A few years ago I did a strategic consulting gig with a home-grown emerging tech company in Australia. These guys were great – inspiring brand, great product, fast-tracking the smartest team members into management, and very popular in their category all-round. Their star performer, let’s call him Hamish, was one of the most polished and successful young business developers I’d ever come across. He was so good, in fact, that within only five or six months on board, he earned a promotion to a coveted management position, leading a big, ambitious team, as well as the company’s lead generation strategy and a training program for new sales hires.
A few months into his new role, Hamish quickly discovered — and so did his boss — that the skills that made him such a good sales rep were not the ones he needed now as a responsibility-laden manager. He struggled in the role, lost the support of his team and was unable to communicate the reasoning behind his decisions.
It soon became apparent that even though Hamish was a star sales rep, he was not a good sales manager. Part of the fault lay with the head of sales for not identifying skills gaps that badly needed closing, but much of the fault lay with Hamish himself. His ambition blurred his vision and he didn’t understand that a manager needs a set of entirely different skills and didn’t ask the right questions before going into the role. It quickly became clear that one of the most important abilities of a leader is being able to make sensible, explainable decisions.
The star sales rep doesn’t necessarily make a good sales manager. They tend to operate like the sergeant in the trenches, working with the team on the ground. But the sales manager needs to get out of the trench so they can see the next challenge and plan the next move, and realise that decision-making is a science, as well as an art.
Here are just a handful of the areas where sales managers are often the critical decision-maker:
- Selecting suppliers of sales training and coaching;
- Sourcing professional development courses;
- CRM and sales force automation;
- Outsourced lead generation;
- Recruitment and hiring;
- Incentives and rewards suppliers.
Five Qualities of a Good Decision-Maker
1. Awareness of Blind Spots
Strong decision-makers are aware of their blind spots and must be open to finding new ways around their weaknesses.
2. Building Consensus
They are good communicators and consensus builders, because even the best decision may be a failure if no one understands its context. The success of your decision lives or dies on the support it has among your sales team and upper management. Consciously sell your decision like you would a product.
3. Analysing the Landscape
Good decision-makers understand the value of analysis. For example, before deciding on which sales training firm to choose, or which sales data platform to subscribe to, it’s obvious that you must understand what each vendor offers, and to understand deeply how each offering compares. Develop your own comparison chart so you have all the facts clearly detailed in front of you, then figure out what the results of your decision will be once it’s made. Being able to foresee how your choice will impact other areas is essential. For example, what might be the technical implications of choosing brand X over brand Y, and how might your choice affect the daily productivity of your team.
4. Requesting Input
They also remember to involve others in their decisions to gain the benefit of different perspectives and skill sets on the issue. They also suggest always keeping the customer at front of mind. This helps in making a range of difficult decisions, from choosing the best CRM technology for your business, to considering the potential impact of your decisions on all of the stakeholders involved.
5. Business Insight
For new sales managers to become good decision-makers they must also build their knowledge of business fundamentals. For my guys to be effective decision-makers, they must understand key business drivers. You take the new salespeople through rigorous financial training to give them a clear understanding of the fundamental drivers of your business.
6. Trusting Instincts
The best decision-makers also follow their intuition. Even though this might seem to be at odds with the other qualities, gut instinct is not something relevant only to yoga instructors or private detectives. Trust your gut—it’s often a good guide,where a connection with people is concerned.
STEP ONE: Know Your Biases
Discover your blind spot then involve others with different points of view to help see what you can’t. Seeking advice from different department heads will help illuminate any holes or misconceptions in your thinking.
STEP TWO: Consider Your Customers
Though the customer is not always right, they are always important. Consider the impact your decisions will have on customers and relevant stakeholders. If your decision is not in the best interest of your customers, you’ll hear about it.
STEP THREE: Be Decisive
If you’re not confident in your own decisions, you can’t expect others to support them. Ensure your decisions are timely and resolute.
STEP FOUR: Communication
Once you have made your decision, communicate it effectively with your sales team. They are your support network so keep them updated, motivated and cohesive.
STEP FIVE: Take Responsibility
You’ve made the decision, now you need to see it through. Take responsibility for what you’ve decided and don’t be stubborn – if it turns out you’ve taken a wrong turn, own up to it and re-adjust.