The other day, I was having a conversation with Jeff. Jeff was a relatively newly minted sales manager. He had been one of his company’s top revenue producers, consistently beating quota, bringing in some of the biggest and toughest deals in the company. The promotion to sales manager was a great step forward for Jeff in his career.
I had the opportunity to have lunch with Jeff, while visiting the company, so I asked him how things were going and how he liked the role of sales manager. Jeff, hesitated, then he said, “Dave, I’m really struggling. I’m working longer hours, I have to work on the weekends, I’m really struggling. Being a sales manager is tougher than I ever expected. I don’t know that I can do it.”
I asked Jeff to tell me more. He went on to describe that he now had 8 sales people reporting to him. Where as an individual contributor he had felt comfortable that he could make his quota, now as a manager, his quota was about 8 times what his personal quota had been. He didn’t see how he could make his number.
I asked him how he spent his time. He replied: “I’m a deal guy. I know how to do deals. I’m great at building a strategy, executing it an winning. I look at what my guys are doing, they are OK on the normal deals, but things are tough—particularly the big deals. I have to dive in and do the deals myself. There are just too many opportunities and there isn’t enough time in the day for me to work all the deals. I feel like I’m slipping and, for the first time won’t make my numbers. What’s worse, is my people don’t get it, they don’t seem to appreciate what I am doing for them.”
In just this short exchange, I could tell that Jeff was in real trouble. He was both on his way to failing as a sales manager, and to burning out. Jeff, isn’t alone. I see the same thing with too many first time sales managers.
Many people are moved into their first sales management jobs because they were great individual contributors. Their entire experience base and self perception is built around their ability to close deals. In moving into sales management, they tend to think of it as doing more of the same thing, in a larger territory. Their natural reaction is to dive into doing deals, pushing the responsible sales person aside or delegating the mundane follow-ups to the sales people.
Inevitably this management style leads to failure.
The job of the manager is not to do more of what they were doing as individual contributors. The job of the manager is getting things done through their people. The “super individual contributor,” is demoralizing to the people the manager is supposed to lead. Rather than helping improve their skills and capabilities, they push the people aside and do it themselves.
This behavior is often “unconscious.” The new manager doesn’t realize what is being done, he is just doing more of what made them successful before, thinking that will continue to make him successful.
The new manager (and his manager) needs to recognize the only way to be successful is to focus on making his people more successful. His role is no longer that of an individual contributor, but as a leader of a team, his focus must be on:
- Assuring the team is implementing the business strategies and priorities.
- Assuring they are performing at the highest levels possible.
- Coaching them to improving their skills and capabilities, getting them to realize their full potential.
- Removing roadblocks to their performance.
- Promoting them within the organization.
Ultimately, if the team is successful, if each person is performing at the highest level and achieving their full potential, the manager is doing her job.