The Sales Manager's Guide to Greatness: Ten Essential Strategies for Leading Your Team to the Top

The Sales Manager's Guide to Greatness: Ten Essential Strategies for Leading Your Team to the Top

by Kevin F. Davis


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2018 Axiom Business Book Award Winner, Silver Medal

Straightforward advice for taking your sales team to the next level!
If your sales team isn’t producing the results expected, the pressure is on you to fix the situation fast. One option is to replace salespeople. A better option is for you to optimize your performance as a sales leader. In The Sales Manager’s Guide to Greatness, sales management consultant Kevin F. Davis offers 10 proven and distinctly practical strategies, skills, and tools for overcoming the most challenging obstacles sales managers face and moving your team ahead of the pack. This book will help you:

  • Learn the 6 sales rep instincts that can cripple your management effectiveness, and replace these instincts with a more powerful leadership mindset – true sales leadership begins with improving the leader within
  • Stop getting bogged down by distractions, become more proactive, and find more time to coach, lead, and inspire your salespeople
  • Get every salesperson on your team to be more accountable and driven to achieve breakthrough sales results
  • Master the 7 keys to hiring great salespeople
  • Create a more customer-driven sales team by blending the buyer’s journey into your sales process
  • Speed up the improvement of your team by mastering the 7 keys to achieving better coaching outcomes
  • Excel at the most challenging coaching conversation you face – how to solve a sales performance problem that is caused by a rep’s lousy attitude
  • Attain higher win-rates by intervening as a coach at the most critical stages of a buying cycle, quickly identify opportunities at risk, and coach more deals to the close
  • Discover why so many salespeople fail at sales forecasting and how to impress your company’s upper management by submitting more accurate forecasts
  • And much more…

You can apply the strategies outlined in this book immediately to take control of your time and priorities as a sales manager, become more strategic, deliver high-performance coaching that grows revenues, and ultimately drive your team to greatness.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781626343887
Publisher: Greenleaf Book Group Press
Publication date: 03/28/2017
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 654,164
Product dimensions: 6.30(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.10(d)
Age Range: 3 Months to 18 Years

About the Author

Having worked his way up from sales rep, to sales manager, to general manager, author Kevin F. Davis understands the particular challenges faced during the transition from sales to managing salespeople, and the transition from managing sales reps to managing managers.

As president of TopLine Leadership Inc., which he founded in 1989, Kevin offers customizable sales and sales management training programs that provide sales managers with the essential skills and knowledge they need to become great at what they do and help firms dramatically increase top line revenue growth. Over the last three decades, he has delivered sales and management/leadership training to tens of thousands of tenured salespeople and sales managers.

Kevin’s most recent book is The Sales Manager’s Guide to Greatness: 10 Essential Strategies for Leading Your Team to the Top. He has also authored two sales books: Slow Down, Sell Faster! and Getting into Your Customer’s Head.

Read an Excerpt

The Sales Manager's Guide to Greatness

10 Essential Strategies for Leading your Team to the Top

By Kevin F. Davis

Greenleaf Book Group Press

Copyright © 2017 Kevin F. Davis
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-62634-388-7


Embrace a Leadership Mindset

I have two lists of attributes to show you:

List 1

• Speaks clearly and fluently

• Shows confidence in their abilities and ideas

• Provides value on a sales call

• Understands the needs of customers

List 2

• Assigns accounts fairly and equitably

• Ensures that new personnel receive the training and support they need

• Works with reporting employees to create a plan for their development

• Deals effectively with employees who do not meet their commitments

What's your impression of the difference between these lists? People usually tell me that List 1 sounds like the characteristics of a top sales performer while the items in List 2 are the things that good sales managers should be doing. Do you agree?

Here's the twist: Both lists include items from the survey I mentioned in the Introduction (p. 1) of 1,500 business-to-business salespeople who were asked to rate their managers on 80 categories. List 1 contains the items that filled out the rest of the top 5 things that salespeople think their managers do really well. List 2 is the rest of the bottom 5 items, meaning the things these managers did very poorly. Notice the pattern? According to salespeople, sales managers have great selling skills and not so great management skills.

