So You’re the New Sales Manager – How Are You Going To Get Their Attention?

Taking Over an Existing Team – Part 1 of 3


Rare is the manager who starts a team from scratch. More often than not, someone is promoted from within a team or promoted/hired from outside the group to take over an existing team.


When someone on a sales team is promoted from a salesperson role to that of a sales manager, for example, they already know and understand the team dynamics, the personalities, the customers, the challenges and the company goals. Provided they have the necessary intelligence, business acumen and leadership skills to be successful, they can hit the ground running and never look back.


How does a new manager – that is, one hired from outside the group or organization – set the stage for success without spending months getting up to speed?


In this post and the next two, I will share with you a few quick tips I used when I was hired to take over a sales team that was ranked last in their region. In six short months, this team became the number one sales team in volume and volume growth, and they held that position for the next fifty consecutive months. Much of that success is due in large part to the stage that was set in the first two days.


It’s All in the Preparation


Officially hired twenty-one days before I was set to take over, I asked the general manager for the following documents before I met the team:


  • Salespeople names, dates of hire, YTD compensation and territories;
  • The previous five years of company sales and distribution figures;
  • A SWOT analysis of the top three competitors;
  • Current year sales goals for all product lines and YTD results; and
  • The GM’s expectations for the position.


I also spent about ten days in this company’s market, visiting with their customers and mystery shopping and (secretly) observing the sales team.


After reviewing the documents and spending time in the market, it was clear to me that this team lacked execution and direction. They all seemed to be working very hard, but they were failing miserably at actually doing things that mattered. Additionally, I discovered that this group’s prior leader had been very active with the largest customers – so much so that he was figuratively cutting the legs out from under his team.


I felt like this group needed to see real change – not just a new butt behind the manager’s desk – so I got permission from the GM to come into the salesroom and rearrange a few things the weekend before I started.


Day One for the New Sales Manager


As the sales team staggered in between 8:30 and 9:00 AM on Monday, they were quite shocked to see that their salesroom bore no resemblance to the one they left on Friday.


While I understand that most people don’t like sudden change, and no one really likes surprise changes made to their space, this group was in last place and needed the proverbial “slap in the face.” So I slapped them as hard as I could.


Where they once had blank walls, they now had product displays of each and every one of their company’s products (complete with point-of-sale merchandise). On the formerly clean windows, they now saw up-to-date charts, graphs and spreadsheets detailing every single key performance metric for their team and the other teams in the region. They also saw weighted rankings that showed definitively who was performing and who was not.


The most striking change, however, was in the form of their seating arrangements. Where this “team” once had twenty small cubicles, they now had one very large table and a wall of short file cabinets labeled with their names. No longer would this group act as individuals – this new arrangement would prove to guarantee both best practices sharing and shorter office stays. (Unless he/she sells with a telephone, there is no reason for a salesperson to be in the office except for training and, in the old days before direct deposit, to pick up a paycheck.)


The grumbling was comically animated. I still chuckle today when I picture the mix of blank stares and angry glances – these reactions made giving up my entire weekend worthwhile.


I emerged from my new office and greeted the team as they arrived. I introduced myself to every one of them the same way: “Hi, I’m the new sales manager, and my only job is to support you.”


The First Sales Meeting


Like most sales teams, this group held a rah-rah session every Monday morning to “fire up the troops.” From what the GM told me, these were often very inspirational though they never seemed to translate into solid results. To learn what I shared at my first sales meeting with this group, please follow this link.