Skip to Content
Sandler Southern Counties Change Location
This site uses cookies. By navigating the site, you consent to our use of cookies. Accept

Four Steps to being the Best Sales Manager


The term Inside sales would seem to suggest just one kind of sales team, but in fact it is at least four. The Inside Sales team can be set up mostly to deal with incoming enquiries in which case they will either be set up to qualify the lead to pass on to a colleague or be expected to close the deal. Alternatively the Inside Sales team could be oriented towards making out-bound calls either to make appointments for somebody else or to sell something directly. Sometimes the Inside Sales team is expected to do a mix of all four.

Traditionally “inside sales” therefore referred to the fact that the team members did not visit the potential client’s premise whilst the field sales team did. For this reason, Inside Sales has often been seen as the junior partner in the sales effort. Recruits to a sales-oriented firm would frequently start in inside sales with a view to moving on to the external sales team as some form of promotion.

However, Covid heralded a headlong drive to “Hybrid Selling” which depended heavily on video calls to make sales. Suddenly the lines were blurred between “inside” and “field” sales as no-one was going out to see clients.

Even without that confusion, the skills needed for inside sales and field sales often overlap. If the goal is to make a sale instead of handing the contact off to somebody else, then the inside salesperson is not in any way less valuable to their organization from the point of view of acquiring new accounts. The only real differentiator is that inside selling tends to focus on products and services that have very short sales cycles.

The temptation persists to view inside sales as less important and therefore less worthy of investing in. As the sale value is typically smaller, the less-experienced salesperson on an inside sales team would not do too much harm if they crashed and burned.

Moreover, the amount of rejection inside salespeople have to endure every day is considerably higher than for other salespeople so they can develop a tougher skin, ready to join the more experienced field sales team once they have proven themselves. And the cost of hiring an inside salesperson is less than for a field salesperson, so if they cannot cope with the intense pressure of lots of calls and the potential drain on attitude from monotonous repetition of tasks, then they do not represent a huge cost to the organization when they leave. Staff turnover in inside sales is notoriously high.

As a consequence there is little incentive to invest heavily in individuals who are likely to not produce much revenue nor last very long in the role.

There is an alternative view.

When a representative of your organization has contact with a client or a prospective client, the reputation and image of your organization is in the hands of that employee. The most important contact is the very first one. It is true that first impressions count. Typically, that first contact is with someone from inside sales.
What is the average value of a client or customer of yours over the lifetime of the relationship? It will be multiples of the first piece of business. A good first impression can increase the likelihood of a sale, and all the following transactions. A poor first impression can almost guarantee not just one lost opportunity, but all the following business too. If this is true, then you don’t want a poorly trained salesperson having that first conversation. Logically you want a superb salesperson conducting that first contact.
They need to be great communicators; be able to produce instant rapport; demonstrate genuine curiosity in what the customer or client is trying to achieve; be prepared to find out what they might be prepared to invest to reach those goals; act as an expert in your products and services and be happy to ask awkward questions about why, how and when they would want to do business. They need, in short, to be great salespeople.

Great salespeople need great managers. Managing inside salespeople has its specific challenges. The role of a manager is to hire, train, supervise, coach, and mentor. How should you do that as the manager of an inside sales team? Let’s start off looking at how to excel in hiring, the first of our four steps to being the best Internal Sales Manager

Step One: Hire the Best for Your Team

A good candidate for an inside sales position looks very different according to the type of team you are recruiting for.

We guide our clients with the mnemonic SEARCH
Skills: What do they already need to be able to do, even before you start training them?
Experience: What experience do they need to have to make a good member of the team? You might decide that they will need to have had at least some basic experience to give you a clue that they can do the role.
Attitude: Salespeople succeed or fail more around attitude than anything else. It’s hard to assess attitude in a recruiting environment, so you might need to consider a psychometric assessment to be confident. What will keep them motivated once they join the team?
Results: Both you and your candidate will want to be sure this hire is a good fit. They might not have worked in your exact role before, but if they can prove results from a similar activity in the past, it will give both sides a way of judging how good they will be with you.
Cognitive skills: Do they need to be subject matter experts in which case they will need to pick up a lot of product information very quickly and be able to apply that knowledge. Or would it be better if their natural tendency is not to get lost down rabbit holes? Emotional intelligence might count for more than technical knowledge.
Habits: What habits would you want to see to be confident they will do what you need them to do on a daily basis?

You will also need to think of the balance of type of personality you want across the team. Would it be good if all your team members were the sort that assertively aim to be team leader? Perhaps your clients need to have a quiet, unassuming professional to talk to instead. Is attention to detail going to be more important than for most sales situations? Alternatively, perhaps you want your contacts to have an upbeat experience when they call in.

The correct balance under SEARCH criteria and personality types will vary enormously depending on whether they are going to work in a call center making hundreds of cold calls a week or if they are going to be more research-based, working alongside field salespeople.

We help our clients identify the right kind of candidate, taking them through the matrix so that they have what we term Primary Function Indicators. If you’d like our tool to help you with that or a coaching session on how to build that matrix, let us know!

Step Two: Train them in more than just Features and Benefits

Most salespeople are not trained to sell. They may have had a basic grounding in how to ask questions and then close a sale. Most training will be on the features and benefits of the product or service they are being asked to sell. I remember at a sales awards evening one of the guests on my table was telling me how good his company’s sales training was (and therefore didn’t need me). I was not unduly surprised, as their organization had just picked up an award. I asked him what training he was currently getting. No, there wasn’t any current training. The great training he was referring to was a day’s refresher two years previously. The awful part about this story is that he was right; that was an exceptionally good amount of sales training in relation to what most salespeople get.