These results confirm an observation I made many years ago: Sales managers find it too easy to fall back into their comfort zone, doing what they are already good at — namely, selling — and have a hard time making the switch to managing a sales team.

Why does this occur? Almost every sales manager I know was, at one point in their career, a peak-performing sales professional, the top dog on the team. Their organization then recognized their contributions and promoted them into a sales management role — and everything changed. Everything except perhaps them.

This presents a problem. Why? Because managing and leading a sales team requires a completely different mindset from selling. Yet what sales managers have to rely on are the instincts and competencies they developed when they were selling. Those instincts are part of their DNA; they stick around regardless of how long a former sales rep has been in a manager's role, whether 1 year, 10 years, or 20 years. With the dozens of decisions that sales managers face every day, they have no option but to go with what feels right in the moment, and for the most part what "feels right" will be informed by their sales instincts.

Overcoming these instincts is difficult for successful-reps-turned-managers. It simply doesn't occur to them that they will need to change something that has made them successful. Noted leadership consultant Ram Charan and his colleagues discuss this concept in their book The Leadership Pipeline: "The highest-performing people, especially, are reluctant to change; they want to keep doing the activities that made them successful." And thus we learn that Sun Tzu was right when he said, "Eventually your strengths will become a weakness."

That's why, beyond any specific techniques you learn, you need to re-frame your thinking around a leadership mindset. Your decisions can't be based on what "feels right" from a salesperson's perspective; they have to be driven by what's good for your team. So challenge yourself with this question: Are the competencies that made me a top salesperson inhibiting my effectiveness as a sales team leader?

The answer is always yes. The odds are high that you are constantly fighting a subconscious war of instincts. (See sidebar, p. 18) Many times each day you are confronted by various issues and challenges. From what mindset — the salesperson or the sales team leader — are you making your daily decisions? Most of us just do what we instinctively feel is right.

Let's examine several ways in which this struggle plays out every day. I'll explain how some of the instincts possessed by great salespeople are the polar opposite of the mindset needed to become a more effective leader of a great sales team.

An example of instinct vs. leadership mindset struggles

When my son, Kyle, was seven years old, he signed up to play Little League baseball. His first year was difficult because he was unskilled. So I worked with him in the off-season to improve his throwing, hitting, and catching. In his second season, I volunteered to be assistant coach on his team. When the team met for the initial practices, I was sure that Kyle was at least the third-best player on the team. Yet when the team's season began, the head coach had Kyle batting last in the line-up and playing out in right field. (In Little League, right field is where you place your weakest player — something I know because I played right field when I was Kyle's age!)

Midway through the season, the head coach called and asked me to manage the team for the next game because he was sick. Naturally, I moved Kyle to second base and batted him leadoff. Were my instincts correct? Kyle struck out in every at bat and made five errors. I'll never forget watching my son boot another ground ball while listening to the parents complain about the new second baseman.

This isn't a story of Kyle's skill (or lack thereof). Kyle's performance that fateful day proved to me that, in my subconscious, I had been assessing Kyle from my instincts as a father rather than as a coach interested in having the whole team succeed. The same kind of struggle between what comes naturally and what is best for the team plagues sales managers every day.

War #1: Player vs. Observer

Every great salesperson I've known wanted to be in on the action, down on the field, making the plays. That strong drive is what made them great and brought them stellar results.

But sales managers are not put in the job to keep selling. They are put in the job so they can help others become the best salespeople they can be. Great sales managers see themselves as observers and coaches, not players.

Based on my own experience as a salesperson and manager and my observations (as a consultant) of sales managers over the past two decades, I can state unequivocally that this switch from player (sales rep) to observer (sales manager) is the hardest change all sales managers face. It takes a strong will to keep yourself from doing what you know you do better than everyone else on your team, and even the most experienced sales managers are prone to backslide to their sales instincts if they aren't vigilant.

