Many sales managers have risen up the ranks to be the “uber” salesperson within their company. Their instincts are to chase the big deals. They don’t have the skills to manage a sales team. They do what is easy for them and are very skilled at selling. They spot something wrong, or at least not going as planned in a sale, and step in to fix it.
While this fix-it-myself mindset may help solve an immediate problem (no guarantee), it can lead to severe problems in the long term.
When the boss intervenes, it can undermine the salesperson’s credibility. The boss is the true power, so why would the customer want to do business?
It can cause a loss of self-confidence in the salesperson. It’s not good.
This does not help salespeople improve their skills. Sales interference from the sales manager only makes it more likely that the problem will recur again.
Sales managers can be kind to their people by not being there for them. Reps will ask you questions. Respond with the question, “What have I done so far?” What do you think should be done? Your salespeople will be more productive if they are involved in solving their own problems. This will allow them to develop their skills and become more accountable.
Stop viewing yourself as a problem-solver and instead see yourself as a facilitator of solutions.
Reason 2. They underestimate the importance of coaching
Many salespeople who are successful draw on their natural talent and intuitions. To reach the top, they only required minimal coaching. They don’t pay too much attention to coaching when they are sales managers because they have never received or needed any coaching. Inexperienced salespeople are left to learn on their own. They expect their reps will pick up the same techniques they have. They don’t realize that coaching can be a way for an experienced salesperson to get out of a slump.
Consider how much time you have spent the past week and month. How much time was spent helping reps improve their skills or thinking through how to help clients move forward in the buying process. Managers who can answer less than 50% of these questions are wasting their time. (See the next point.
A Fortune 500 company retained me to review their job description for the position of sales manager. Eighty-five percent of the tasks were directly related to coaching salespeople. (I have reviewed many job descriptions for sales managers over the years, and this one was the best.
Face-to-face interviews were conducted with several sales managers. I found that less than 5% of their time was spent coaching. Five percent! This can be summed up by saying that sales managers spent 95 percent of their time focusing on 15 percent of job responsibilities. This is why there was so much waste.
One reason was that sales managers spent three hours each day responding to 150 emails. Almost none of these emails came from their sales teams. This is not including all the paperwork, meetings, and fire fighting. There are many “urgencies” that sales managers must address today.
With all the distractions faced by sales managers, developmental coaching is the best thing to do. This will allow them to spend time helping their salespeople improve their skills and not just close one sale. They don’t know why a sales rep is at 75 percent of their quota because they haven’t seen them selling or intervened at critical points in the sales process.
How do you solve this problem? The solution? Stop causing unproductive interruptions. You can start by making a list of the five most frequent disruptions that you have and then come up with concrete steps to reduce their impact on your workday. It could be turning off your smartphone, closing your office door, or simply not listening to that “you’ve received mail” sound on your computer. It could be a salesperson who is “Needy.”
Next, take 30 seconds to quickly identify your top three sales goals for your team. Next, take a few moments to identify swiftly six tasks you, as a manager, need to do every day to help your sales team reach those three goals. Let’s call it the “3-6-No List” for lack of a better name. This list should be kept with you all day. You can always say no to anything that isn’t related to the items on this list. Yes, it’s going to be difficult at first. Many sales managers won’t say no. However, most sales managers are unwilling to say no. You need to focus your entire time on business development and sales development. Anything else is not a priority.
Coaching for high-level leverage
Based on the experiences of thousands of sales managers, I have found that one of the most prominent mistakes sales managers make is spending too much time with their best performers or top producers.
It is a mistake to focus on the lowest performers. Imagine your coaching efforts resulting in a 10% increase in production among your bottom producers. Your numbers are much more successful. It’s not much.
It is also a mistake to focus your coaching time on top performers. What impact can your coaching make on their sales performance? Do you need to talk with them about their career goals and aspirations? Yes. Recognize them and their contributions to the team. Yes. However, they are less likely to improve if you spend too much time coaching them.
Take a cue from the medical profession and “triage” your sales team. Your top performers and long-tenured employees will likely survive, regardless of how much you spend time with them. Recognize them and praise them. However, don’t spend too much time with them on the field coaching.
This is also true for your bottom performers. They are unlikely to make it, so don’t waste your time. (Think about it: why are they still part of your team?) You can’t ignore them. The middle performers with the potential to be high performers are those that should get your attention.
The best strategy for high-paying is to spend time in groups with your top producers. Your time in the field with your “emerging contributors”, which are salespeople who have the most excellent chance of becoming top performers, is essential.
Focusing on emerging contributors can bring you many benefits in your career as a sales manager. It is possible to start to see emerging contributors surpass your senior salespeople. You’ll also have more top producers, which will increase the gap between the bottom and top producers. Bottom producers who are determined to survive will work harder to increase their production.
There are no excuses.
Selling customers and coaching salespeople share many similarities. Both involve understanding the problems of others, diagnosing the root cause, and helping to solve them. Although sales managers have many of the skills they need to be great coaches, there are some pitfalls and misconceptions that prevent them from using these skills to build a high-performing sales team.
The message is clear for sales managers who wish to be better sales coaches. It is not possible to learn how to coach. You must solve the problems that prevent hands-on, proactive sales coaching from happening.
TopLine Leadership, Inc. is the president of Kevin Davis. This company specializes in sales and management training for clients from diverse industries. His experience includes 30+ years as a consultant, sales manager, or salesperson. Kevin is the author of “Slow Down, Sell faster!” Understanding your customer’s buying process and maximizing sales” (Amacom Books January 2011, p.
TopLine Leadership is the founder and president of my company. We provide sales management training for corporate sales executives and customer-first training. Our training programs can be customized and are proven to work.
Our experience in providing programs and services to many industries includes telecom, tech, transport services, staffing, and medical equipment.
Our clients have a method that helps them define their “standards of excellence”. We then customize our training programs to allow them to acquire the knowledge and skills they need. While results can’t be managed well, behaviors and activities can.
TopLine Leadership offers 2-day sales seminars to sales managers and salespeople. We provide customer-centric selling and Getting into Your Customer’s Head solutions. The team includes Gary Connor, Kim D. Ward, Tom Gundrum, and Thomas Cooke.