Assuming you are not going to follow that scarcity mindset, what should you be making sure your team is being trained on? Most inside salespeople have a series of scripts to follow. The problem with those is that as soon as a client or prospect goes “off script” the opportunity is lost. There is nothing more off-putting for a potential buyer than having the distinct impression that everybody on the call is in un-chartered water.

Instead of training on features and benefits and detailed scripts, your best route is to train your team to help your prospects and clients discover what they need and then discover that your organization is best placed to help them. That means training your team members to find what the real problem your contact has (not just the one they originally presented), what your contact is prepared to invest to fix the problem and how they would decide to use your products or services. Scripts will take your team members part of the way, but the truly impressive internal salesperson is confident in guiding your next new client to the right decision.

If you’d like to see how Sandler can help train your internal salespeople to sell in a way that puts them way ahead of your competition, come along to one of our free seminars.

Step Three: Be a Firm But Fair Supervisor

This is the hardest role for a manager. You are forced in two directions; you need your team to perform, but you also need them to be happy enough to stay another day. If they don’t perform or they all leave, your own position is in jeopardy. For a lot of inside sales operations the temptation is to focus on the former and not worry about the latter; the prevailing attitude is, if they leave, they can be easily replaced.

Logically, this is short sighted. It takes so much resource to recruit and then train-up those recruits. The worst-case scenario for the reputation of your organization is to have raw recruits routinely being involved in the first contact conversations and then have a never-ending stream of different representatives trying to develop existing opportunities. It does not give the impression of a professional organization that can be trusted with lots of business.

For some operations there is no viable alternative. But ideally, you want to both hold on to your team members and have them perform well.

So how do you hold them accountable? If they have joined you knowing and agreeing to what they are supposed to do, then they cannot expect anything less than having to do it. They have exchanged their time and activity for payment from your organization. If the minimum number of cold calls is set and agreed by both sides, for example, then that is what has to happen. Put so plainly that looks harsh. There will always be mitigating circumstances. Immediate termination of their contract should not be the first step if the required minimum behavior is not met. There will be so many reasons why it has not been done, quite often for very understandable reasons. However, consistently missing behavior targets cannot be tolerated for long. There have to be consequences. If those consequences are agreed and known up-front, there cannot be any argument. Perhaps the first infringement would be they have to do something extra, or one of the levels in the ladder could be to make coffee for the team, the “walk of shame”. They don’t have to be draconian things, just enough to make sure the team member doesn’t want to be in that situation very often. The top of the “consequence ladder” would have to be formal disciplinary proceedings. At the same time there must be ways off the ladder (or everybody will end up fired at some point, including the team manager). But this way the manager can hold their reports to doing what is reasonable and previously agreed. Note that is unfair and counter-productive if penalties are arbitrary and designed on the spur of the moment. If they are agreed, proportionate and fairly administered, then there is sufficient for the team member to realize that missing behavior targets is not an option.

Notice we are talking about behavior targets, not performance targets. You cannot control what your clients will do and when. And therefore you cannot manage your team by benchmarking against results. So often a proportion of a good performance total comes down to being in the right place at the right time. Admittedly you have to make sure you are in the most likely place more of the time, but that still cannot guarantee anything. You can only tell if your team member is working well if they are doing the right things at the right level at the right time. In other words, you can only be sure if they are working hard if they are doing the right behavior. After that, it comes down to good training and deciding on what the most effective behaviors are.

The biggest part of supervising is regularly debriefing with your team member. Ideally this should be two very quick conversations. At the beginning of the day, check they have everything they need and what they intend to achieve that day. At the end of the day check that they hit their behavior targets and ask what went well and what could have been better. These conversations are not the occasion for coaching or training, but they are good occasions to book those in the diary. Just knowing that the manager is interested in making sure they have everything they need for success and interested in how the day worked out, is a huge vote of confidence.

Step Four: Motivate, motivate, motivate

If you have the right people prepared to do the right things in the right way, the lever that is most in your control is keeping your staff happy to keep doing those things, even when times get tough (which they inevitably will at some point). If you are convinced that your direct reports are going to be with you for a while at least, it’s worth understanding what motivates them.

The most obvious thing that would motivate a salesperson is money. More commission, more money, more motivated. However, there are numerous research studies that suggest that this might be too simplistic a view. Yes, the money has to be right. Not enough money for the all the hard work is a demotivator and earning more is always helpful in getting closer to personal goals. But money is more of a “hygiene factor”: it is more of a demotivator when its wrong, and not a strong motivator when it is right. If that is true, at least for most of your team members, then what makes them get up every morning and slog through the day with you and your organization? Ask yourself, what makes you put up with all the stress and strain as a manager? Typically, it will be things like knowing that you do a good job, surpassing what is expected of you, having evidence that you make a difference for both your team and your clients and being trusted by your bosses to make independent decisions. If these look right for you, then they are probably similar to the things that motivate your team members.

In some organizations the natural progression is promotion, often into field sales. However, not every internal salesperson necessarily wants to become a fully-fledged field salesperson or account manager. Promotion into positions of responsibility is not always a motivator to do a good job on a regular, consistent basis.

If you are not sure what motivates your direct reports, and what their personal goals are in life, then you should ask them. You might be very surprised by the answer! Once you know what those things that are, it will be a lot easier to motivate them. You will know how you can help them towards what they want to achieve. When they have evidence that you have their best interests at heart, they are much more likely to stick with you, even through challenging times.

If you would like to learn how to get the best from your internal sales team, contact us today and we’ll see if our Sales Management Solutions programme would be right for you and your organization.

Paul Glynn

Paul Glynn

Sandler trainer