It’s not unusual for a builder to look to his own sales staff when he needs to hire a sales manager. While it might be tempting to give the position to his top producer, that’s probably not the best person for the job. The customer-focused skills that make a person a great closer are quite different from the ones needed to keep a staff inspired, educated, and prepared to sell (see “Master Closers,” May 2008, page 158, or check it out online at http://www.builderonline.com/sales/master-closers-may.aspx). While sales associates need to master the sales process, build rapport and trust with buyers, and be relentless at prospecting and follow-up, sales managers need to be able to set the proper goals for their teams and give them the tools to achieve those goals.
“Salespeople are funny,” says Leigh Staley Tarullo, a former division vice president of sales and marketing for Ryland Homes who has since founded 3D New Home Sales Systems. “The very qualities that make them great salespeople make them very hard to manage, but despite what they say, they want to be led. It’s tough for a lot of managers to do.”
Here are 10 attributes of a great sales manager:
1) Passion. This is also one of the top qualities of a master closer and the only one that can’t be taught. Without a passion for the home building industry, it’s impossible to lead and inspire a team, Tarullo says.
2) Integrity. Combined with passion, these are the two most important qualities for a sales manager. “They need that core,” Tarullo says. “If they don’t have those, they shouldn’t be in sales management.”
3) Positive attitude. It’s up to a builder’s leadership to put smiles on the faces of the sales team and set the tone for the company.
4) Coaching. Seventy percent of a sales manager’s time should be spent coaching, either in groups or one on one, Tarullo says. Any sales manager who says the workload doesn’t allow that kind of time with the staff needs to examine how the day is being spent and ditch or delegate any activity that doesn’t affect lead generation or conversion.
5) Leadership by example. “The sales manager should be out on the sales floor with his people,” says Jim Capaldi, director of sales for the Ventura division of Standard Pacific Homes and author of The Ultimate New Home Sales Success Manual. “That’s where you’re most productive. Lead by example, make them accountable, push them, and get them out of their comfort zone.”
6) Loyalty. Sales managers need to go to bat for their sales team members, says Debbie Dompke, sales manager for Chicago-based Lexington Homes. “Let them know you’re on their side,” she says. “When they know you’re sincere, it’s amazing the work ethic you’ll get in return.”
7) Availability. Dallas-based sales trainer Bob Hafer says paperwork has to be done, but it can’t be used as an excuse “to not do the tough stuff.” It’s easier than dealing with people, to be sure, he says, adding, “Administrative tasks never talk back to you.” When he was a sales manager, he got to work at 7 a.m. and spent two hours on paperwork before the phone started ringing. Then, when the sales centers opened, he was available to work with his sales teams in the field.
8) Motivation. This includes encouragement and recognition. Dompke says she does this in “so many ways—contests, games, dancing, singing, dressing up. You laugh together and play together.”
9) Continuous learning. Doctors, accountants, attorneys, and other professionals keep learning their whole lives in order to keep their skills up to date. Sales managers need to do likewise. “When you don’t grow,” Capaldi says, “you leave the door open for someone else.”
10) Listening and communication. This is an underpinning for most of the other qualities. You can’t be a good coach or motivator if you’re not a good communicator; and you can’t continuously learn, lead by example, or demonstrate loyalty without being a good listener.
“Years ago, the sales manager’s job was about paper management, organization, and managing the interest lists,” Capaldi says. “Now, it’s about keeping the sales team accountable, motivated, and focused on the basics of selling. I always preach to people that real estate sales is the hardest job to be good at and the easiest job to fail at.”
And Tarullo feels that the sales manager’s job is the key to that success. “I think it’s the toughest job in the business because you have to wear so many different hats,” she says. “You need to be a disciplinarian but also a coach and a motivator.”