TALKING SALES 77: "Developing Great Sales Leaders!"

John Smibert

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"Investing in sales managers provides the best ROI" - Interview by John Smibert

Sue Barrett

In this interview Sue Barrett points out that sales management requires very different skills and capabilities than selling. Despite this too often we promote our top salespeople into sales management without assessing their management aptitude or developing their management skills.

"A lot of those sales superstars that become sales managers end up hating their role as sales manager" because they don't have the necessary management skills like strategy execution, financials, recruitment, on-boarding, leadership, coaching, performance management, and so on.    .

She explains that sales management "is one of the most critical roles in us actually achieving our revenue and growth objectives" yet too often we invest least in the development of our sales managers.

Sue provides an interesting example where a company shifted their training budget from salespeople to sales managers and got a 43% increase in sales. See her full interview below.

Sue is an authoritative thought leader and an accomplished author on the selling profession. She's also founder and CEO of Barrett and


John: Welcome back, Sue!

Sue: Thank you, John!

John: I'm delighted to be with you again, and I really loved that last subject that was on training and how we get a learning process happening in organisations. What really struck me is that we often talk all about how we're going to invest in developing our sales force, but sometimes we forget about the sales managers and sales directors in our organisation. I know this is close to your heart.

Sue: Yes.

John: Tell me what you think we should be doing? What should we be focusing on relative to the sales management, and why?

Sue: Well, in the business world and at management level the profession, as a manager, that is either not trained at all or trained the least is sales management, yet it is one of the most critical roles in us actually achieving our revenue and growth objectives.

John: And often those people are chosen as the best salespeople and promoted into sales management; we just expect them to be good sales managers.

Sue: Yes, and unfortunately people have not realised that selling and managing are two different things.

John: Absolutely.

Sue: So, a lot of those sales superstars that become sales managers end up hating their role as sales manager, and often just go out there saying "Just be like me and it'll be right!" and it doesn't work; and, of course, it causes lots of problems. We're better off actually understanding what is good sales management, and there are a number of core capabilities in there that we need to be able to understand. They've got to be able to do sales strategy, which, as we talked about earlier, is very poorly executed.

They've also got to be able to understand sales financials, they've got to be able to look at how they recruit and select salespeople and induct them, coach them, and then performance manage them.

John: Yes.

Sue: They also have to do account mapping and planning and those sorts of things. So, when you think about that job set, there's a lot of areas in there that they may not have experienced if they're in a sales role.

John: Right.

Sue: I've had some good successes with people who've never been a salesperson per se in the traditional sense.

John: And become a sales manager.

Sue: Become a sales manager and being brilliant.

John: There you go!

Sue: So, I do think we have to get over that "Oh, you must have sales experience to be a great sales manager." because there are people that can make it work.

John: But there are a lot of good salespeople that can become great sales managers too.

Sue: Exactly, that's right - we can do that. But, we have to understand that it's not always the sales superstar that's going to be that. The other thing too to understand is that if you had a limited budget and you had to invest it in either your sales managers or your salespeople...?

John: Oh, interesting question.

Sue: I would say invest it in your sales managers and do a proper job.

John: Is that right?

Sue: Absolutely. Because there's been research shown, and I've had research over the years too where I've actually had people-like, I remember one group of managers. We didn't even touch the salespeople, we got them working better with their people and they had a 43% lift in sales, just working with management.

So, there's a lot of structure around it, there's a lot of things that managers need to be able to do and get their head around. But let's start training them, let's start developing them, let's start coaching them to actually be these great leaders that they can and need to be for our businesses.

John: And I guess the end result of that will be a much more sustainable sales organisation.

Sue: Absolutely.

John: Driving improved productivity, improved sales.

Sue: Yes.

John: And I love that word "sustainable" - on a sustainable basis which is what it's all about.

Sue: Absolutely, yes.


More interviews with Sue Barrett:



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