Managers: Improve your sales management effectiveness . . . and minimize your burden

Just as we teach salespeople to be awesome question-askers, as sales managers, we also need to be experts in the art of questioning. The questions asked may just need a little tweaking.


All too often, sales managers feel the burden of directing their sales team. If your salespeople come to you with questions throughout the day, you may feel pressure to respond as an authority. I don’t believe it’s a conscious thought; still, the burden is squarely on the sales manager’s shoulders to tell the sales team how to act.

It might also be that sales managers feel pressed for time, because of the constant stream of questions. Sometimes you may just want to dispense with answers quickly and get on with what you were doing as a matter of expediency. That’s fine –some of the time. Frequently, though, sales managers could benefit from being a bit more inquisitive.

Similar to the way we teach salespeople to show their expertise by asking good questions of prospects, sales managers need to ask good questions of their salespeople. Rather than telling salespeople what to do, ask them what they think they should do. Even though we know it will take longer to go this route, and even though you know EXACTLY what they should do. Refrain.

Use the same technique of asking thought-provoking questions that you would use if you were a salesperson talking with a prospect or client. They might be phrased slightly differently, but the intent is the same: to get the other person engaged in the dialogue and, therefore, the solution, a path that allows them to grow and develop.

Here is an example of a less effective interaction:

Salesperson: “The prospect really liked us. I think they will buy but they wanted some references. Who should I give them?”
Manager: “Great. Give them Company ABC, XYZ Services and ACME. Oh, and make sure you tell them that once they hear how great we are that they will certainly want to buy from us. Now go out there and close it. I know you can. Good job.”

This isn’t the worst thing they could have said. However, it almost ensures that the salesperson will be back again with some other question, seeking direction, not using their own brain power and interrupting your day.

Consider the following suggested change:

Salesperson: “The prospect really liked us. I think they will buy but they wanted some references. Who should I give them?”

Manager: “Great. So tell me, what exactly did they like about us and what information are they seeking from our references that will convince them, different from what you have already relayed to them?”

Salesperson: “Uh, well, they liked our price and our service and just want to check us out. You know . . .”

Manager: “What is their compelling reason to buy from us? Are they definitely going to purchase, or is it just a ‘nice-to-have’?”

Salesperson: “Uh, I think they are going to buy.”

Manager: “Under what circumstances would they just keep doing what they are already doing?”

Salesperson: “Uh I don’t know. I guess if they don’t like what they hear from references?”

Manager: “Hmm. Did they agree that they were ready to buy once they spoke to the references?”

Salesperson: “No, but I am sure they will.”

Manager: “What could you say to them that would give us comfort that they aren’t just stalling, that we aren’t needlessly inconveniencing our clients to do our selling for us, and that they will have enough information to make a decision upon speaking with our references?”

And you get the idea. While this second interaction is a bit lengthier, the truth is that it will save you time in the long run, and will help to build the skill of the salesperson to think more inquisitively. Through good solid, probing questioning, sales managers can teach their salespeople to be better questioners, and, therefore, better qualifiers, and ultimately more efficient closers.


Too many salespeople just accept a prospect at face value without appropriate questioning. And far too many sales managers enable this behavior by, likewise, not probing. Push your salespeople to improvement by using better questioning. Get out of the telling business and model great questioning skills for your team.

If you would like more ideas about how to improve your skills as a sales manager, consider using an evaluation to identify your strengths and weaknesses.

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