Turn Sales Managers into Great Coaches in 5 Steps

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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).
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Norman Behar
Norman Behar is Managing Partner of Sales Readiness Group, an industry leading professional sales training company that develops customized sales and sales management programs for business-to-business sales organizations.

5 Misconceptions about Sales Enablement Plans

Leading analysts and companies we work with agree on the top issues sales leaders struggle with year after year:

  • conversion ratios are falling,
  • fewer sales reps are making quota,
  • sales rep attrition rates are rising,
  • it’s taking longer to effectively ramp up new sales team members, and
  • there is increasing misalignment between sales and marketing.

To overcome these challenges, every sales leader needs a strategy and systematic program to build key sales capabilities and deliver them to the entire team via focused content and iterative training. In other words, they need a sales enablement plan. For each week that you can shave off the time it takes to get a new sales rep to productivity, you can see the benefits in the form of real revenue dollars. It’s really as simple as that.

8 Things We Learned That Could Move Your Sales Enablement From Yawn to Wow.


Yet, when we sit down with clients to build out sales effectiveness content and training, we scratch our heads at their misconceptions about what sales enablement means. Here are the top five misconceptions we hear:

1) “We’re swimming in messaging content … let’s do some more and organize it better!” At the most basic level, sales enablement requires two key things: the right content and effective training to get it into the brains of action oriented sales people. The skew in a lot of organizations, however, is on volume of messaging content rather than a balance of content and training. Worse, the problem is not just volume, it’s also the type of content they make available – most construct “product-out” messaging, when most effective sales people think “customer-in” messaging.

2) “Just give them the value props and they’ll work out how to sell it.” Sure, maybe the top 20% will do that, but the others will simply struggle and pretend that they get it. A good sales enablement program strives to make “the many” as good as the best practices of “the few” based on tribal knowledge from the field, where the real lessons are being learned every day.

3) “Sales enablement is tactical and should be designed and done by marketing or sales ops.” Sure, both make an invaluable contribution, but the one with the quota should own the show. Our strong belief is that the strategy and ownership of sales enablement should not be delegated by sales leadership to others. Bottom line: sales leadership needs to identify the problem in the gap between company strategy and field sales execution, set a strategy and define outcomes aligned to the buyer’s journey, and orchestrate a sales and marketing process that optimizes your ability to sell more effectively.

4) “Why do it at all? It’s not adding to my top line! Let other companies train our sales reps and we’ll just hire them. Then pistol-whip them to perform.” This is very common in the more, shall we say, “traditional” VPs of Sales (aka anachronistic dinosaurs) who view enablement as just another fad sales methodology or generic sales skills training that they did themselves. Yet, in our two decades-plus of B2B enterprise selling, we have never come across anyone who has been able to staff his or her team with a full complement of such highly performing automatons. In 2012, the reality is that your team is constantly in flux: reps are not making quota, customers are harder to engage, and even normal attrition means you are losing a good chunk of your people annually.

5) “Use technology to deliver the right information at the right time in the sales process to the right person.” Technology is an enabling agent, not a panacea. Salespeople don’t learn by downloading, they learn best by doing and practicing against real world or close-to-reality scenarios in a competitive environment. This, in my opinion is a crucial element that is paramount to the success of any good program.

Steve Crepeau
Steve Crepeau is CEO of True Sales Results. He’ll be a panelist on the “Challenge Your Company to Think Differently about Sales Enablement” breakout session at the Sales & Marketing 2.0 Conference this October in San Francisco. For a copy of his book, Effective Enterprise Sales Enablement, email him at screpeau@truesalesresults.com.

Recommended Reading: “The First 90 Days”

  • Rating: 4 stars
  • Ideal for: sales leaders who are taking on new leadership roles, first-time VPs of Sales, first-time CEOs, any leader tasked with transitioning a team through major changes.
  • Stats: Sold 500,000+ copies in English; translated into 27 languages
  • Case studies: Yes
  • Publication date: 2003
  • Purchase links: Amazon, Powell’s
  • Author Website: www.michaeldwatkins.com

Leadership Lessons: Neil Armstrong and Jim Lovell

In an old interview with Selling Power magazine (How High Can You Fly?), former astronaut Jim Lovell likened crisis situations to playing solitaire.

