Why Developing Your Sales Managers is Crucial to Your Sales Success

It may surprise you to discover that many Sales Managers learn how to be a Manager on their own.

According to the latest international study on Sales Training and Sales Force Effectiveness, many Sales Managers are given very little or no support when it comes to being a competent, effective manager. In fact, many Sales Managers reported that they were given no formal training in Sales Management practices, either before or during their tenure.

The study reported that Sales Management training is the category of sales training that is addressed with the least frequency, in fact it is less than annually or not at all.

The study also reported that if Sales Managers were more frequently and better trained and coached then their sales teams achieved higher performance and results. In no other type of sales training was a more positive correlation found between frequency of training and sales performance. Interestingly, it also revealed that sales training doesn’t need to be delivered in formal classroom settings.

As with many sales people who follow no logical process when selling, so it is true for many Sales Managers who fly by the seat of their pants and are often left to their own devices. These international findings further support our 15 years of observations in the Australian market place that Sales Management development and performance is not taken as seriously as it should be.

Would we let a football coach without any experience or formal training in coaching become the head coach an elite football team? Not likely! At the very least, we would expect them to do a coaching apprenticeship. In addition, many of the current crop of elite sporting coaches have also undertaken formal education and training to earn the right to apply for senior coaching roles.

Sales Managers need support if they are to be of best value to your business, your team, and to themselves.

Where do we start? Let’s look at some of the broad core capabilities they need to be competent in the 21st century sales environment:

Strategic Action – Understanding industry and organisation; taking strategic actions
Coaching – role modeling, feedback, trust building
Team Building – designing and managing teams, creating a supportive environment
Self-management – fostering integrity and ethical conduct, managing personal drive, developing self-awareness, decision making and management skills
Global perspective – cultural knowledge and sensitivity, global selling program
Technology – understanding new technology, sales force automation, customer relationship management

As you can see there is a lot to know and apply in the role of Sales Manager. So, how do we support them in their development? Formal classroom training on key topics is a great start, however it is important that these are spaced at regular intervals – for example, run over a few months with 1 or 2 sessions and follow-ups rather than squashed into a week with no follow-ups. The formal classroom sessions should also be supported by much more frequent activities which can include local or distance coaching (group and one-on-one), combined with regular access to advice and topics of interest such as talent management, time management, and business trends. This type of support needs to become part of a development regimen for those who are in Sales Management or those that aspire to be Sales Managers.

When formal and informal development is consciously applied and supported in the workplace it can have amazing effects for the Sales Managers themselves and their teams.

For instance, in addition to classroom sessions, in regular tele-coaching sessions (monthly 1-hour group sessions with up to 4 Sales Managers) for several companies, the managers share and discuss their needs, challenges, ideas, and strategies for effective sales performance in their teams, as well as their own needs and development as leaders. The feedback has been very encouraging. Some feedback we have received from them so far includes:

it is a collaborative learning environment
great ideas exchange, learn a lot from each other
peer support – only time we get to really work with each other and share ideas without another agenda crowding the discussions
no hidden agenda – feels safe, supportive, useful
independent view from coach keeps ideas fresh and focused on the sales agenda piece while finding ways to integrate with ‘well managed’ piece and other priorities
keeps the concepts and program we are running top of mind and makes sure we do it and don’t lose it
makes sure we are really implementing the tools and content properly

One manager stated: “This has supported me by providing a consistent frame of reference for all of us to work around. This has been a program that all the staff has been involved with rather than ‘another message from above’… ‘The best part has been the follow-ups on the phone with the other Sales Managers. Hearing their experiences and applying some of their takes on the principles has been very beneficial, and the re-enforcing of the principles and the increased familiarity and use of them has added measurably to it being embedded in my dialogue with my team.”

These conversations are not just ‘chats’ they are based on substance and the critical things that Sales Managers need to know and apply. So, if you think you can solve the problem with a simple, unstructured monthly ‘chat’ think again.

High Performance Sales Driven By High Performance Sales Managers

Much is written about getting sales people to perform at the highest levels. There are countless sales training programs, books, blogs and webinars that focus on sales people as individual contributors.

