Anatomy of a Great Sales Manager

The times they are a-changin’ in the world of sales. Your reps may be struggling to connect with their customers virtually and may be feeling disheartened. The pressure is on you to keep coaching your reps and supporting them, while ensuring that you’re being efficient with your time and energy. 

With all of that in mind, I think it may be helpful to take a look at some of the things that great sales managers do with their teams that make them so successful.

Great Sales Managers Exhibit These Traits

Here’s what we see with the really good ones:

  • Clear and focused

Great managers learn early that reps don’t really remember the great insight you shared in your last meeting. They are not going to write down what you discussed and review it several times to ensure they commit it to memory. They just won’t.

To ensure they get the message and that behavior change occurs, great sales managers are clear about      the critical focus areas and repeat the same message over and over again. If you have 15 things you are working on with your team and the message varies from week to week, or you just focus on the last problem or gap you observed, the message will be lost.

They may understand the message, but it won’t sink in or have impact. The key is to pick three or four focus areas for the year and repeat the message over and over again. It will feel extremely redundant to you, but you will quickly see that it requires repetition to get the message, strategy, or skill to take root.


  • Development depends on desire

Management is about leverage. Understanding how to best invest your time in order to improve the results of many is an art all great managers must learn. The key is in understanding that you can’t work harder than your reps to achieve results. The young, highly motivated manager puts tremendous effort into getting everyone to the next level – and ends up exhausted, with low numbers, and frustrated. 

The experienced manager invests his or her precious time in only those individuals who want to change. Their philosophy is, “I would love to meet you at 7:00am at the driving range if you are willing to put your heart into improving your game.” But they have zero time for reps that don’t want to get better. 

Does this mean that the great manager avoids the rep that has no desire to change? Absolutely not. They will manage and lead those reps, but they know that attempting to develop a new skill set in a rep that has no interest in developing that skill is a waste of time.


  • Relationship determines influence

We all know that great managers motivate reps to achieve a new level of performance, but what’s the secret? Is it just due to offering the wisdom they gained through experience in the field? That definitely plays a role, but can’t we all think of a manager who has a tremendous amount of knowledge but very little influence with his or her team? 

There is another, more important component at play – the relationship. Influence requires a receptive audience – a fertile soil to receive the message. Simply put, without a relationship based on trust, credibility, and rapport, a rep’s willingness to receive the message or instruction will always be diminished.


These traits outlined above are ones we see consistently in some of the greatest sales managers that we have the opportunity to work with.

Now I want to cover the final, and probably least talked about, sales leadership trait: an effective manager’s approach to assessing performance.


It’s not how you hit the ball, but where it lands.

Successful managers have a very common sense approach to assessing a rep’s ability to sell. They don’t get overwhelmed or distracted by the 50+ sales behaviors other managers might focus on. Rather, they zero in on the 5 to 8 simple outcomes that ultimately determine how well a rep can execute in the field. 

In other words, great sales managers have a different definition of competency than most. They measure competencies by CUSTOMER outcomes and NOT by looking at what the rep attempted to do (e.g., questions asked, communicated prescribed benefits, etc).

Let’s use golf as an example: 

A golfer’s success is based on a score (similar to a rep’s quota), but how do you measure the competencies they must possess in order to obtain excellent scores? Some would say “look at their short game – that’s a key competency.” True. That’s like saying “prospecting” is a core sales competency. That’s also true, but how do you measure that competency?


The key is to break sales down into competencies that can be measured by a defined outcome. Let’s go back to the golf analogy. What if we broke down the “short game” into three competencies: chipping, sand shots, and putting? 

Now, it becomes a bit easier to define and measure the competency. I can easily measure putting by number of putts per round, or sand shots by how close the ball consistently lands near the hole. It really DOESN’T matter how they held the putter or their stance. This is key. If they consistently have a low number of putts, as a coach, I don’t have to get bogged down with all the elements that go into putting. All that matters is whether the desired outcome is achieved

Basically, if the golfer is a good putter, move on. Even if their total score is off, it’s not due to a putting problem. If the putting number is high, now it makes sense to analyze what caused the putting problem. Great managers define this as a “behavior” (i.e., stance, grip, alignment). This is where the development occurs. They zero in on the behaviors that affect the competency (or outcome).


Let’s look at a sales example. Say a manager wants to measure a rep’s ability to build value in a solution. Should you first focus on their ability to communicate benefits, identify barriers, or handle an objection? No. You will look at those behaviors if needed, but the key is to first look at Building Value – the competency – as a customer outcome. 

For example, the rep successfully “built value” if the customer embraces the recommendation and/or positively changes their opinion of the product/service/company and is willing to advance. 

If the rep achieves this outcome, he or she is successful. If reps achieve this outcome consistently, they are competent at Building Value. The “why” or “how” really doesn’t matter. But, if they failed to achieve the desired outcome, then we focus on the 5 or 6 key behaviors that contribute to success in Building Value (e.g., communicating benefits vs. features, handling objections, delivery) and diagnose which behavior is causing the rep to miss the mark.


The Benefits of Measuring Competency by Outcome

There are two major benefits to this approach. First, the manager is able to quickly narrow the focus to the root cause of the problem, rather than wasting time measuring 50+ sales behaviors on every call. Second, managers will eliminate arguments with reps who are achieving results but don’t do it the “company” way.

While it’s always a good time to look at your team and note the individuals who really want to sharpen their skills, if your reps can consistently hit the ball 400 yards down the middle of the fairway with their putter, leave them alone.


Looking for More?

If you’ve read this whole article and realize that you struggle to make time to coach your reps, we may have a tool to help. 

Use Catalyst Core to simplify both and save time – for free. Catalyst Core  is a free, cloud application to make front line sales managers more effective at coaching and improving the results of their sales team with the three Core elements: Diagnose, Develop and Insight.


As Co-founder and CEO, Tom’s primary role is to create content that helps people live, sell, and serve more effectively. Find him on LinkedIn

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