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.
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