How Early Sales Managers Can grow and Take on Senior Roles

Collin Stewart, CEO
19 September 2019

Joining the ranks of managers, typically after a successful run as an SDR and quota carrying Account Executive, can be a big jump. Almost overnight, you go from working to crush your list, to supporting an entire team to crush their lists.

And there is a lot involved in that.

But entering the role of manager also brings another pressure; how to stand out…and continue climbing. That can be a tough slog: it requires navigating the tactical and strategic, with an eye to both the in-the-trenches reps and the larger interests of the business. It can be quite a juggling act.

But according to LB Harvey, Senior Vice President of Sales, Success, and Support at Intercom, there are a few skills every new frontline sales manager can learn in order to both improve their managerial skills and climb the ladder to become future director, vice presidents, and senior vice presidents of sales.

Those skills are:

    • Prioritization – you need to be able to focus the team on the most important tasks to move the needle
  • Getting the right people on the bus – you need to hire the right team. That means you need an eye for talent, you need to be able to nurture that talent, and you need to be able to fire those that aren’t working out
  • Improving the organizationthis one is tricky. You need to be able to step back from the interests of your immediate team, in order to make the right decisions for the business as a whole
  • Making the right decisions…quickly – let’s face it, sales managers are busy people. So, you need to be able to handle the requests coming at you, and make a decision quickly when necessary.

Let’s take a closer look at each of these below.

The importance of prioritization

At any given time in a sales environment – you could be focused on 100 different things. Calls, demos, follow-ups, meetings…it can be a hectic environment.  As a sales manager, that intensity goes up by 10 times. Coaching, developing, forecasting, interviewing – it can be overwhelming. 

But if you create a consistent rally cry for the team, you can help focus your reps on the most important tasks and really, as they say, move the needle. 

“By creating that point of focus, people don’t run off in different directions all the time. It could be focused on outbound pipeline, a certain product, a larger initial deal size, whatever,” says Harvey.

“Have a single rally cry is really important and will get the team focused.”

For example, when Harvey was at LinkedIn, her team noticed they had a gap in their targets. So, they made a concerted effort to building outbound pipeline, created specific goals around new opportunities created, and took an entire day off her team’s calendars to hold a prospecting day. The team did mailers, handwritten notes – anything they needed to build that much-needed pipeline. 

And, sales were great – the team closed like 300K new business from that day.

Of course, prioritization between different managerial roles at the company is different. As you get more senior – to director or VP levels – the majority of your time is filled with strategic, proactive work. But frontline managers are on the floor, doing ad hoc coaching, 1:1s, and being more reactive.

Getting the right people on the bus

In addition to the importance of a consistent, unified focus is having the right people on your team. You need high performing team members to be successful, full stop. And as a manager, you need to know how to spot those high performing individuals during the interview process.

The flip side, naturally,  is important too: if you have someone that isn’t performing, they have to be let go quickly. 

“One of the most difficult parts of becoming a manager, humans in sales, want to be liked. But, when you are a manager you have to make tough calls around people. Standing out comes from having a high bar on your team – what gets celebrated and what doesn’t, for example,” says Harvey.

“Don’t forget, there is no shame in making a bad hire. But, there is a shame in keeping a bad hire around. Sales is pretty black and white, so if you have a healthy distribution and there are people that struggle getting over the line, then you aren’t helping them by keeping them around. They won’t thrive, and the team around them suffers too because you are setting a new, lower bar on what success looks like.”

(Editor’s note: we had Jeffrey Serlin, sales operations guru at Intercom, on the pod a while back to discuss how sales operations can inspire process, success, and adoption in leading organizations. You can read about our chat here, or listen to the entire in-depth interview here)

Need help building your SDR team right from the start?

Making the right decisions…quickly

Finally, a sales manager looking to sharpen their skills and progress along in the careers is going to have to learn to make decisions that impact the team on a large scale. This takes a keen understanding of the business from a macro level: you need to know how teams work together, and which team members to include to push decisions forward.

For example, at Intercom, the team has been trying to understand how to structure the quote model for their high-velocity account managers. So, one of their frontline managers did some research on where that team was having the most influence and pointed out that their quote structure was misaligned.

But, that frontline manager, says Harvey, knew sales ops was an important piece of realigning this quota framework. So, he worked with sales ops to put together a data-driven presentation about why his suggestion would work.

He understood who was going to be involved in the decision, who to partner with, and how to distill the important parts of the information.  

Directors, as well, support their teams in a similar way as a manager. It is just an order of magnitude different because directors have more influence. But, regardless of what “level” one achieves in a sales organization, the same core advice remains: understand who needs to be involved, and who is making the decision.

This is a really important attribute for a director to have.

For more on Harvey’s tips on accelerating your managerial career – including suggestions on effective decision-making frameworks – check out the rest of her interview on The Predictable Revenue Podcast.