Exceptional sales managers are at the heart of any winning sales team; the driving force that encourages success at both the individual and organizational levels. Unlocking that success isn’t always easy, and it’s not uncommon for sales managers to become overly bogged down in tasks meant for individual contributors.
In this article, we’ll explore the two fundamental principles that set the best sales directors apart from the rest: caring for their team members and cultivating a culture of high performance.
Start by Hiring the Right Team
Managing a high-performing sales team starts by building a team equipped with the skills for success. If it’s been a while since you’ve evaluated your hiring and interviewing process, take the time to do so. As you review, keep an eye out for these common pitfalls:
Don't over emphasize interview likeability
The likeability factor is one of the trickiest aspects of interviewing. It’s easy to get swept away by someone who is charming. After all, we all want to work with someone who is pleasant and easy to get along with. However, the problem with likeability is it doesn’t tell you much when it comes to performance. Someone who comes across as gregarious during an interview may not possess the competencies needed to deliver results.
Don't over-index on experience at a brand name
Experience is a tough one. A candidate may have years of experience at a top company and data to prove that their performance really was that stellar. However, as you dig deeper, you might find that their experience doesn’t translate to the environment you’re operating in. Perhaps they had top-notch lead generation campaigns funneling them countless prospects, whereas you’re managing sales for an up-and-coming organization. Be wary of getting wrapped up in experience and focus on competencies instead.
Take time to fully assess the role you’re hiring for and the traits required to succeed. That might look like a growth mindset where the sales representative is open to feedback, learning from setbacks, and getting a bit better every day. It might also include resourcefulness or the capacity to overcome obstacles through quick and clever means. Competencies can be evaluated through smart interviewing techniques and should be the basis of your job descriptions from the start.
Don't leave the hiring process up to Talent & Acquisition
Here’s the thing: as a sales director, you have the most at stake when it comes to hiring candidates. Talent & Acquisition (T&A) is there to funnel in worthy candidates. However, it’s up to sales leadership to define and evaluate the competencies that matter most in the role. Set yourself up for success by finding solutions to evaluate those competencies, skill sets, and performance instead of relying on T&A to do it for you.
Don't make it up as you go
In order to evaluate how your sales hiring operations are performing, you need structured, repeatable processes. Going by feel, or essentially making it up as you go, only leads to processes you can’t recreate. Maybe you strike gold, but you can’t remember exactly how you got there. Instead, invest in the front-end in your operations so you can accurately determine what’s working.
How to Connect Caring with Success
Research shows that employees who feel valued are more engaged and motivated to do their best work. Showing your team that their success and well-being matter to you pays dividends in the long run. Here’s how to care for your team as individuals and as a group.
Know their why
The best sales directors know that success is about more than meeting targets; it's about connecting job performance to personal goals. Take time to know the “why” behind each team member’s role to create a sense of purpose that goes beyond numbers. When people see and understand how their work aligns with personal aspirations, they are more motivated, engaged, and likely to outperform expectations.
Invest in their professional growth
A hallmark of exceptional sales directors? Investing in the professional growth of team members. They recognize that learning and development are continuous processes that need constant cultivation and support. Providing opportunities for skill enhancement and supporting team members in acquiring new competencies fosters individual growth and strengthens the overall team's capabilities.
Invest in your professional growth
Likewise, plan to continuously grow and learn as a sales director. Whether it’s leadership classes, books, training, or conferences, never stop learning what it means to lead. As you seek insights into effective leadership and self-awareness, put those tips into practice and take notes on what works (and what doesn't) for your team. This act is truly one that separates “okay” sales directors from great ones.
Respect is at the heart of any successful team; treating team members well and kindly is non-negotiable. Top sales directors build trust through respectful interactions. These engagements create an environment where open communication, collaboration, and innovation flourish. Ultimately, dignity in the workplace is one of the most powerful catalysts for success.
Be willing to go the extra mile to distinguish yourself as a top-notch sales director. The very best are willing to get uncomfortable and make sacrifices to help your team succeed. That might look like taking on extra hours, having crucial conversations, scouring resources, and being willing to lend an ear. These acts of selflessness will create a deep sense of loyalty and dedication within your team.
It’s an understatement to say that communication is important. Focus on clear, concise communication when you talk to your team about their goals, performance, and needs. Take these communications as seriously as you would a pitch to a prospective buyer. When you clearly explain goals and expectations, you create a feeling of understanding, collaboration, and connection with your team.
You wouldn’t give the exact same pitch to every prospective lead, so apply the same level of personalization to your team members. Take time to understand each team member as an individual—what they enjoy and don’t enjoy, their skills, motivations, and goals. This information will help you arm them with the tools and opportunities to succeed.
Cultivate a Culture of High Performance
Building a culture of higher performance is achievable once your team understands you care about them as individuals. The core components of this culture are accountability, urgency, and excellence, combined with opportunities to learn and evolve. Let’s take a closer look at how you can use these building blocks to create a team of all-stars.
Foster an environment of accountability
Sales directors who excel establish and maintain an environment of accountability. They set clear expectations for performance and hold team members responsible for results. Doing so helps people understand that their contributors directly impact the team and its overall success. This understanding drives a desire for excellence across the department.
Side note: Holding people accountable and building relationships of caring can feel in conflict with each other at times. Many sales directors are good at one of these but not at the other. However, exceptional leaders work on having the ability to achieve both. As you work to understand your team and what drives them, you’ll have the insights you need to encourage them and the connection required to hold them accountable for their results.
Create a sense of urgency
A sense of urgency should run parallel to that drive for excellence. By instilling a sense of purpose and immediacy in your team's actions, you motivate your team to achieve their goals consistently. Emphasize the importance of timely, efficient, and quality work to make it happen.
Don’t tolerate mediocrity
Top-performing sales directors have no tolerance for mediocrity. They recognize that high performers thrive in environments where underperformance is not tolerated. Fostering an environment where excellence is standard ensures that the team consistently strives for greatness.
Delegating is often tough for sales managers, who may have the urge to hold on to individual contributor tasks and do them “the right way.” But this is a must-have skill for leadership. When you delegate, you give your team opportunities to learn the context they need to achieve their goals. That might look like giving your sales rep a chance to lead the sales call instead of immediately jumping in and taking over.
As a leader, you set the tone for how your team deals with the inevitability of change. You can either hide from it or embrace it. Change gives you and your team the chance to discover and harness new insights.
So, make sure your team knows that you’re prepared to handle change and take a viewpoint that obstacles can be overcome. Your team should feel that mistakes are something that can be learned from, not something to cover up. Communicate that belief to your team and lead by example. Your team will reflect this style of leadership back to you.
Additional Tips for Creating a Results-Driven Team
As you work to show your team that you care and build a culture of high performance, you’re probably looking for tried-and-true methods to do so. The following are our best practices for sales directors that drive results.
- Build real relationships: Invest in creating genuine connections with your team. Understand them as people, their aspirations, challenges, and strengths.
- Set goals: Follow a goal-oriented leadership approach by connecting individual goals with organizational objectives and track progress.
- Lead by example: Demonstrate respect, selflessness, and high performance through your actions.
Going from an individual contributor to a sales leader takes a mindset shift. You’re no longer just playing on a team; you’re coaching the team. And in the end, the results on the scoreboard come down to how well you can coach this team to win. The foundation of success is built on caring for your team members and cultivating a culture of high performance. As you prioritize your team’s success and well-being, you’ll find that you unlock the keys to organizational success as well.