Whether you’ve been promoted to sales manager in your current company or you’re joining a new company in a leadership position, you’ll have to find a way to gain the team’s trust, get up to speed with what the role requires, and achieve the goals that have been set out for you by your company’s executive team.
Follow these eight guidelines for replacing a previous sales manager, and you’ll have a much easier time filling the last person’s shoes.
1. Understand what you were hired to accomplish
Before you start driving your team to create new business, make sure you have a full understanding of the expectations that come with your sales manager role, and why your company needed you to take over in the first place.
“The number one thing a sales manager should keep in mind is why they were hired,” says Sales Evolution CEO and veteran sales coach Scott Messer. “Were you hired to replace an underperforming sales manager or a high-performer who left the company for another opportunity? What does your manager expect from you? Is the goal to transition from less qualified sales reps and hire more experienced sales reps who can work bigger and longer deals?”
Having regular check-ins with your own manager early on will help you get a coherent sense of what you were hired to achieve in your new position. It will also help you stay on track with your own goals for your sales team. Never be afraid to ask for a meeting with your own manager if you are unsure whether the changes you plan on making make sense for the company.
2. Find out how your team felt about the previous leadership
One thing that will help make the transition process easier for your team is to be as candid about it as possible. Since you’re taking over for someone else, ask the team what they liked about their previous manager’s leadership style and what you could do differently as their new manager.
Ask each member of the sales team, “If you were the sales manager, what changes would you make?” Not only will this get your team thinking about your presence in terms of positive improvement, but it will also help them to consider what changes the entire team can make to become more successful.
Additionally, discuss what works and what doesn’t work in the team’s current sales process and let them know that you are there to help them in any way possible. Be there to listen, and hold off on trying to improve their process right away.
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It can be difficult to lead an entirely new team when you’re still trying to memorize everyone’s name and position. But no matter how big your sales team is, you should do your best to get to know each and every person on it. Find out what they believe their strengths and weaknesses are, their personal and professional goals, and how they work best.
One-on-ones are especially important if you’ve been promoted to sales manager within the same company. If you are now the manager of someone who used to be your peer, it’s important to clear the air early and have a conversation about it. Adjusting to a new work dynamic will be easier if you acknowledge the change.
According to Ira Wolfe, President of Aim Smart Coaching, it’s imperative for new managers to build relationships with their team members in order to gain an understanding of how they think. “Just as salespeople ask questions to learn about their prospects’ needs and how they can serve them, the same should be done by the manager with their salespeople,” Wolfe says. “Build rapport, understand their values and challenges, and learn how you can support them.”
4. Establish concrete goals and expectations—for yourself and for the team
What do you want to achieve in your first quarter as the team’s new manager? What do you consider to be your priorities in order of importance? Make a list for yourself, then share your goals with the team, letting them know that they can hold you accountable, too.
You should also have ongoing conversations with the sales team about what you expect from them, including goals you have for the team as a whole and for each individual member. No member of your team should feel confused about what the measures of success will be under your leadership.
Of course, goal-setting shouldn’t just be a top-down exercise. Encourage your sales reps to come up with their own individual goals—even for what they’d like to see from the rest of the team and out of you as a leader—and share those goals with you as they feel comfortable.
5. Make sure everyone stays motivated during the transition
If you’re feeling nervous about taking on a new role and leading a new team, chances are your new team feels just as uneasy about answering to a new manager.
One way you can reduce their anxiety is by being there for them. Ask them what you can do to help them during the transition and beyond. Know that every individual has a different working style, and every person on the team may need different things from you. Some may work more independently while others may like to collaborate. Figure out what motivates each person individually and do your best to support it.
Sometimes, a lack of motivation can stem from a misunderstanding of why our roles in sales are meaningful, so make sure the team knows why their work is important. Have a conversation about why each person on the team matters to the success of the team and company as a whole, and reiterate why their work is meaningful.
6. Don’t assume that what worked for your last team will work with this one
If you have previous leadership and management experience, you likely have your own philosophy and techniques for managing a team. But not all tactics work in all organizations, and you can’t expect everything to improve the moment you start in your new position.
Of course, you should use your prior experiences to help you succeed in your new role and to help your team succeed under your leadership. That being said, changing everything right away can create unnecessary conflict. Every team is different and responds to different leadership styles and processes, so keep that in mind when you enter your new position.
7. Build team unity
Whether you’re getting to know a new team or moving up in your company, building team unity is a must. A unified team is a successful team, so it’s important that you and your sellers feel comfortable with each other.
Schedule activities outside the office so you and the team can get to know one another. Have team lunches once a week, participate in volunteer work together, or go out for a well-deserved happy hour after closing a major account. The better you know each other, the more effectively you’ll be able to work together.
8. Don’t sweat the small stuff
This may seem like a no-brainer, but trust us. Your new position might not be as easy to transition to as you hope. As with any new role, it will come with its fair share of hard times, but keep your head held high and do the best you can. Whatever the reason, you were hired to bring value to the sales team, so keep that in mind when settling in to your new role. Remember to breathe, give gratitude for your opportunity, and don’t let losses keep you from celebrating your wins, big or small.