If you talk with Sales VPs there is a consensus around the notion that the front-line Sales Manager is the pivotal job for building a great sales team. Most would raise their hand in agreement with the statement – “You can’t have a superior sales team without great front-line Sales Managers.”
On the other hand, there is not a single clear path forward. Those in senior sales leadership roles are constantly looking for better ways to achieve the goal of creating a strong cadre of Sales Managers. A recent study by Korn/Ferry International provides some useful insights. Although the study focused on leadership development across functions, the findings seemed to be particularly relevant for those of us interested in Sales.
The study explored the topic of leadership skills ranging from senior executives to the individual contributor. The authors made the recommendation – remember individual contributors are future leaders of the organization – start developing them early in leadership skill areas that will continue to be important as they move up the organization.
Seven skills were identified that organizations should focus on developing to help individual contributors better perform their existing jobs, as well as, to better prepare them for future management roles.
- Thinking ahead and scoping effort and resource requirements to accomplish specific objectives
- Multi-tasking, finding scarce resources, and reducing do-over work
- Developing a business perspective
- Handling conflict
- Observing people’s strengths and weaknesses – and predicting how team members will perform a task
- Understanding the company’s vision and purpose
- Asking the right questions and think more critically about solutions
These seven skill areas are all certainly important for major account selling and are also important leadership skills for front-line Sales Managers. It is interesting to view these seven skills from the perspective of sales training. Historically, sales training has done a good job training sales people in classic sales skills related to areas such as: developing account strategies, planning and executing sales call, and product knowledge.
One of the implications for sales training of the Korn/Ferry study is – there are skill sets, which have historically received limited attention that might bear revisiting as a priority. The seven skills are important for taking the next step in developing the sales capacity of the sales team and they are a good first step in developing Sales Manager skills.
Any senior leader knows that “developing bench strength” is an important talent management challenge. When it comes to front-line sales managers, finding ways to meet the challenge will likely increase in importance. One answer – look to your sales people and start developing their leadership skills now.
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