My first year in sales, many years ago, I was awkward — and a slow learner. (Remember, I was a right fielder!) But my first sales manager, Guy Campbell, must have seen some potential because he invested a lot of time in coaching me. When Guy joined me on a customer meeting, I noticed he had a habit of pulling out a coin and placing it in the palm of his hand.

I didn't think anything of it until about three years later when I was promoted to sales manager in another office. Soon after, I ran into Guy at a corporate meeting and asked him why he always put a coin in his hand when he was out in the field with me. He responded, "Well, Kevin, when you were starting out, you were not very good. But I knew that in order for you to learn and improve I needed to keep my mouth shut. I couldn't jump in and take over every time you got in trouble. The only way I could keep silent was to squeeze that coin. The worse and worse you did, the harder and harder I squeezed. I needed to create a point of personal pain that was greater than the pain I felt watching you screw up a meeting!"

I've carried Guy's wisdom with me for many years and, mentally at least, squeezed a lot of coins in my day. And while I'm doing that squeezing, I'm taking note of the issues I want to talk over with the sales rep after the meeting. It's only by observing that I can properly evaluate what the problem is and offer suggestions that will lead to lasting improvements.

War #2: Closing vs. Coaching

What really catches the attention of a top sales rep is the opportunity for a big sale. Nothing gets our blood up like the chase! But that instinct for the chase and closing deals can lead us awry once we're in management.

Here's an example: A client of mine, Jackie, spent years developing into a stellar sales rep for her employer, a tech company. She had a well-earned reputation for producing results far beyond expectations. They duly rewarded her hard work by promoting her to the position of sales manager. Jackie later told me she was working harder than ever before — and yet her team's results were mediocre at best.

When Jackie was a sales rep, she was keenly focused on closing deals and getting results. As a sales manager, that instinct caused her to pay the most attention to her reps when their deals approached the close. It is what I call the "super-closer" syndrome.

I don't want to sound too critical of Jackie. As I've just discussed, it's natural to rely on the skills that got you somewhere in the first place, especially when, like Jackie, you were very good at what you did. But she had gotten into the habit of inserting herself into the sales process any time a big opportunity was on the horizon, barging in as if to say "move over, Rover, let the great one take over." Or she would turn her attention to a rep who was way under quota, swooping in at the last minute to try to help them close deals.

Neither of these approaches represents the best use of Jackie's time. The biggest deals are likely coming from her most experienced, highest-producing sales reps. While she's helping them do something they can likely do on their own, everyone else on the team is left to flounder. If she's focused on rescuing struggling reps, she's saving opportunities that probably aren't that great (if the rep had done a good job of identifying needs, the deal might not be in trouble in the first place — and if the customer doesn't think they have big needs, they won't agree to a big deal). Plus, the rep doesn't learn anything that will help them avoid a crisis the next time around. In both cases, the rest of the team has to struggle through on their own.

In her previous life as a rep, the biggest value Jackie provided to her company was closing sales. But that was no longer the case once she became a manager. My task was to help her see that the biggest value she can provide her company now is to make sure her team continues to improve.

The most important aspect of this change in mindset is learning to insert yourself earlier in the sales cycle to provide more effective coaching when it will do most the most good. If you look at an opportunity from the customer's perspective, a deal's size is largely determined very early on in the sales process, when the customer is recognizing the extent of their needs and determining their buying requirements. When Jackie coaches her sales reps in the early stage of a deal, she can help them ensure that the customer recognizes big, urgent needs and that their buying requirements are slanted in her company's favor. This kind of early-sales-cycle intervention will have the biggest impact on sales reps' results in both the short- and long-term.

Switching her focus from "being in on the close" to "coaching reps early on" will have many benefits for Jackie. For one thing, if a sales rep makes a mistake, Jackie will recognize it sooner, while there is still time to put the deal back on track. Ultimately, she'll start to see an increase in better qualified deals in her team's pipeline. When Jackie sees her team's results start to improve, she'll know that she has won this particular war with herself.

