How does a sales manager learn how to successfully manage and coach a sales team?
Unlike traditional business disciplines such as finance, marketing, or general management, most business schools offer few – if any – courses on sales or sales management. In addition, few companies offer comprehensive sales-management training programs for their front-line sales managers (watch video: “Sales Coaching for Improved Performance“).
The reality is that most sales managers learn how to manage through on-the-job experience. More often than not, sales managers are former sales reps (often star performers) who get promoted with little or no management training. Key symptoms of this problem include the following:
- Being overwhelmed by supervisory problems,
- Spending too much time “putting out fires,”
- Sales rep turnover, and
- Poor performance.
We’ve helped companies resolve these common headaches by teaching their sales managers how to become great coaches. Here are the five steps we recommend:
- Assess the rep’s current skill level. To establish clear coaching objectives, assess your rep’s current skills and identify strengths and weaknesses. Then, develop a limited number of specific coaching objectives to focus on the most promising areas for improvement.
- Perform a pre-call briefing. Before the actual sales call, ask the sales rep for the history and status of the account. Then, agree on the specific behavior/skill the sales rep will focus on during the call. Be sure to discuss the role you will play during the sales call (this is critical to avoid situation where the sales manager takes over the call).
- Observe the sales call. During the call focus on the objectives you established with the rep. The trick is to perform a delicate balance between observing and knowing when to step in. Managers should also make mental notes regarding specific skills or behaviors the sales representative is doing well or poorly so you can review them after the call.
- Conduct a coaching session. Many managers make the mistake of immediately providing feedback on what didn’t go well or what the sales rep could have done better, but one of the critical elements in the coaching process is to begin with positive reinforcement to acknowledge the sales reps strengths. This also makes the sales rep more receptive to feedback when it comes to areas for improvement. When reviewing weaknesses, ask the sales reps for his or her input and secure a commitment from the rep to work on those skills for future calls.
- Follow-up. After going on a series of coaching calls, work with the rep to create a Personal Development Plan (PDP). The PDP should summarize strengths and reinforce positive behaviors, highlight one or two areas that need development, and include an action plan that addresses the specific skill areas.
Above all, a sales organization must make sure that its sales-coaching model is simple for sales managers to learn and use. In addition, the sales organization should set clear expectations about the time sales managers should spend coaching their sales representatives (25% –40% is recommended for a B2B sales organization).
Get more detail about specialized training for sales managers – download this free white paper today, Sales Coaching for Improved Performance.