Which is the most important skill a sales manager should improve first to manage a sales team? The emphatic reply of any experienced veteran in sales is that it is a communication skill. The ability and skill of communication of a sales leader can simply surpass any other criteria. This may be the reason why British statesman, Nobel Prize-winning writer, and historian Sir Winston Churchill said, “The difference between mere management and leadership is communication”.
Adapting the communication style based on individual and situational needs is critical to improving the sales performance of an organisation. Both these criteria are extremely common in sales. Regardless of the best strategies, sales plans, forecasts, availability of most advanced physical resources or technology, if the communication of the leader is ineffective, chances of a crash in sales performance can be high.
Sales managers must be strong communicators. They are obliged to communicate with the sales team as their primary job task and also with others in the company, customers, suppliers, business partners, and even competitors. Clear, precise, positive, and effective flow of information, ideas, or suggestions creates a conducive work environment that motivates the sales team.
Being a sales manager in an organisation is no easy mission and performs an unenviable task. They not only manage the most important department in an organisation but also a group of individuals with specific skills and attitudes. The sales managers are the key employees of a company who is solely responsible for generating revenue. Therefore, naturally, they are accountable for not only the day-to-day existence but also the overall growth of the organisation.
If one inquires from any successful sales leader who has been on the job for any length of time, they will emphatically confirm that they have confronted animosity, resentment, or even real distaste with people from their own team and others in the organisation.
When I was a sales manager for a considerable period in my career, I followed the adage, “It’s not what you say, but how you say it.” During my tenure as a sales manager, I learnt to suppress my feelings when reacting to a situation, particularly in a negative circumstance.
Such situations were not rare in my line of work. In such circumstances, I tried to evade wrong words, phrases, or the tone of my voice that can lead to misunderstanding, ill feelings, or resentment.
One of the most vital criteria in sales leadership is that every one of them must know that without an energetic and highly motivated sales team, achieving desired results is far from possible. Hence, misunderstandings or misinterpretation of communication with the sales team members individually can hamper the overall performance, thereby affecting the sales revenue.
An important thing to keep in mind is that it is easy to unconsciously make your team members feel inferior because of the legitimate power given to you by the organisation as the sales leader. Naturally, the sales manager is the official authority over the sales staff. Nevertheless, if the manager approaches a situation with a condescending attitude, the team members tend to be offended.
A team with typically assertive salesmen may not tolerate such behaviour and will be inclined to resist. Communicating with the staff erroneously can trigger a sense of hostility in a workplace. Such bitterness towards the leader can persist for a long time and may disrupt team spirit. It is tested and proven that a sales team without a sense of teamwork spirit does not succeed in reaching goals.
However, being assertive and perceptive does not mean that the sales manager should do anything and everything to please subordinates. As I have mentioned in many of my previous articles, the salesmen are of a special breed. They perform the difficult task of convincing prospects to buy from their company, not from many other competitors available in the market as alternatives.
Salesmen face rejection more than those who are engaged in any other discipline. Hence, they can be aggressive, impulsive and also often resist protocol.
This typical behaviour of a sales team can only be controlled by communicating correctly. Hence, this is the reason for successful companies to recruit sales managers with selling experience. With experience, sales managers are capable of seeing both sides of the coin. Selling experience provides knowledge on field conditions, difficulties, rejections, and other hardships.
Nevertheless, a sales manager must also have leadership qualities, job knowledge, and flares for managing a team. Therefore, mere qualifications and copybook approach of a sales manager are not sufficient to lead a sales team to success.
To become a good communicator, one has to be a listener first and foremost. Sales leaders must be active listeners wherein a conversation; he gives complete attention to the speaker and focuses on the contents in full. For example, when a salesman approaches you with a question, even if you have answered that question a million times previously, it is a mistake to cut him off.
That is because; any member of your team will admire and appreciate a good listener as their superior. Listening in any situation is an extremely powerful tool, in the official and personal lives of any living person. Hence, a sales manager must develop listening skills to communicate efficiently and empathetically with subordinates.
Most sales managers make the mistake of assuming that team meetings went well for everyone simply because the conversation was successful for him. This happens when the manager ‘talks to’ the team and expects the staff to engage and interact. When managers become dominant speakers (which can happen often), they create a passive audience.
The remedy is to ‘talk with’ the team as an equal whenever possible. That can form a positive audience that exchanges useful information; produce innovative ideas, and solutions to common issues faced frequently by the team. A sales manager must be conscious about ‘how to talk’ rather than ‘what to talk about’ on a specific topic during meetings.
Through my long experience in sales, I can safely vouch that a stimulating conversation on any topic engagingly and enjoyably can turn a boring discussion into an enthusiastic and effective event.
Getting instant and spontaneous feedback from the team is another important ingredient in sales-related communication. Also, providing feedback to the team on important information is a necessity. Successful communication should always be a two-way street.
Two-way information flow between the sales manager and the team is critical in decision-making as a team. When everyone is involved in brainstorming, decisions can be more accurate and more productive.
Communication is the most important criterion in sales management success. Therefore, my advice to sales managers is that they should find a communications role model. With easy access to the internet, thousands of YouTube videos can be found.
There are many respected speakers who can inspire sales leaders who are accessible on social media platforms. A sales leader must be a student of good communicators and consistently work on improving. They can certainly find many tools, tips, and tricks to adopt in their respective communication styles.
Finally, the sales managers must be authentic, transparent, and credible. Mutual trust with the team can be built up mostly through how the leader communicates with subordinates. A good sales manager always attempts to professionally develop his team, improve their performance, enhance revenue, and help customers.