The Disastrous Under-development of Sales Managers

By Kevin F. Davis

I have two simple questions for you:

  1. In your professional career, how many days of sales training do you think you received?
  2. How many days of sales management training have you received? (I don’t mean courses on general management and leadership – I mean training specifically on how to manage a sales team.)

I asked this question a few weeks ago during a public webinar I was delivering to a diverse group of sales managers and sales executives from across the globe. I’ve summarized the results in the graphic below. The red bars – which are much larger toward the lower end of the scale – represent sales management training. The blue bars – much larger toward the higher end of the scale – represent sales training.

When I crunched the math, it turns out these sales managers received about 25 days of sales training on average and just seven days of sales management training.

The obvious conclusion is that most companies think that teaching someone how to get good at selling requires three times as much training as it takes to teach them how to do sales management! And, since 30 percent of participants received NO sales management training at all, it must be their companies think sales management excellence comes via osmosis or something magical.

These informal results from my webinar are supported by more rigorous research. According to the Sales Management Association’s March 2016 Research Report, “Sales Manager Training,” 41 percent of companies participating in the survey had allocated zero budget for sales manager training. And, of the 59 percent who did have a budget, half of those companies were delivering only generic management training – nothing specific to leading a sales team.

The conclusion is startling: For what many consider to be the most crucial, stressful, and challenging job in corporate America – frontline sales manager – seven out of 10 people in that position are not receiving the training they need to excel at their job.

Three Critical Reasons to Develop Sales Management Skills

The lack of investment in sales management development is disastrous for many reasons. Here are some of the most compelling:

1) Developing sales managers has very high ROI. In its 2017 “Sales Manager Enablement” report, CSO Insights showed that companies investing in developing their sales managers’ skills and establishing a strong culture of sales coaching can see a 16 percent increase in quota attainment.

2) Perhaps not surprisingly, investment in sales enablement alone is not paying off. The same CSO Insights report included data to show that investment in sales enablement more than doubled between 2013 and 2014 – but quota attainment dropped over that same period.

3) Untrained sales managers focus on the wrong things. The Sales Management Association studied what topics sales managers tend to discuss most often in coaching conversations. The top three items were all about near-term revenue opportunities. But the coaching topic that had the single biggest impact on revenue growth was identifying skill development needs – and it fell near the bottom of the list in terms of how often it was discussed.

The evidence couldn’t be clearer: Companies are not investing in sales manager development, despite the fact it could have a huge impact on revenue growth and quota attainment. If you’re in a position to influence how your company spends its training dollars, it’s time to make some changes.

Kevin F. Davis is the president of TopLine Leadership Inc., which specializes in sales management development and sales training. His clients achieve higher levels of performance from frontline sales managers when using Kevin’s methods for everything from leading, coaching, and managing priorities, to hiring, forecasting, and driving rep accountability. Kevin’s most recent book is The Sales Manager’s Guide to Greatness: 10 Essential Strategies for Leading Your Team to the Top. 

Follow Kevin on Twitter @KevinFDavis, LinkedIn, and YouTube.