All of this is powerful and critical for sales people, but the most important element in driving high sales performance in the organization is the sales manager. Sales manager’s have to provide the leadership, coaching and development to help sales people understand high performance and what they need to do to achieve the highest levels of performance.

Too many managers are poorly equipped to provide this leadership. They were outstanding sales people, now promoted into management. They don’t change their behavior but try to manage by being “super sales contributors.” This won’t work-the numbers overwhelm the sales manager-they fail. The team is demotivated-they fail.

There has to be a different way, something that leverages the experience of the manager, enabling them to grow the capabilities and performance of their sales teams.

Congratulations, You’re A New Manager!

When I moved into my first sales management job, I had the good fortune of working for a company that invested in training and developing sales managers. Unfortunately, in today’s environment, it seems like it’s more “Tag You’re It.” People are appointed to be sales managers, but have little or no training or coaching on how to be a high performing sales manager.

It’s not wonder most new sales managers fall back into their comfort zones, being great sales people. But now, they see they have to do it across a larger territory and with their people.

It’s impossible to do this, the numbers are simply against the sales manager. Think of this example, as a top performing sales person, you consistently hit your annual $5M quota, sometimes you over achieved it. But you were constantly busy, never having any surplus time to sit back or hit the golf course. The job took 50, 60 or more hours a week, but you did it and excelled.

Now, poof, you’re a sales manager. You’re managing 10 people, each with $5M quotas. Your immediate reaction is to do what you did well in the past – doing deals. Now you have to do it for $50M, not just $5M. Sure you have sales people that can “help you out,” but after all, your past success was based on your personal abilities, and you were the best sales person. So the tendency is to get the sales people to do the trivial task and you as “super sales manager” sweep in to do the major tasks for all the deals.

Funny, the number of hours a day, days per week hasn’t changed. In your old role, every waking hour was spent doing your $5M of deals, now you have the challenge of squeezing 10 times that amount into the same time (OK, sleep is overrated, you try to work 7×24). Soon you find yourself drowning, you have more work – and your team is delegating more upward. There are not enough hours in the day. You start crashing and failing.

The numbers simply go against the manager, you can’t continue doing the same things you did before (even with the support of your team). There are not enough hours in the day to achieve the $50M.

The next thing happens is you “lose” your team. They see you coming in and pushing them to the side. After all you know how to do it better than them, all they need to do is get out of the way – or maybe do those trivial tasks, leaving the critical calls to you. The team realizes you don’t value them, that you in fact are competing with them. They see no reason to drive their performance in the territory. They start delegating everything up to you. Their morale suffers, they don’t respect you – after all you aren’t helping them develop and you push them to the side.

Pretty soon you are all alone. You are in a situation that you cannot survive, you fail, your team fails, your management is pleased to try to find someone who can come in to “fix the mess.”

What’s A New Manager To Do?

The job of a sales manager is different from being an individual contributor. While your experience as an outstanding sales person can help you, it’s important to recognize it’s different.

The key thing a new sales manager needs to understand is their job is getting things done through their people! The sales manager will only be as effective as the combined efforts of their team. Getting the team to perform at the highest levels is the mark of great sales managers. This means shifting your behavior. Moving from being the individual contributor who “did the deals, ” to the manager that coaches, questions and probes their people, helping them be more effective in “doing the deals.” Great managers revel in their people’s success. They want to see each person perform at the highest levels. They focus on coaching and developing – at every opportunity.

Great management requires further shifts in behavior. It means managing the process, not the transactions. As sales people we focused on each transaction or deal. The sales manager can’t afford to manage each transaction – here, again, the numbers go against you. Take this example, each of your 10 sales people have 10 active deals they are working on (most I know have far more than this). Each week you spend 30 minutes reviewing each deal, micromanaging the strategy with your sales people. Reviewing 100 deals a week (do the math), means you are spending just 50 hours a week in reviewing and micromanaging deals. When do you have time to make customer calls, do forecasts, do any of the other 100′s of things expected of management.

