Chris Lytle is the President and Product Developer at Spargue, Inc. He is also the author of The Accidental Salesperson and The Accidental Sales Manager, helping individuals make sense of the new challenging roles they may have stumbled into. Chris Lytle - The Accidental Sales Manager We recently had the pleasure of speaking with Chris on a variety of subjects including keys and challenges to being a top sales manager, Hard Lessons in sales management and getting buy-in from superstars.

1) How do you define Sales Management and what is the top objective of a sales manager?

I define management of any kind as getting work done through other people – not doing it yourself and not doing it for other people. The textbook definition is planning, managing or controlling the activities of your salespeople in order to achieve or exceed the desired objective. The paradox of sales management is you get paid for doing less of what you were doing when you got promoted. You were selling up a storm and then BAM! they make you a sales manager and you have to learn to get things done through others. That’s how I came up with the title of my book, The Accidental Sales Manager.

The concept that I stress in the book is you’re not managing sales, you’re managing activities that lead to sales. The focus is always on the behaviors – what’s the next step, what your salespeople are doing to advance the sale forward. The key is trying to figure out how to help the salesperson take that next step that produces the result.

The problem with the word coach is it brings out these connotations of a Vince Lombardi or a screaming coach. I define coaching as launching the salesperson on a voyage of discovery by asking questions instead of doing what usually ends up as 1-on-1 training. Coaching is helping the person discover what to do, training is telling the person what to do.

I heard a story once from [former Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers head coach] Phil Jackson. He said he had a conversation with Michael Jordan about installing the Triangle Offense. Jordan asked if he would have to share the ball a lot in this offense.  Jackson admitted that he would have to, but he also told Jordan that with five seconds left on the shot clock, his teammates would all look to share the ball with Jordan, the acknowledged best player and superstar on the team. The point of the story is you have to get buy-in as a leader, instead of demanding adherence to management. Jackson sought Michael Jordan’s support before unilaterally installing the triangle offense.

2) What is the key to being a highly successful sales manager?

I call the new sales manager the forgotten rookie in most corporate settings. They were a pro at selling and all of a sudden they’re a rookie at management. I think the key is getting some training very quickly and having a manager that’s willing to coach you or getting an outside coach. Beyond that, I think the key to managing is focusing on the things and activities that lead to sales. The leading indicator of performance is how many people you have on your calendar for the next step and how many have you on their calendar. That’s an engagement metric.

 3) What do you see as a trend for sales management over the next 5 years? 

By developing the sales manager, you actually accelerate the development of 5 or 7 people for less money because you’ve developed the people who drive your topline revenues. I see more and more people sitting at keyboards and emailing proposals and price sheets than ever before. My own company is so web-driven – we sell all over the country – but the more you can do and have online interactions with people, the more you can do something to capture their eyes as well as their ears, especially if you’re an inside salesperson.

 4) What are some key challenges in the way of becoming successful as a sales manager? 

I remember going to a sales seminar a few years ago and heard that managers tend to push two buttons – the ‘more’ button and the ‘panic’ button. Great sales managers have one more button to push, and that’s the ‘how’ button. They show people how they can do more and they coach to that, instead of panicking.

I think what happens in most corporate settings is there’s so much pressure from the CEO on the VP of sales, who passes it down to the sales manager who passes it down in equal amounts to salespeople who get paralyzed. You have to absorb 80% of the pressure on you and package the other 20% appropriately to the people below you. Give them their share of the pressure so they don’t get paralyzed.

5) What are the Hard Lessons and what are your favorite 3? 

When I was a young sales manager running sales meetings, I would always say “What did you learn about selling our product the hard way?” so that new reps wouldn’t have to learn it the Hard Way. When I interviewed sales managers, I would always ask that. My favorite 3 are:

  • Salespeople always tell you what they think you want to hear instead of telling you the bad news. If you’re the type of manager who yells and screams about bad news, you’re going to be rewarded by never hearing bad news. You need to create a safe place for people to tell you what’s really going on.
  • Getting the buy-in is the critical piece. You need to keep your selling hat on when you become a sales manager. Sell people on how they need to sell.
  • You’re in the business of building belief. People have to believe in the rightness of what they’re doing, the power of what you’re selling, the results it’ll get for others. Without passion, there’s little persuasion.

6) What’s changed the most about sales? 

Instead of push marketing, you’re doing pull marketing. You’re attracting people who are much more likely to buy. You’re capturing their name, their data. The world has changed so quickly because you really don’t need to go see people if they’re in the market already for your product. It’s a very powerful way to grow a business quickly.

7) Do you have any tips for hiring good sales reps?

Many companies try to hire the free agent instead of developing talent in the farm system. Going the free agent route, paying them a lot of money to come to your company is not always the best way to go. You have to specify the candidate you need – are you looking for farmers or hunters? Do they have a strong ego drive?

What I do is create a series of questions and whenever you’re looking for a candidate, you have to ask the same questions in the same order. Otherwise, you can never have a valid interview process.

My favorite interview question for a salesperson is “Tell me about your 10 biggest wins in life.” It can be in school or business or hobbies. I want to know if they’ve achieved in the past. If they achieved in the past, it’s a good predictor that they’ll achieve in the future.

8) What key sales performance metrics and indicators do you use as a sales manager?

I use the sales process metric that tracks going from the first call to the proposal phase and all the stages in between, then you measure the benchmarks. I also use engagement metrics – how many people have you on their calendar for the next step vs. how many people do you have on your calendar for the next step. Just because someone said “Call me next Tuesday,” it doesn’t mean anything if it’s not on their calendar as well as the salesperson’s calendar. They’re not engaging with you. If you’re measuring scheduled meetings and it’s on your salesperson’s calendar, it’s really hard to measure if you’re on your prospect’s or client’s calendar.

More about Chris Lyttle

Chris Lytle is the President and Product Developer at Sparque, Inc. He has conducted more than 2,200 live seminars worldwide. Now he delivers his sales advice in easily digestible knowledge bites on his website, Fuel. His automatic sales improvement process revolutionizes the way sales managers develop the people who develop their profits. He is the author of The Accidental Salesperson and The Accidental Sales Manager. Visit to learn more about his company. 

Connect with Chris on Twitter or LinkedIn

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