War #3: Tasks vs. People

Effective salespeople are high energy. They like to do stuff; they like to complete tasks. That drive contributes to their success as salespeople. "Getting things done" sounds like a good attribute for a sales manager, too, doesn't it?

Not so fast. A sales manager who is overly task oriented can spend too much time making sure mundane to-do items get done while ignoring the development needs of their salespeople.

This point came home to me when I read a story about Beth Comstock, once the chief marketing officer for General Electric and, as of 2016, a vice chair with the company. Comstock had started her career at NBC where everything was deadline driven — get it done by the six o'clock news. She admits to being very task oriented and wrote on LinkedIn about an incident not long after she started at General Electric. She was in the middle of a phone conversation with her then-boss, Jack Welch, one of the most famous and influential CEOs of his day. Suddenly, the line went dead. She called Welch's assistant and said she and Jack had been disconnected. The assistant told Comstock that Jack had hung up on her. "He wants you to know that's what it's like to be in a meeting with you," the assistant said.

Welch later called Comstock into his office and told her she was "too efficient." Comstock's drive to complete her task list made her come across to others as "cold and abrupt." Welch told her that she needed to take more time to get to know her people and what is important to them.

Comstock says she heard, "loud and clear," the lesson that Jack Welch was teaching her and that, years later, she is still working on implementing that lesson. She has to continually remind herself that paying attention to people is a priority and that she needs to become more people-oriented and less task-driven.

Sales management is a contact sport. It's about spending time to get to know the strengths and weaknesses of each salesperson, about the relationships you develop with them. It's about knowing what you can do to get the most out of each rep. So, instead of focusing only on completing tasks, focus on your people. That means filling your time with coaching and helping your reps create their personal development plans. It means figuring out what motivates and demotivates each of your reps. It means making sure your team has the training and support they need to continually get better.

War #4: Results vs. Inputs

The sales profession is results-oriented. Every month you and your salespeople get judged and paid on sales results. So a company culture that is focused on results is healthy and necessary.

The dilemma for sales managers, however, is that a constant push to reach a sales number can keep them and their teams so focused on end goals that they miss opportunities to identify problems with skills and processes so they can improve future results.

Consider this analogy: Imagine that you are a factory manager instead of a sales manager. If your plant isn't meeting its production quota, what would you do? Would you go to the shipping dock and criticize what was being loaded on the trucks? Not likely. You would visit the production lines in the factory and try to pinpoint where the production process was falling apart. Where are the bottlenecks? Where are the mistakes being made?

Too many sales managers I meet don't think like factory managers. They inspect only the final outcome of their sales production line (performance management) rather than what's going on throughout the process. Where were they when the salesperson was making the mistakes that created the poor numbers or the need for a rescue?

When you focus on the inputs to the process, your role as a manager becomes helping your salespeople master all of the steps of selling, not just the close. What kinds of inputs are important to sales process results?

• How well sales reps identify customer needs and prioritize the customer's solution criteria

• How well sales reps understand and can explain your solution's competitive advantages

• Whether sales reps can shape a proposal or presentation that presents the best possible case to the customer

To determine if a too-narrow focus on results is an issue for you, ask yourself, "How often am I surprised by a rep's poor performance?" If the answer is "often," then you're looking too much at outcomes and too little at the inputs that produce the outcomes.

Developing Your Leadership Mindsets

How many of these instinct wars did you identify with? I've met very few sales managers who had problems with all of the sales instincts I've just covered, but I have also met almost no one who has none of these issues. As the classic cartoon character Pogo once said, "We have met the enemy and he is us." So the secret is finding out which one or two sales instincts pose the biggest problem for you and developing a better leadership mindset.

