How to Be a Good Sales Manager: 3 Lessons from Dale Carnegie

March 25, 2019 | Alec Shirkey
How to Be a Good Sales Manager: 3 Lessons from Dale Carnegie

If you’re wondering how to be a good sales manager, know that you’re far from alone.

As a new sales manager, it can be startling to realize that you are no longer only responsible for your own work. It’s now your job to ensure the entire team delivers results, even when it involves changing the habits of sales reps who struggle to meet expectations, have attitude problems, or simply skate by doing the bare minimum.

In sales, it’s an unfortunate truth that new managers are often unprepared for a very demanding role. Roughly 20% of companies provide no formal training to first-line managers, according to CSO Insights, while another 40% spend less than $500 annually on sales manager training and development.

And if companies aren’t providing the support sales managers need to thrive, it’s only natural that newbies wonder how to be a good sales manager in their organizations.

While every team and every company is different from the next, becoming a world-class manager is all about learning to effectively deal with different types of people. For that, we turned to an all-time classic that holds up exceptionally well today: Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People.”

3 Keys to Being a Good Sales Manager

Long before emotional intelligence became a term anyone used, Carnegie was the authority on handling interpersonal relationships with finesse and empathy. His work became a hit in the business world, especially among salespeople. When teaching reps how to connect with buyers, sales training experts and consultants still promote many of the same principles Carnegie outlined decades ago.

As a sales manager, you might have previously been a high-performing seller who could have used  Carnegie’s tactics to build great relationships with prospects and customers. But many of those same ideas can help you improve team performance across the board, from mentoring new hires to keeping veteran reps motivated.

#1: Providing Tactful Feedback

Even the best salespeople will inevitably make mistakes, and as a manager, it’s your responsibility to address them.

But one of the overriding themes in Carnegie’s book is that unfiltered criticism will usually work against you. A gentler approach, on the other hand, will usually produce better results.

“Simply changing one three-letter word can often spell the difference between failure and success in changing people without giving offense or arousing resentment,” Carnegie writes. “Many people begin their criticism with sincere praise followed by the word ‘but,’ and ending in a critical statement.”

For example, if you tell reps that they’ve done a great job filling their pipeline but add that they should have handled a lost opportunity differently, they’ll question whether you simply fabricated a couple of compliments to point out the mistake – which defeats the purpose of the compliment.

Carnegie suggests that leaders consider the following:

  • Call attention to mistakes indirectly. Instead of criticizing a rep directly, say something positive and note that with continued improvement, the rep’s performance will be even better.
  • Mention your own mistakes before criticizing others. Chances are, you made your share of mistakes as a rep – especially when you were new to sales. By admitting your own perfections, you instantly become more relatable to your team members.
  • Let others save face. Sometimes a sales manager has no choice but to offer difficult feedback, shift responsibilities or let someone go. A “real leader” will always do the difficult-but-necessary in a way that respects the other person’s feelings and dignity.

#2: Influence, Don’t Dictate

Nobody enjoys being told what to do. Your sales reps will still follow their marching orders if they’re good employees, but Carnegie warns that they may begin to resent you for your tone. Instead, he recommends a subtler approach:

“Asking questions not only makes an order more palatable; it often stimulates the creativity of the persons whom you ask,” Carnegie writes. “People are more likely to accept an order if they have had a part in the decision that caused the order to be issued.”

Another one of his best practices: framing requests so that the other person can see how they would benefit from doing as asked. Doing this can help reduce friction and make difficult tasks a little easier to bear for the reps doing the heavy lifting.

For instance, if your business has shifted to selling to the C-suite after years of selling to lower-level decision-makers, you may have veteran reps who are slow to embrace the new strategy. As a sales manager, showing them how speaking with C-level executives will help them achieve more sales down the road (or even incentivizing such deals) is a great way to get them on board.

#3: Become genuinely interested in others

This lesson could really apply to anyone. But when the pressure of hitting quota is hanging over everyone’s heads, it’s easy forget about the human component of managing people.

For sales managers – and especially first-timers – being able to connect and build trust with your team is critical, because you need them to believe in you as a leader. (Their careers are in your hands, after all.) And one of the best ways to forge bonds with other people is also one of the easiest suggestions out there: show interest in them.

“People are not interested in you. They are not interested in me. They are interested in themselves – morning, noon and after dinner,” Carnegie writes.

Perhaps the simplest of his many examples is writing down the birthdays of each of his friends and adding them to a calendar so that he could have a message sent to them.

That example may no longer apply to your friends in the age of Facebook, but for the sales reps on your team, even small gestures – like treating them to a quarterly lunch, buying a birthday card – can go a long way when it comes to team-building.

Good Sales Managers Also Need the Right Tools

On top of handling the "human" side of a leadership role, sales managers must ensure reps have the core knowledge and skills needed to hit their numbers.

Watch the video below to learn how Brainshark can prepare your team to hit its targets by providing sellers with effective training, coaching and content

Transform Your Sales Onboarding
Every company needs to prepare new reps to sell. Check out this cheat sheet for 11 ways to improve your sales onboarding program.
BTG’s Sales Enablement Success Story
Learn how Brainshark helped BTG execute its best product launch ever in this 2-minute video.
Get More Done as a Solo Sales Enabler
Sales enablement teams of one have a lot on their plates. This e-book shares 9 best practices for doing more with less.