The 3 Most Important Traits for Every Sales Manager

In order to be a great Revenue Team, you need great sales managers.

According to a survey conducted by Steve W. Martin from Harvard Business Review,

  • 69% of salespeople who exceeded their annual quota rated their sales manager as being excellent or above average
  • 56% of salespeople who rated their sales organization as excellent also rated their sales manager as excellent.
  • Only 3% of salespeople who rated their sales manager as excellent, rated their organization as average.

But finding and identifying great sales managers is not easy or simple.

So we set out to learn what the most important traits are for every successful sales manager. From research, polls on @Scratchpad_Sales on Instagram, and conducting interviews with excellent sales managers, we discovered the absolutely foolproof, silver bullet, no doubt formula for great sales managers.

  1. Truly Care About Your Reps as Humans
  2. Be Able to Remove Internal and External Blockers for Your Team
  3. Teaching Skills

(After adjusting and tailoring possible answers for a few rounds, these were the final results of our Instagram poll)

Most important trait of a sales manager

And this is what it looked like in our corresponding poll on Scratchpad’s LinkedIn:

Teaching Skills

While teaching skills only received 19% and 12% in our polls, respectively, it’s still clearly a top 3 trait for successful sales managers and this can’t be ignored.

“Just cause they close, doesn’t mean they can teach,” says Gary Kagan, who was once a top performing sales rep at Yelp before becoming a manager when he launched the company’s first ever channel sales division. Kagan recently founded his own company “It depends on the team and the level of salespeople that you’re managing. If you have a bunch of really experienced Enterprise AEs who know the product and the sales motion, the best thing you can do for them might be removing internal blockers. But for someone who’s an SDR manager, having those teaching skills might be the most important trait that you can have.”

The ability to teach sales is extremely difficult and requires a different strategy with different individuals, but one constant across the board has to be communication.

  • Establish consistent 1:1s with your reps
  • In these 1:1s, dive into analytics, listen to calls, evaluate deal stages and notes. What is the information they’re gaining or missing? Where are the gaps and how do you address those? Establish a process and measure against it as you both grow in your roles.

Establishing a process for you and your reps to follow is important because then you can measure results and behaviors over time. “Sales managers who closely monitor and strictly enforce a sales process are more likely to exceed their quotas, and the best sales leaders seek to control the daily behavior of their sales teams. 43% of high-performing sales managers responded that their sales process was closely monitored, strictly enforced, or automated  compared to 29% of underperforming sales managers.” Meanwhile, “44% percent of underperforming sales managers indicated they had a nonexistent or an informal structured sales process,” according to Martin and HBR.

If the results aren’t showing for a certain rep, but they are for the rest of the team, then it might be time to modify your process or you have a better idea of whether or not that rep is a good fit for your team or company.

Removing Internal Blockers

Imagine you have a Lamborghini in your garage, but the freaking garage door is stuck.

Your sales team is that Lamborghini ready to drive revenue, but if they don’t have the process or tools in place to accelerate their pipeline into overdrive, then they’re trapped in that sad garage without a deal in sight.

If you can remove the internal blockers either within the sales org or elsewhere at your company that are preventing them from selling to their full potential, then your team will love you because everyone will be making money.

According to Hubspot Sales Director Dan Tyre, "As a leader, you ultimately work for your team. Your job is to remove barriers that prevent your sales team from doing their best work.”

Internal blockers, or internal politics, sounds negative, but it is often just competing priorities in other departments who are striving for the same company goals, but may have a different perspective on how to achieve them.

For example, if your sales team has a legitimate belief that the new feature engineering is developing won’t make an impact on potential customers, it’s important to not only relay this message to the rest of leaders across the company, but convince them that there’s a better path.

If quota is…

quota too damn high

… then you need to fight for your team.

If you’ve taught your reps well, implemented an effective sales process, but your tech stack is complex and slowing them down, you need to fight for the tools your reps need to succeed.

Outreach or Salesloft for email automation, Chorus or Gong for call recordings, and most importantly (unbiased opinion), Scratchpad for their workspace.

A painter has an easel, a chef has a mise en place, a 40 year-old dad has New Balance 624s, a Budweiser, and a John Deere tractor to mow his 8’ x 12’ lawn. No one has designed a workspace with Account Executives in mind until Scratchpad. It allows them to work and update their CRM at the speed of thought so they can actually follow process, methodology, and maintain a clean Salesforce for the entire organization.

It’s easy to tell salespeople to follow process and input everything in Salesforce, but every sales leader knows that it’s rarely seen in practice. Scratchpad is the workspace that doesn’t require a behavioral shift so adoption is high and those data hygiene issues become a thing of the past because salespeople actually “want to update Salesforce. My team has fun updating Salesforce,”  says Ang McManamon, VP of Sales at Crunchbase. As a result, they’ve been able to spend more time strategizing on deals in 1:1s as opposed to seeing which Opps are out of date and their sales cycle was reduced from 50 days to 35 in the span of two months.

Fighting to get the proper tech stack for your sales team will make you a better manager because your team will be more productive and loyal to you for giving them something that makes their lives better and their quota attainment higher.

“The best managers protect their reps from dealing with cross-functional blockers that may come from Ops, Compliance, or another department that has their own priorities and perspectives on things,” says Kagan. With a workspace like Scratchpad you’ll not only make your team happier and more successful, but it’s a win for the entire company who needs to trust in their data to make larger strategic decisions.

Truly Caring About Your Reps as Humans

If you think this is corny, I challenge you to think about the best sales manager you know and ask yourself if he or she didn’t care about their reps as human beings.

While some traits are more important for certain teams - for example, teaching skills might be more critical to an SDR manager than an Enterprise Account Manager who requires more blocking skills - truly caring about your reps as humans is the most important trait for any sales manager. It’s certainly not the only trait that you need, but without earning trust from your reps, the chances of achieving and maintaining success diminishes greatly due to the lack of buy-in.

Ryan Clayton, Mid-Market Sales Manager at Asana believes that “taking off the corporate hat and putting on the human hat when you're talking to your people is really important. We've all had managers that spew the party line, which makes it impossible to see their emotion or their perspective. Making sure that you're always aligned with the business a good quality to have, but in my 10 years of being a manager, what I've learned is that it’s necessary to take a very healthy dose of humility especially when really tough decisions are being made.”

In the current macroeconomic climate, it’s even more important to care about your reps as human. Without that genuine relationship, it’s harder to coach and remove internal blockers because reps might not be communicating with you often or honestly enough. That lack of trust leads to lack of information and that hurts your bottom line (which is even more important than humans, obviously 🤔).

Another reason why this is more important today is the rise in remote-work. According to the LinkedIn State of Sales Report in 2021, two-thirds of sales managers say that managing remotely is harder than they thought. By fostering genuine relationships and erring on the side of over-communication, these challenges can be overcome.

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place,” said George Bernard Shaw. Your reps don’t have to be your best friends, but through authenticity and over-communication, you can learn how to more effectively motivate them, teach them, and remove internal blockers to help them and the team hit their goals.

If you follow those three pillars, you’re on your way.