I tell people to think about these instincts like a set of dominoes. Acting on one sales instinct can trigger improvement in all of the other instincts as well. If you can stop that first domino from falling by resisting the temptation to act on a sales instinct, you can prevent a chain reaction of sales behaviors that destroy your leadership opportunity.

To help you get started, I've provided a graphic in Table A where you can rate yourself on each of the instincts covered in this chapter. Simply mark on the lines where you fall between the sales instinct and the leadership mindset.


Excerpted from The Sales Manager's Guide to Greatness by Kevin F. Davis. Copyright © 2017 Kevin F. Davis. Excerpted by permission of Greenleaf Book Group Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments xvii

Introduction 1

The Impact of Effective Sales Coaching

What's in This Book

Rising to the Challenge

Section 1 Self-Leadership

Overview 11

Chapter 1 Embrace a Leadership Mindset 15

War #1 Player vs. Observer

War #2 Closing vs. Coaching

War #3 Tasks vs. People

War #4 Results vs. Inputs

Developing Your Leadership Mindsets

What Contributions Do You Value in Yourself?

Chapter 2 Take Control of Your Time and Priorities 29

Skill 1 Escaping the Reactive Trap

Skill 2 Focusing on Priority #1

Skill 3 Become a Master of Time Management

Now, About Your Leadership Destiny …

Section 2 Elements of Excellence

Overview 53

Chapter 3 Drive Rep Accountability for Breakthrough Sales Performance 55

Raising the Bar

Defining Skills for Excellence

Defining "Wills" for Excellence

Creating and Using a Success Profile

Accountability for the Future

Chapter 4 Hire Smarter 71

Asking the Right Questions

Evaluating Cultural Fit

The Importance of Wills and Coachability

The Hiring Process

Making the Call

Getting the Right People on Your Bus

Chapter 5 Insert the Customer in Your Sales Process 89

Staying with Tradition: A Selling-Focused Sales Model

A More Effective Approach: Buying-Focused Models

A More Effective Sales Playbook

A Buying-Focused CRM

The Improved Predictability of a Buying-Focused Funnel

The Benefits of a Buying Focus

Section 3 Priority #1: Coach and Develop Your Team

Overview 113

Chapter 6 Become a More Strategic Coach 115

Strategic Coaching

The Ballad of Willy Sellmore (or why it's a bad idea to "never give up")

Finding the Right Balance with Top Performers

Triaging Your Coaching Time

The Strategy of Effective Coaching

Chapter 7 Commit to Consistent Coaching 131

The C.O.A.C.H. Model

C.O.A.C.H. = Commit

C.O.A.C.H. = Observe

C.O.A.C.H. = Assess

C.O.A.C.H. = Consult

C.O.A.C.H. - Help

A Model of Consistent Coaching

Chapter 8 Motivate the Demotivated 151

Motivators and Demotivators

Lessons from the Wrong End of Poor Coaching

Scenario 1 Re-energizing a Good Rep Gone Stale

Scenario 2 Dealing with the "Uncoachable" Prima Donna

Scenario 3 Encouraging a Disillusioned Beginner

Scenario 4 Confronting Continuing Problems

Your Own Moment of Truth

Chapter 9 Increase Win Rates with Buying-Cycle Coaching 175

Creating a Buying Perspective

Early-Cycle Sales Coaching

Changing the Coaching Conversations

Improving Your One-on-One Monthly Reviews

What Happens When a Deal Is Lost?

Getting in Sync with Buying and Selling

Section 4 Taking Action

Overview 199

Chapter 10 Shape a Championship Strategy 201

Setting a Breakthrough Goal

Focus and Urgency

Planning: Turning Dreams into Actions

Measuring Progress

The Three Questions that Matter Most

Index 217

About Kevin F. Davis 221

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

''This really is an excellent piece of work. I like very much the way Kevin has created a one step at a time plan, guiding both novice and experienced sales managers alike, through a program of self-improvement. This should be a must read for all managers who have an ambition to develop into genuine leaders.''
—Linda Richardson, Founder of Richardson, Best Selling Author, Consultant, Faculty Wharton Graduate School

