No matter how ambitious they are, leading a sales team to success takes work. Mastering the challenge will make it a rewarding one.

After years of hard work, you’ve finally been promoted to the position of sales manager, leading a team of hungry sales representatives for the first time. The problem is that while you want your team to be hungry, you may find they’re stagnant, underperforming, or unmotivated. Before your first week is over, you realize that leading a sales team to success is harder than you’d expected. But as usual, you’re ready to rise to the challenge.

Sales reps are a special breed of people that require clear objectives and expectations that don’t trample their autonomy. They’re good at what they do when they know their goals, but they can quickly become deflated if overmanaged. It’s important, then, to spend more of your time as a manager leading than instructing, more time coaching than criticizing, and more time motivating than measuring.

Leading a sales team to success: Lead by example

The most important thing you can do as a manager is to lead by example. This means that whatever it is you ask of your team, you adhere to as well. If time management is an issue for your sales reps, make sure that you are always on time for meetings and hitting your own deadlines before addressing the issue with your team. Whatever targets you expect them to hit, demonstrate that said goals are achievable by hitting similar targets of your own. It’s ambitious leadership, not idealistic managers, that inspire salespeople.

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 Leading a sales team to success: Don’t overdo it on metrics

Sales has to include metrics and deadlines. A good sales manager, however, knows that while numbers are a lot, they aren’t everything. If a sales rep has trouble reaching his or her numbers but otherwise demonstrates the qualities of a potentially successful salesperson, find out that person’s motivations. Even though they know hitting their numbers is important, it may not be the numbers that drives them. Spend time socially with a sales rep like this and learn their passions, then find a way to incorporate those in their day to day.

Leading a sales team to success: Take the time to coach

Coaching is different than managing. Managing looks at an individual’s measurable performance and critiques based on objectives. Coaching facilitates a salesperson’s own ability to improve performance and meet objectives. Comparatively, managing is relatively easy; you look at numbers and deadlines, you praise or critique, and a sales rep either improves or doesn’t. At the end of the day, this won’t motivate your underperforming team to do better, and will probably demotivate them altogether.

Sales managers often neglect coaching because it takes time, and what sales professional has time to spare? But just as you might tell your clients that they’re making an investment in your product, so also should you make this investment in your team. Taking time to coach individual team members will strengthen your bond with your team and provide them the instruction that they not only need, but also desire.

Leading a sales team to success: Create a positive environment

Creating a positive environment is essential to a happy and successful sales team. Sales is grueling work, which means some light-heartedness, as well as some recognition for a job well done, is necessary to maintain motivation. Celebrate each sale in small ways and celebrate larger sales with team outings or social events. Provide career development and training to your team, as well as the tools necessary for employees to do their jobs well. Encourage humor and silliness on the sales floor. Empower your sales reps to be themselves, and they’ll undoubtedly improve tenfold.

Most of all, be positive in your feedback. If an employee is underperforming, demonstrate compassion and show that you care about his or her career. Get to the root of the problem and do what you can to help fix it. After all, business is about relationships. Apply the same mantra to your employees that you would to your clients, and see the difference it makes.

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Have you successfully managed an underperforming sales team? What tips do you have for new sales managers? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.