Effective Managers Must Be Teachers, Too

During my tenure as a development officer for the Muma College of Business at the University of South Florida, I put together a teaching statement, articulating much of what I gleaned from the faculty about the learning process. The document began with these truisms: “Sales and marketing is teaching. Teaching is sales and marketing.”

To clarify this point, I don’t think every sales manager views himself or herself as an educator—but the good ones most assuredly do. Good managers invest in their team members, leading them to moments of facilitated discovery—moments that serve as catalysts for personal and professional growth.

As I see it, there’s only one alternative to the manager-teacher model, and that’s being a metrics manager. The metrics manager is concerned entirely with hitting the numbers, attaining quotas, and making sure everything shakes out on the dashboard; the manager-teacher, meanwhile, is always considering the bigger picture—namely, relationships, team development, his or her people.

There are further differences between these two approaches—like these:

1. The metrics manager’s face is constantly buried in screens, devices, or reports. The teacher spends time with the sales reps—the students, you might call them. The teacher knows that one-on-one time is especially valuable for facilitating growth – learning.

2. The metrics manager sits somewhere all day. The teacher goes out into the field, often accompanying reps/students on their calls. Note: Don’t go on the close call. Go on the discovery call because discovery skills are pipeline building skills and the pipeline is the foundation of sales.

3. The metrics manager might call you up and demand answers: “Why have you not hit your numbers this month? Why have you failed to hit your quota?” The teacher knows that these questions are not really helpful. The rep is aware he or she hasn’t met his or her numbers; what he or she might not know is why. That’s where the teacher comes in, providing analysis, feedback, new skills, and methodologies that can actually address the root problem(s).

The real problem with being a metrics manager, of course, is that it’ll make you obsolete one day. If all you’re doing is analyzing data, you’re not doing anything that good AI cloud can’t do—and your days of usefulness are probably pretty limited. But educating is one thing AI can’t do, and probably won’t master for a long time to come, if ever. In the end, manager-teachers have better job security and are worth more.

And of course, they’re better at what they do, too. I like to say that metrics don’t do things for us; we do things for metrics. Focusing entirely on the numbers is self-defeating, and if you manage your team solely based on the metrics, you’re bound to hit a wall someday.

Investing in relationships—as teachers do with their students, and as managers should do with their reps—enables you to do a lot more than just hit a number for the C-suite dashboard. It empowers you to make your employees—and thus your team—better over time. It leads to a stronger sense of loyalty, mightier bonds between you and your reps. It positions your reps to sell more effectively; skills and insights learned through those moments of discovery are far more impactful than the ones you develop just to hit the numbers.

If you’re a sales manager, I’d end just by asking you this: How much one-on-one time have you spent with your reps lately? What investments have you made in their moments of discovery? Your answers to these questions may help you assess whether you’re purely a metrics manager, or whether you have (perhaps without even realizing it) internalized that role of educator.