Effective sales organizations are composed of equal parts top-notch sales talent and first-rate sales leadership. There are plenty of sales training programs out there (and PDG can help you develop your own), but what about sales leadership training? Untrained sales managers can present very specific risks to your sales force. Without training, sales managers may:
- Retreat to their comfort zone and continue to sell, rather than rising to the many challenges of leadership.
- Lack of consistency in terms of a well-defined management process and common sales coaching language, leading to confusion and loss of credibility.
- Leave necessary skills, knowledge, and activities undefined, preventing them from providing useful developmental coaching.
- Focus too much on results (outputs) and too little on processes (inputs), leading to a weak pipeline.
Given that untrained sales managers can negatively impact both their sales team and the company’s bottom line, it’s critical to upskill new sales leaders so they can excel. Where do you start?
To paraphrase Jane Austen, it is a truth universally acknowledged that a manager in possession of a sales team must want coaching skills. There are plenty of online resources available to sharpen the coaching saw, and new sales managers can start by developing these coaching competencies:
- Give immediate, actionable feedback on all aspects of your team member’s performance, whether it’s directly related to their selling techniques or something more general like time management or professional conduct. You aren’t protecting your sales staff by avoiding confrontation—you are setting them up to fail.
- Schedule weekly one-on-ones to build a connection with each salesperson on your team. These one-on-ones are in addition to weekly sales team huddles.
- Have coaching conversations that go beyond sales metrics and provide consistent, structured whole-person development.
- Leverage strengths. Gallup research indicates that salespeople who know and use their strengths average 10% to 19% increased sales and 14% to 29% increased profit, among other bottom-line results. Take the time to assess your team’s strengths and then focus on and invest in those strengths.
- Show caring to build trust. Find ways to demonstrate that your team members matter to you not just as sales professionals but as people too.
Coaching can set the stage for a positive sales environment that encourages reps to excel. And there are additional skills a new sales manager needs to establish and maintain a sales culture that thrives. New sales managers need to learn how to:
- Hold team members accountable, foster open communication, and invest in personal and team training.
- Identify which activities yield top results given their time investment.
- Clarify expectations, set appropriate measurement criteria, and establish clear consequences.
- Support salespeople with a low performance by providing additional resources or training, altering job responsibilities, or reassigning them to a new role.
- Conduct effective ride-alongs, including best practices for pre-call planning, call execution, post-call debriefing, and client follow-up, as well as setting clear boundaries of who does what during a supervised sales call.
Talent and metrics
Of course, the purpose of a sales team is to sell. A sales manager needs to be able to both maintain a strong team and help them meet sales goals, and it’s risky to assume that a new sales manager has those skills right out of the gate. Sales managers need to be trained on talent acquisition, pipeline development, and forecasting. Training topics should include:
- Making wise hiring choices by evaluating how the candidate’s skills and experience align with the job description, using a consistent hiring process, and implementing a proper assessment tool for new employee selection.
- Building or maintaining onboarding programs that support new hires and set them up for success.
- Forecasting and managing the sales pipeline. This can include customer relationship management (CRM) system training; training on how to implement strategies, principles, guidelines, and technologies used for developing, retaining, and acquiring customers; and trend analysis and long- and short-term forecasting.
Beyond the classroom
Formal, structured training can help bridge the skills gap for new sales managers. And it’s also important to incorporate ad hoc, “just in time” development opportunities. Sales managers can benefit from:
- Mentoring by supervisors, including coaching, advising, and competency-based development planning. In other words, leaders of leaders need to foster the same sense of support and expertise as first-line sales managers provide to their sales reps.
- Peer onboarding where experienced managers work with the new manager to develop key responsibilities. These skill-sets include business planning; talent acquisition, management, and development; sales tracking and execution; performance management, rewards, and recognition; and contracting, negotiating, and pricing. The new manager can shadow experienced peers and rely on them for future questions and advice. This kind of “first among equals” relationship can also benefit the experienced manager by giving them leadership experience, reinforcing their knowledge, and increasing their motivation and confidence.
- Independent learning frameworks that provide easy access to development resources, so managers can seek out ways to improve their skills and knowledge. To increase effectiveness, link learning materials (whitepapers, books, seminars, courses, video clips, webinars) to specific management competencies so sales managers can tailor the resources to meet their needs.
Hiring a sales manager can be a tough call, and it’s only the first step in the much longer process of developing that manager’s skills and expertise. Don’t leave it to chance—set a course for success by taking the time to create a learning framework new sales managers can depend on.