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.

The same is true in reverse with your bottom performers: chances are they won’t make it, so why give them all of your time. (Come to think of it, why are they still on your team?) But you can’t ignore them. It’s the middle performers who have potential to become high performers that deserve most of your attention.

Therefore, the high-payoff strategy is: Spend group time with your bottom producers. Spend most of your precious one-on-one field coaching time with your “emerging contributors” – those salespeople who have the best chance to develop into peak performers, if they could learn what you know.

This strategy of focusing on your emerging contributors can pay you multiple benefits in your sales management career. You may start to see emerging contributors sprint past your senior salespeople! Another benefit is that you’ll have more top producers, so the gap to the bottom producers will widen. The bottom producers who are committed to survival will fight harder to pull up their production.

No More Excuses

There are many similarities between selling customers and coaching salespeople. Both require understanding another’s problems, diagnosing the cause of that problem and helping the other person to understand the complications/ripple effects if they don’t solve the problem. Sales managers already possess many of the abilities that they need to become a great sales coach-but habits or misconceptions have prevented sales managers from utilizing these skills to develop an elite high-performance sales team.

For those sales managers who want to become a better sales coach, the implication is clear. You can’t achieve that simply by learning how to coach. Your solution must also solve the obstacles that prevent proactive, hands-on sales coaching from actually happening.

Kevin Davis is president of TopLine Leadership, Inc., a leading sales and sales management training company serving clients in diverse sectors. He has 30+ years experience as a salesperson, sales manager, and consultant. Kevin is the author of “Slow Down, Sell Faster! Understand Your Customer’s Buying Process and Maximize Your Sales” (Amacom Books, January, 2011).

As the president and founder of TopLine Leadership, my company provides sales management training for corporate sales managers, and we provide customer-first sales training. Our training programs are systematic, proven and customizable.

We’re experienced in delivering our programs and services to a number of different industries, some of which are financial services, telecom, tech, transportation services, medical equipment, business services and staffing.

We have an efficient method for helping our clients define their “standards for excellence” – the behaviors and activities necessary to achieve greatness – and then we customize our training programs so as to teach the skills and knowledge salespeople and sales managers need to achieve their new standards. Results can’t be managed effectively, but behaviors and activities can.

At TopLine Leadership, we deliver 2-day sales seminars for sales managers a

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Bank Sales Management – Balancing Growth and Retention to Reach Your Sales Goals

How would your sales teams respond to this challenge?

Grow loans and DDA balances 10% (for the third year in a row) in a fiercely competitive market (never mind the recession),
Retain 100% of the customers designated as “high value” when customer attrition has been averaging 17%, and
Maintain current sales team head count – no additional resources.
Many small business and commercial market sales teams face challenges like this. If they don’t panic a little, they probably don’t understand the goals. And, since (typically) 85% of sales people have no documented plan and 73% have no plan for their top 5 accounts, serious panic and fresh resumes might be more likely. Whether you divide your sales teams into “finders and minders” or you ask relationship managers to acquire new business while deepening existing loan and deposit relationships, the key to reaching your sales and retention targets is a good guidance system that starts with picking the right targets and choosing the right flight path.

Choose the Right Targets

The most important element of any flight guidance system is the target. “My people are heatseekers,” a sales manager once told me. “Once we set targets, nothing distracts them.” So, you have to make sure you’re setting clear, unambiguous targets.

First, sales team members must know what success looks like: What’s the balance of account retention and account acquisition that makes the business model work?

Once the balance is set, targeting must include four elements:

Target market segments and ideal customer profiles.
Priority-tiering criteria for customers and prospects.
Value propositions for target segments stated in words the target customers would use.
A limited and specific customer base so that relationship managers mine deeply.
Establish Guidance Parameters

With targets established, Mission Control (sales managers) must establish guidance parameters – clear expectations and standards that tell heat seekers what acceptable flight paths look like. The standards tell your sales people exactly what’s expected and when they’re off track from an activity point of view, as well as from a results point of view. The relationship managers will incorporate these expectations into their planning.

The critical areas for standards or bench marks include:

Activity levels,
Product mix, and
Forecast accuracy.
Discuss Annual Flight Plans

Once you’ve established targets and flight path limits, relationship managers and sales team leaders must plan their flights precisely. The more audacious their goals, the more important the planning… and it’s the last activity in the world the relationship managers want to do.

“Forget about this,” they say. “I need to be calling on customers.” The truth is: If they don’t plan, that responsibility falls on the team leaders’ shoulders. Since sales team leaders simply cannot call all the plays and manage eight, 10, or 15 active sales people, the whole team and the growth – retention strategy is put at risk.

We recommend that sales team leaders ask RMs to develop plans focused on accounts, activities, expected results, and resources needed, just as if they were managers of independent businesses:

Annual territory plans.
Relationship plans for critical “must keep” or “must expand” relationships.
Personal development plans that are tied to the specific results an RM is asked to achieve. Once the RMs have developed their plans, managers and RMs should discuss the plans as if the RMs were independent businesses (franchisees) and the sales team leaders were the franchisers.
Start the conversations with a discussion of goals – the relationship managers’ goals for themselves and their businesses, for their compensation, for their markets. Then, focus on their strategies to reach their goals and the measures they will use to assess whether they’re on track. This information enables you, as a sales coach, to look for disconnects between their goals and their activity plans, giving you opportunities to catch potential problems early.

Mid-Flight Check Points

After initial discussions of the annual plans, we recommend a consistent pattern of team leader – RM mid-flight check points that provide a forum for inspection, feedback, and resetting course:

Weekly – focus on deals, activities, field observation, behaviors, and skills.
Monthly and quarterly – focus on “managing the business”, tracking progress against business plans and making adjustments needed for upcoming periods.
Semi-Annually – a formal performance review.
These coaching disciplines drive sales results and ensure the appropriate balance between new business development and account retention activities. Sales managers’ expectations, coupled with feedback and consequences, change sales behaviors. In each weekly, monthly, and quarterly conversation, the manager and RM compare “business planned performance” from the written plans with “actual performance,” identify problems, and reset plans for the period leading to the next meeting.

Further, effective RMs and managers use the monthly and quarterly meetings to plan responses to “surprises” such as unexpected requests from senior managers so that such requests doesn’t cause instant circuit overload.

The Ultimate Benefit

Challenging sales goals should create a sense of excitement, a little panic, some nervousness. Just as we’d expect our customers to plan, sales team leaders should expect their RMs and themselves to plan. Since t

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