3 Reasons Why Sales Managers Don’t Coach

Reason 1. They’re Focused on Selling, Not Coaching

Because many sales managers rose through the ranks to become the “uber” salesperson in their company, their instincts are always to go after the big deals. They have never been trained on the sales management skills needed to develop an elite sales team. So they do what they feel comfortable doing and what they have become very good at: selling. They see something going wrong (or at least not going well) in a sale and they step in to “fix” the problem for the sales rep.

This fix-it-myself mentality may solve an immediate problem (no guarantee) but even if it helps close one sale, it has serious downsides in the long run.

It undermines the salesperson’s credibility with the customer when the boss intervenes. Why would the customer ever want to do business with the salesperson knowing that the real power lies with the boss.
It undermines the salesperson’s self-confidence. Not good.
It does nothing to help the salesperson improve their skills. “Sales interference” from the sales manager just makes it more likely the problem will recur the next time around.

As a sales manager, one of the kindest things you can do for your people is to not be there for them. If a rep asks you a question, respond with a question: “What have you done about it so far? What do you think ought to be done?” Involving your salespeople in solving their own problems is what will break the cycle of constant need. That is what will help them develop their own skills so they become more accountable.

In short, stop seeing yourself as a problem solver, and start seeing yourself as a solution facilitator.

Reason 2. They Under-appreciate the Need for Coaching

A lot of stellar salespeople are building on natural talents and instincts. They needed only minimal coaching to reach the elite levels. When they become sales managers, they don’t pay much attention to coaching because they never needed (or received) much coaching themselves. They leave inexperienced sales people to sink or swim on their own, expecting their reps to pick up good techniques through osmosis, just like they did. They don’t recognize that coaching could be a way to break an experienced salesperson out of a slump or rut.

Think about how you spent your time over the last week, the last month. How much of it was spent helping your reps develop their skills or think through what they need to do to move a client forward in the buying process? If you can’t answer at least 50%, you are mis-spending your time as a manager. (See the next point.)

Reason 3. They Don’t Have the Time

Recently I was retained by a Fortune 500 company to examine their job description for the sales manager position. Fully 85 percent of the duties were directly linked to coaching salespeople. (I’ve reviewed many sales manager job descriptions over the years, and this was one of the better ones.)

I then conducted face-to-face interviews with a number of the sales managers and found that less than 5 percent of their time was actually spent on coaching. Five percent! Another way to say this is that sales managers were spending 95 percent of their time focused on 15 percent of their job responsibilities. Why such waste?

One big reason was that these sales managers were spending three hours each day responding to about 150 emails, virtually none of which came from their sales team. And that’s not counting all the meetings, paperwork, and fire fighting. The list of “urgencies” for sales managers today is endless.

With all the distractions sales managers face, the first thing to go out the window is developmental coaching-time spent helping their salespeople improve their skills (not just closing one sale). They haven’t observed the salesperson selling, or intervened at key points of the sales process, so when a sales rep is 75 percent of quota, they’re not sure why.

The solution? Start by stopping unproductive interruptions. Make a list of the top five interruptions you experience and come up with specific steps you’ll take to minimize their disruptions to your workday. Maybe it’s turning off the your Smartphone, or closing your office door, or simply ignoring that little “you’ve got mail” sound from your computer. Maybe it’s a salesperson who is “Needy.”

Next, take just 30 seconds to quickly write down your top three goals for your sales team. Then take a few minutes to identify the six tasks that you as a manager need to be doing, day in and day out, to help your team achieve those three goals? For lack of a better label, let’s call this your “3-6-No List.” Carry this list with you throughout the day. If anything comes up that’s not related to what’s on this list Just Say No. Yes, that’s going to be hard at first. Most sales managers are unwilling to say no. But you need to spend the vast majority of your time working on either sales development or business development tasks, and anything that eats into that time is a very low priority.

High-Leverage Coaching

Based on my contact with thousands of sales managers over the past 30 years, one of the most common mistakes I see is sales managers who spend most of their time with either their poorest performers or their top producers.

Focusing on the poorest performers is misguided. Suppose your coaching efforts result in a 10% increase in production amongst your bottom-producers. How much better off are your numbers? Not much.

