and current customers on a day-to-day basis and who understand their motivations, and hesitations, about buying.

Who can leverage that feedback to create relevant, expert content? Marketing. This team produces the content to be used on the company website, in email lead nurturing campaigns, in downloadable content, and in webinars. Sales managers have to effectively communicate as a liaison between both parties to keep them in agreement and working in tandem.

Helping teams master the art of persuading leads to turn into sales will always be the cornerstone of a good sales manager. But in order to compete and succeed in today’s marketplace, sales managers must evolve their skill sets to incorporate an operations, a social, and a marketing mentality. There are so many tools available to salespeople these days. If a manager can’t explain and leverage them effectively, who can?

IMAGE: Getty
Last updated: Nov 4, 2013

BOB MARSH | Columnist | CEO and Founder of LevelEleven

Bob Marsh is the CEO and founder of LevelEleven, which gamifies CRM with high-impact competitions. The company's flagship product, an app named Compete that creates contests within Salesforce.com, has been widely adopted. Marsh is an established thought leader in the sales management and enterprise gamification space. A native Michigander, he is passionate about revitalizing and nurturing the startup ecosystem in Detroit.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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