Thinkpivot Talent Solutions

What makes a great Sales Manager?

I have been working for 23 years since university and I have been a Sales Manager of one kind or another for 17 of those years. Along the way I have hired or recruited many Sales People and Sales Managers. So when I was sitting with a client last week and they asked, “What makes a great Sales Manager” it was presumed that I was qualified to answer the question.

My answer, “When I meet one, I will let you know” jokingly summed up the feeling many sales reps (and General Management) have towards sales leadership.

But it started a good discussion on what was required and it got me thinking about the qualities I enjoyed as a sales rep and the qualities I tried to display as a Sales Manager.

Throughout the discussion we came up with many different aspects that were important and could easily have filled a book with the right research backing up the discussion. For the sake of brevity and this article I summed it up to three things that I looked for and one I tried to do as a manager.


The three things were:

      1. Informed without being Inundated.
      2. Empowered to make decisions and be accountable.
      3. Incentives for success.
  1. Informed – It is clear that the best sales people understand their product or service but understanding it to the engineering level is usually not required and often can lead to problems with the client and your own technical team. I wanted my manager to give me enough information so that I could apply the product to a business use and have an intelligent conversation with my client. If the main feature is a technical one, then what is the benefit to my client. If I am confident I understand the benefit (s) I am raring to go and tell others about the product.
  2. Empowered – When you sit with a decision maker you need to be able to make decisions as well. I will be accountable for my numbers and my decisions but I need the flexibility to move in tandem with my clients. Widgets may be unchangeable in the short-term but service is wholly customizable all the time.  If I am going to get yelled at every time a non-standard solution needs to be proposed, I will stop offering them and eventually avoid any situations that would see them arise. Ultimately, as a sales person you stop making calls.  Empower me, make me responsible and I will ring the sales bell repeatedly.
  3. Incentives – Incentives need to be aligned with the overall company incentives. They should be clear and not changed on a whim or because you can squeeze me as the sales rep. This tells me I am not valued.  If the commission plan is longer than 1 page that is a problem. Give me a clear goal and I will achieve it.  Give me a booklet and I am now a politician navigating through my company’s legislation.

Finally, as a manager, I always tried to care about the individual’s success. If sales reps feel like their manager is trying to manage team success at the expense of the individual, top sales reps will be wary about being undercut and new hires will quickly learn to be “valuable” without being a top sales performer. Not everyone can be a great Sales Manager but getting as close as you can will yield revenue results that will make everyone happy.

What do you think makes a great Sales Manager?

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