Welcome to “The Pipeline” — a weekly column from HubSpot, featuring actionable advice and insight from real sales leaders.
So you’ve just been promoted to sales manager — congratulations!
You‘re likely fresh off of thriving as an individual contributor, but your new role extends well beyond your personal performance. You’re relying on a lot more people, and a lot more people are relying on you.
Making the transition from a top-performing rep to an effective coach and leader is anything but easy. In your first three months as a manager, you’ll have to learn an entirely new set of processes — some related to sales, some not.
And for the most part, those will boil down to three primary tasks:
- Learning to empower your reps
- Scaling your own management process
- Fostering team growth
The most important exercises you’ll need to undergo in each area are outlined below. Good luck, and happy managing!
1. Assess your strengths as a manager.
You became a sales manager for a reason. If you want to nail your new role, you need to know exactly what that reason is — and there are some valuable resources to help you get there. One book I always recommend to anyone pursuing a leadership role is Peter Drucker’s On Managing Yourself.
As Drucker puts it, “[You] cannot build performance on weaknesses — let alone on something [you] cannot do at all.” You need to know your strengths, first and foremost. If you understand those, your team will follow your lead.
A few questions to ask yourself as a new manager are:
- What is my leadership style?
- What is my management style?
- What is my coaching style?
- What are my strengths?
- Where are my areas for improvement?
Once you understand your strengths as a leader, share them with your reps so they know how best to communicate with you — that will give everyone a better sense of how your work styles can mesh.
2. Get to know your team.
Your team is a collective unit composed of unique personalities. Even though they‘re working towards common goals, they’re still individuals with specific needs, interests, sensitivities, and preferences. So treating them as a monolith won’t do too much for you.
You can‘t get everyone pulling in the right direction by giving them all the same kind of attention. Tailoring your management style to suit your individual reps might sound challenging — mostly because it is — but it’s also one of the coolest aspects of a managerial role.
Every rep you manage is going to have their own set of motivations, goals, challenges, strengths, weaknesses, and mindset. And leveraging those characteristics to bring out the best in each rep might be the most gratifying part of the job.
But as I touched on, this is one of the trickiest parts of any managerial role — and if you want to deliver on it, you should arm yourself with as much insight as possible. Consider looking into some trainings on elements of the role like situational leadership. That kind of knowledge can be a huge help.
Caring about your team as individuals will go further than you think. If you believe in each rep for their unique strengths, chances are you’ll be in the back of their mind the day they doubt themselves. And believe me, that day will come sooner than you think.
We all need guidance and empowerment — so be proactive in offering it.
3. Understand how your team wants to be managed.
As a new sales manager, you’re going to want to set up meetings with each of your reps as soon as possible.
Down the line, you should have two weekly meetings with each of your team members: one for forecasting and pipeline review, and another for coaching, career discussions, or any other topic the rep in question might want to discuss (more on that later).
Your top priority at this stage should be understanding the shape your future meetings will take — that starts with you figuring out what your team members need out of their professional relationships with you.
Below are a few questions that you can ask in your initial meetings with your team members:
- What does success mean to you?
- What is your biggest strength?
- What is one thing you would like to improve on?
- What would prevent you from achieving your goals?
- What do you think makes a good leader?
- How do you like to be managed?
- How do you like to receive feedback?
- What do you look for in a coach?
- What motivates you day-to-day?
- How can I help you be better?
4. Create a team-wide weighted pipeline.
One of your responsibilities as a sales manager is to roll up a weekly or monthly forecast to your head of sales.
A weighted pipeline — one that assigns a value to each potential deal (a combination of the deal’s value and its stage in the sales process) — serves as a snapshot of what your total pipeline is “worth” at a given point in time.
Deals in early stages are weighted less than deals that could close this week, and no deal is weighted at 100% until it closes.
You can start putting one together by grouping all potential deals by where they are in the sales process and the sum of their value. Then, multiply the total value of each stage by the weight assigned to that stage (your company should have standard weights you can use).
Here’s an example of what that might look like.
Discovery call with an influencer (5% weight)
- Deals: 50
- Potential value: $100
- Weighted value: $5
Discovery call with a decision maker (7% weight)
- Deals: 33
- Potential value: $66
- Weighted value: $4.62
Presentation/demo with an influencer (20% weight)
- Deals: 17
- Potential value: $34
- Weighted value: $6.80
Presentation/demo with a decision maker (40% weight)
- Deals: 8
- Potential value: $16
- Weighted value: $6.40
Budget approval (60% weight)
- Deals: 12
- Potential value: $24
- Weighted value: $14.40
Legal approval (70% weight)
- Deals: 10
- Potential value: $20
- Weighted value: $14
Contracts sent out (80% weight)
- Deals: 12
- Potential value: $24
- Weighted value: $19.20
In this example, although the total potential value of all your team’s deals is $284, the weighted pipeline more accurately represents your pipeline’s current value — $70.42.
No deal is 100% guaranteed until it‘s closed. Even the most promising deal in the world can fall apart late in the game. I recommend generating a pipeline that’s four times your goal to account for that unpredictability. We‘ll cover how to accurately assess your reps’ pipelines in a bit.
5. Schedule forecasting meetings with each rep.
Building an accurate, effective weighted pipeline involves determining which deals should be included and which ones should be omitted. To start, you’ll want to set up weekly forecasting meetings with each of your reps to assess their pipelines and offer guidance.
Remember, your reps are individuals, so naturally, they’ll be receptive to individualized approaches. So offer some room for personalization with the tone and tenor of your conversations, but don’t go overboard. You need to keep your fundamental pipeline questions the same if you want to keep your weighted pipeline uniform and accurate.
Here are a few forecasting questions to help guide you:
- Who is the economic buyer?