“You pick up a card and that’s a crisis,” he explained. “Only after you find a place to put that card can you pick up another card and move on to the next crisis. You can’t think about the twentieth card in the deck; you have to focus on the card in your hand.”

Lovell was famously the backup for Neil Armstrong on the historic Apollo 11 space mission. This week on the occasion of Armstrong’s death at age 82, Lovell reflected in Des Plaines Patch on the legacy of his longtime friend and colleague: “His legacy is an example if we want to accomplish a project as the American people that we must work together as a team with good leadership and be able to do that. The Apollo program is an example of what you can do if you have the will and given the authority to do something.”

Lovell was never the type to let obstacles get in his way. As a child, he dreamed of flying rocket ships before space travel existed. He wanted to become a rocket engineer, but he didn’t have the money to go to Cal Tech or MIT. No problem – Lovell switched his goal to flying jets.

“If you can’t go in one direction, you set up a goal for something else,” Lovell says. “A lot of times you won’t accomplish them, but when you’re striving, often you luck out and something else opens up.”

In fact, if the NASA doctors had their way, Lovell would never have joined the space program, flown in four missions, or been portrayed by Tom Hanks in a Hollywood blockbuster. Why? He failed a physical exam on what amounted to a technicality. A few years later, however, NASA eased up on physical requirements in favor of piloting experience, and Lovell leapt at his second chance. To be a success, he says, you must persevere.

“When you look at the end result today,” he explains, “it’s easy to think that it was nothing but smooth sailing all the way. But perseverance was absolutely essential to getting to where I am.”

Time to Create a Quick and Mobile Sales Team

We talked with Seth Patton, Senior Director of Marketing at Microsoft Dynamics CRM, for an article published last week in our Sales Management Digest. Patton speaks frequently to sales leaders at industry events like the Sales 2.0 Conference. Here’s what he said about the need for today’s sales teams to be quick and mobile.

It’s not good enough to say, ‘Hey, I’ll wait until I get back to the office to get or share the latest information,'” says Patton. “CRM applications on mobile devices are becoming indispensable selling tools. Five minutes before going into an appointment, reps need real-time information about what’s happening with prospects. I need to know what conversations are going on about those prospects. And I need additional market data and news feeds. Did the prospect recently go through an acquisition? Is there an existing service issue with this customer that you might not know about? You can get that kind of real-time information on your mobile device.”

READ MORE: Four Characteristics of Dynamic Sales Teams

Maximizing Sales Effectiveness: Five Key Factors that Drive Success

According to the American Society of Training and Development (ASTD), US-based companies spend approximately $20 billion a year on sales training with about half of that amount being spent on improving selling skills. Despite this level of investment, many sales organizations get low returns on investment (ROIs) on their sales training initiatives. Let’s understand why this occurs.

A common problem with many sales training initiatives is that they are event based (i.e., intensive, multi-day training events) where participants typically forget much of what they learned shortly after the training event. Another challenge is that sales organizations fail to get their frontline sales managers actively involved in the training, reinforcement, and measurement process.

Many sales organizations also have unrealistic expectations regarding their sales training initiatives. Ask sales leaders what outcome they want as a result of a sales training program and most will say increased sales. But sales training can’t directly increase sales; it can only change the behaviors that, when consistently applied, lead to increased sales. And that’s the key challenge: getting sales professionals to adopt the right selling skills.

So what can a sales organization do to maximize its ROI from a sales training initiative? Start by taking a more strategic view of training, one that goes beyond just the delivery of training, and focus on developing and implementing sales training programs that incorporate the following five factors.

    1. Motivation 
    2. Customization
    3. Delivery
    4. Reinforcement 
    5. Measurement

Learn more about how these factors can lead to sustainable changes in this white paper: Maximizing Sales Effectiveness.

Norman Behar
Norman Behar is Managing Partner of Sales Readiness Group, an industry leading professional sales training company that develops customized sales and sales management programs for business to business sales organizations.