''This fast-moving, practical book shows you how to immediately boost the performance and productivity of every salesperson. It will make you look like a genius!''
—Brian Tracy, Author, The Psychology of Selling

''I'm always excited about books that help managers become true leaders—and The Sales Manager's Guide to Greatness is one of those books.''
—Ken Blanchard, coauthor of The New One Minute Manager® and Collaboration Begins with You

''I've seen first-hand the positive impact Kevin Davis' approach can have on sales management teams. The Guide to Greatness provides a practical sales coaching system that can be immediately implemented by sales management at all levels to create greater success.''
—Roy Chestnutt, Executive Vice President & Chief Strategy Officer, Verizon Communications

''Everyone knows that the effectiveness of a sales manager is the biggest factor determining a team's success. In The Sales Manager's Guide To Greatness, Kevin Davis describes 10 practical strategies that sales managers can use to elevate their own game — and create a champion team.''
—Mark O'Leary, VP of Enterprise, Western Division, Comcast Business

''Adapting to the changing demands of buyers is forcing the evolution of the sales manager. In The Sales Manager's Guide to Greatness, Kevin Davis shows us how to integrate traditional performance management with new strategies for developmental coaching. That's the best way to equip our teams to win.''
—Joe Galvin, Chief Strategy Officer, Vistage Worldwide

''The Sales Manager's Guide to Greatness is a highly valuable book for sales managers and those who develop them. The book's formal integration of the buyer's perspective into the sales process is especially useful, and its strategies for developing a consistent and formal coaching process are top-notch. Both of these pillars have to be in place to improve sales performance consistently, according to our research at CSO Insights.''
—Tamara Schenk, Research Director, CSO Insights: Research Division of Miller Heiman Group

''The Guide to Greatness provides a powerful message for any leader whose success is determined by their team's sales performance. We've measured not only an improvement in our sales managers' skills but, more importantly, a positive impact on our sales force and bottom-line results.''
—Jim Ferguson, VP of Sales, Holland Transportation

''Frontline sales managers are the most important lever for leading change in a sales organization. Yet, most companies still don't adequately prepare them. In The Sales Manager's Guide to Greatness, Kevin Davis provides proven-effective, practical, and actionable content to help you prepare and enable your sales managers to be the proactive, productive people leaders, managers, and sales coaches they need to be, to get the results you want from your sales force.''
—Mike Kunkle, Sr. Director of Sales Readiness Consulting, Brainshark

''We all accept - at least I hope we do - that the sales management function in every company is now pivotal to the overall success of the organization. The sales team is the offense and if they are not scoring consistently then the team has a very bleak future. However, in order to maintain optimum performance levels the team needs a strong leader and coach. Therein lies the challenge because we believe that 80% of managers lack that capability. The Sales Manager's Guide to Greatness provides a superb route map, which is easy to follow and implement. This is not a book to be read just once and put on the bookshelf, rather it genuinely is a guide, which should be referred to daily until the skills are fully adopted.''
—Jonathan Farrington, CEO, Top Sales World and Executive Editor of Top Sales Magazine

''The Sales Manager's Guide to Greatness debunks the myths surrounding what it takes to be a great sales manager once and for all and offers clear solutions and takeaways. This is more than a book—it's your map to success.''
—Mark Hunter, author of High-Profit Prospecting

''Guide to Greatness fills the much needed gap of developing sales management skills. This is a comprehensive, pragmatic guide for putting sales leaders and leadership into action with results.''
—Louis Carter, author of Best Practices in Talent Management and the Change Champion's Fieldguide

''If your sales force isn't producing the results you need them to, it isn't likely that it's because they are poor performers. It's more likely that they need to be better led. The coaching section in The Sales Manager's Guide to Greatness alone will help you remedy this problem. And faster than you believe. Read it now, and implement it immediately.''
—Anthony Iannarino, author of The Only Sales Guide You'll Ever Need

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