- What does the landscape look like when the contract is going to be signed? (Is your rep going to physically camp out at the prospect’s office? Will they walk down to Legal?)
- What stage is this deal in? (Use the deal stages in your CRM for uniformity.)
- Why would they buy now?
- Is there a cash flow or budget issue? How can we solve it?
- What is their timeline?
- What is the consequence if they don’t buy now?
- How many roles are you speaking with? Does this cover all the departments that need to be involved?
- Where is this initiative coming from? Will the CEO/anyone C-level need to give final approval?
- What is the purchasing, legal, and procurement process?
- Is there a deal size threshold that triggers a legal review?
- How strong is your champion?
- Do we have access to the cell phone numbers of all people involved in this deal?
- How can I help?
Make it clear that the forecasting meeting is about collaboration. Your top reps will want to know that you’re there to help and provide guidance, not interrogate them.
6. Set a weekly optional meeting with each rep.
I recommend setting up two short meetings with each rep per week. I just outlined what the first one should look like — a check-in about deal forecasting to ensure accountability and give you a pulse on their performances.
The second should function as a general meeting to help your reps grow — individually, professionally, and within the context of the team dynamic. This one can cover a range of topics, from career guidance to call reviews to specific coaching.
I like to keep these meetings to 30 minutes to keep them focused and let my reps choose the topic. This ensures that we’re covering practical, immediately relevant areas for them.
7. Set a weekly, monthly, and quarterly cadence for your team members’ sales activity.
A weekly cadence for metrics gives your team a concrete goal to work toward — encouraging the effective behavior your team needs to demonstrate to consistently deliver results.
Some ideas for a weekly cadence meeting to drive accountability are:
- Weekly calls
- Meetings booked per week
- Qualification calls per week
- Weekly product demos/presentations
- Weekly goals
Have reps self-report on either hitting or missing these goals. If they miss, ask them to create a plan outlining their plans to get back up to speed.
To set these goals, compare your reps’ benchmarks to company benchmarks. On average, how many deals does a rep need to close to meet their quota? How many demos or presentations do they need to deliver to make that number? How many meetings do they need to book?
Work backward until you know the average number of outreach activities each rep needs to complete per week — adjusting their individual targets as necessary.
This action gives you some essential perspective — showing you where your attention will be most effectively allocated. A rep who already exceeds these targets won’t need much hand-holding, but a rep whose activity level is a half of what it needs to be will require some ramping up.
8. Define your hiring process.
As a manager, you’ll be directly responsible for hiring new members of your team, so you’ll need to develop an interviewing and evaluation strategy.
You should also think about what other resources are available to you. For example, you might want to lean on some team members — identify particularly trustworthy reps who could help you evaluate potential candidates.
Your company will have a hiring playbook, but that criteria probably won‘t completely cover your team’s needs and overall dynamic. Your team has specific strengths, gaps, and challenges — and your hiring process should reflect those.
Develop a profile for your ideal candidate, considering questions like:
- What type of candidate are you looking to hire?
- How many years of experience are you looking for?
- What previous roles offer the most relevant experience?
- How much does their previous industry matter to you?
- What key attributes define your most successful rep?
Pro-tip: Even if you think you have an all-star hire on your hands, don’t skip the reference checks. You never know what you might find out!
9. Create a peer mentor program.
A well-constructed peer mentor program’s value is multifaceted — offering key benefits to all parties involved. For mentors, it can serve as a solid career development and leadership initiative path. For mentees, it makes personal improvement less alienating and imposing, all while offering an “easy in” for folding into the team dynamic.
Assign each level you manage a peer buddy and create guidance for the mentor program. Whether it’s by shadowing, reviewing calls together, or weekly check-ins, peer mentors add a valuable additional perspective to your coaching.
10. Foster peer-to-peer learning environments.
Collaboration rarely just occurs on its own. — so as a manager, it’s your responsibility to create situations that foster it. For example, a weekly team meeting is a great way to drive cross-team collaboration on deals in progress, where everyone is helpful and supportive.
Define your team incentives and what drives your reps. Does a team dinner drive results? Do people get excited about spending time outside of work with one another? Find the events or activities that make your team “click” (and also improve performance), and then double down on them.
11. Don’t solve your team’s problems for them.
This is one of the tougher obstacles first-time managers run into. As I touched on at the beginning of this article, if you‘re new to management, you’re probably fresh off of killing it in an individual contributor role yourself. You know the ropes, so it can be tempting to just do your reps’ work for them.
You have to avoid that temptation. Giving into it isn‘t in anyone’s best interest. Your team will learn and grow with your help — but there’s a big difference between helping a rep and babying one.
Helping a rep is preparing them to be able to help themselves, down the line. Balance trust and guidance, and allow reps to solve problems mostly on their own. Once they‘ve hashed those issues out, have them explain the process of how they got there, and provide feedback if you’re asked to.
Letting your team members develop their own solutions will build their confidence more than if you simply tell them what to do. Being overbearing and taking on all of their issues yourself will inhibit their growth and be unsustainable in the long run.
Remember: It’s never about you. Being a manager is about your people and how you serve them.
12. Always solve for the company first.
As an individual contributor, you spend most of your time thinking about yourself — whether you’re going to hit your number this month, what you need your manager’s help with, what you want your next career move to be, and so on. Being a successful manager means thinking bigger picture, putting your company before your team and your team before yourself.
Your legacy as a manager won’t just be about your performance and numbers. It will be about the impact and development of your people. The best days for front-line managers are the days their people over-achieve or receive promotions for their hard work and dedication.
That’s what matters.
Sales managers empower, lead, support, and guide reps, but that’s not all we do. We get to make an impact on each individual’s day-to-day experience and overall quality of life. It’s not easy, but when you look back? Wow — it is rewarding!