3 Things Every Sales Manager Must Do Well

One weekend not long ago, I was reminded of how much I miss having a personal trainer. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t miss paying for a personal trainer, but I totally miss having one. While I am not in bad shape, on this particular weekend my generally cordial weekend ride turned into a competitive event. There really is nothing like competition to show you how strong and effective you are … or perhaps are not ;-(

This got me thinking about the difference between selling and so many other jobs. Selling is unique in that it is both a production and a performance profession. (Click here for more information on the production part of selling).

Unlike engineers, accountants or office staff, salespeople compete against one another constantly. And while winning more frequently might be related to their environment and variables such as the solution they represent, the economy and their competition (in the same way my bike and the weather could impact my cycling success), nothing exposes the opportunities to improve one’s selling skills like competition.

The good news is that nearly every sales professional has, and probably still is, paying for performance coaching – the sales manager. But are managers really doing what they need to in order to help their sellers compete more effectively? Are they helping them become the best possible versions of themselves? In many cases, the evidence is pretty clear that they are not.

This isn’t because no one cares about sales coaching. There is a growing sense of urgency in many businesses to transform their sales managers into effective coaches. In a recent study conducted by the Sales Management Association, sales coaching was rated as the single most important effectiveness initiative.

Various studies suggest that effective sales coaching can improve team performance by as much as 20%, and coaching solutions have been among the top requested apps for salesforce.com users for several years running. So why is it that coaching still seems so elusive? For starters, many companies and their sales managers seem unclear about the role of the coach.

3 Critical Behaviors of Sales Managers

Using other performance coaches as our model for the sales manager, the three key behaviors an effective sales coach must bring to the team, include:

  • Expert Analysis and Advice
  • Inspiration and Motivation
  • Accountability

1) Expert Analysis and Advice

While the average weekend warrior may not need a personal trainer in order to enjoy her sport of choice, consistently winning against a field in any competition requires more expertise than the average competitor possesses. Not just because they don’t study the behavior as thoroughly as the typical coach, but also because few of us are able to evaluate our own performance as objectively as an unbiased third party.

The role the coach plays here is essential to comparing the seller’s performance against an ideal selling model. This implies that there is an agreed upon ideal model, because without one, the seller and coach will likely spend more time debating the optimum selling behaviors rather than evaluating the effectiveness with which the seller is executing on them.

In this area, the coach’s job is not only to identify opportunities for improvement, but to evaluate the seller’s performance in a manner that identifies the root cause of performance and behavior gaps. Once these are identified, the coach must be able to recommend specific activities that can be completed in order to improve skill, knowledge and selling behaviors – ultimately leading to better business results.

2) Inspiration and Motivation

While expert advice and counsel are critical technical skills for the effective sales coach, motivation and accountability are no less important to overall effectiveness. If you have ever worked with a sports coach or trainer, you know personally the power of encouragement when, just as you think you’ve hit your limit, your coach shouts out, “one more set, you can do it!”

It would be an oversimplification though, to suggest that positive reinforcement and encouragement are all that’s necessary for a manager to inspire and motivate her team to better sales performance. The ability to motivate doesn’t simply reveal itself when someone is pushing through a perceived wall. It starts well before, in the earliest planning and introductory stages of the relationship.

By taking the time to understand the underlying motivation of the person being coached, the manager can determine exactly what drives them and use this to help motivate and inspire them to be the best version of themselves.

Unfortunately, many organizations drive nearly the opposite type of interaction. Managers are given their goals, which they pass down to their sellers. Just imagine hiring a personal trainer and rather than him trying to understand what you want to accomplish, he gives you the objective, “I need you to be able to run a 6-minute mile!” Crazy as it sounds, that is essentially what we are doing in sales, and it doesn’t have to be this way. 

In fact, the vast majority of sales people we have worked with have personal goals that are higher than their quota. We can gain more leverage and inspire better performance by understanding them first and showing them how to achieve their goals.

3) Accountability with a Purpose

Shifting the goal-setting conversation is the key to our third required behavior. Effective coaches become critical accountability partners. Whether you want to lose weight, ride faster on a bike, play better golf, or sell more, chances are it will require effort beyond what you are presently putting forth. This is the nature of improvement in a competitive environment. You are either moving forward or falling backward relative to your competition.

Many of us have experienced that conflict between getting the long-term results we want and the near-term pain of putting in extra effort. This is where the coach’s role becomes indispensable. Effective coaches understand our underlying motivation, know exactly where we need to improve, and are able to leverage this knowledge and their personal relationship with us to hold us accountable for doing things we may not want to do in the moment.

In fact, the great Tom Landry, former head coach for the Dallas Cowboys phrased it this way, “Leadership is the ability to get a person to do what he doesn't want to do in order to achieve what he wants to achieve...it's getting the best out of people.” Great sales coaches go beyond holding people accountable for results. They hold their people accountable for the behaviors that produce results including learning and practicing.

Most sales leaders agree, sales coaching is the pivot point for driving all sales effectiveness initiatives. Most sales managers want to be great coaches, and most salespeople, like most professional athletes, want to work for great coaches. To be sure, there are obstacles to putting these ideas into practice, but there is enormous opportunity for scalable, sustainable differentiation when you develop and enable a truly effective coaching culture.

Want to learn more about how you can help your managers become world-class coaches? Visit us at www.axiomsfd.com or download our free coaching whitepaper here. We look forward to helping you in any way we can.
Bob Sanders

Bob Sanders has more than 25 years experience in sales, sales management, and marketing. Bob has served as President and CEO of AXIOM Sales Force Development from 2006 to 2018. His passion about sales behavior and coaching helps develop people into their best selves. Since Bob joined AXIOM as a partner in the fall of 1993, he's helped dozens of companies around the world generate hundreds of millions in additional revenue. Bob holds a degree in Marketing from Miami University. He has been a keynote speaker at numerous corporate events and industry conferences. He is a founding underwriter and frequent contributor to the Sales Management Association. He co-authored AXIOM's “Selling Sciences Program™” workbook and audio program, and is a contributor on "A Journey to Sales Transformation". When Bob is not advocating on behalf of buyers and sellers worldwide, he is an avid cyclist, father, and husband.

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