Focusing your one-on-one coaching time on your top performers also is misguided. How much of a difference can you really make in their sales effectiveness? Should you talk to them about their career goals? Absolutely. Recognize them for their valuable contributions to the team? Yes, for sure. But don’t spend all your hands-on sales coaching time with them because they have less room for improvement.

The solution is to steal a lesson from the medical profession and “triage” your sales team. Chances are, your peak performers and highly experienced/tenured people will survive regardless of how much time you spend with them. Praise and recognize them – continue to motivate them – but don’t spend precious hours with them in the field conducting one-on-one coaching sessions.

Sales Management – Should You Promote a Top Sales Performer to Sales Management?

A question I hear frequently is, “Should I promote my top sales performer to a sales management role?”

To answer this question, I suggest you consider the following three questions:

Does the individual have the TALENTS required to succeed as a sales manager?

WHY are they interested in being promoted?

What sales management TRAINING will they receive?

Let’s examine each of these questions in some detail.

1. Does the individual have the TALENTS required to succeed as a sales manager?

During the past nine years I have examined sales assessment test results for thousands of salespeople and sales managers. My conclusion? Top sales performers and top-performing sales managers share many of the same talents. However, there are a handful of characteristics where top-performing sales managers differ from top-performing salespeople. For example:

Top-performing sales managers have slightly higher scores for Verbal Skill, Verbal Reasoning and Numeric Reasoning.

Top-performing sales managers are slightly more Assertive, but they are also slightly more Manageable, have a slightly more positive Attitude and are slightly less Independent.

But, probably most significant difference is that Financial/Administrative (which indicates the individual’s interest process, procedure, administration and financial tasks) is one of the top three interests for top-performing sales managers, whereas 80% of top sales performers have very little interest in these activities. I feel this is a key differentiator because the sales management methodology I teach requires a manager to be willing to:

Hold salespeople accountable for following a predictable, repeatable sales process

Frequently and consistently inspect the quantity and quality of their salespeople’s activities (especially for new salespeople and those who are not performing up to standard)

Analyze sales opportunity pipeline reports, profit and loss statements and other data and reports

If managers are willing to do these things, they can create a predictable and repeatable sales culture that can be scaled rapidly. If they are NOT willing to do these things, they are likely to suffer 80/20 sales team performance, where a small fraction of the salespeople produce most of the sales results and successes are hard to replicate.

2. WHY are they interested in being promoted?

My opinion is that the desire to be promoted is often implanted in us by our parents, other adults and educational institutions. This makes perfect sense, as in many (if not most) career paths the only way to make more money and enjoy more perks is to earn promotions. However, in sales this is usually NOT the case!

If you are a top-performing salesperson, often you will take a pay CUT if you accept a promotion to management. That is certainly what happened to me when I was promoted to sales management in 1991. I walked away from a $6 million pipeline that would have paid me hundreds of thousands of dollars a year for the next several years. While I still earned a six-figure income as a manager, my income was a fraction of what it would have been had I remained a salesperson.

When a salesperson is considering a promotion to management, I advise that they make a very sincere effort to identify the reasons why the idea of being promoted is attractive to them. I also suggest that they give some thought to the following realities:

Money: Unless you eventually make it all the way to executive management, chance are you will earn LESS as a manager than you would earn by remaining a top-performing salesperson

Attention: As a manager you no longer get to be the star. Instead, you need to shift your focus to helping the members of your sales team succeed.

Administration: As we saw in the first section of this article, a key component of being a successful sales manager is frequently and consistently inspecting the quantity and quality of your salespeople’s activities. How do you feel about doing this kind of work…over and over again?

Training/Coaching: How much interest do you have in training, coaching and mentoring others? How do you feel about participating in repetitive role plays, which is a critical component of changing your salespeople’s behaviors?

Sometimes I hear salespeople say they would like to move to management because they are tired of the day-to-day grind of prospecting and managing sales cycles, or they are tired of the ups and downs in income, or they really enjoy coaching and mentoring others, or they would like to eventually have an opportunity to contribute in other areas of the company. These are all perfectly valid reasons, and there are many more.