Great salespeople can make excellent sales managers but the skills needed for sales management differ from the skills required to be an excellent salesperson. In many cases this is why new sales managers fail after successful careers as sales reps - organizations don’t empower new managers to acquire those skills. The result is lose-lose: you’ve lost a great salesperson, and you’re left with a floundering sales manager.
Business performance coach and author Kelly Riggs recently wrote a blog post - The Nonsense That Passes for Sales Management, where he provided some blunt – but valid criticism for today’s B2B sales forces:
“Without good management leadership skills, the nonsense that passes for sales ‘management’ is quite ridiculous.”
To effectively manage reps, Riggs says leaders must be able to the following four things:
- Teach salespeople
- Coach performance
- Develop a winning culture
- Identify, hire and retain new talent
Brainshark spoke with Mr. Riggs about what organizations can do to better prepare their incoming managers to succeed at these tasks. Here’s what he suggested:
KR: And, by the way, I use the word ‘leadership’ intentionally. The word ‘management’ implies a variety of tasks that need to be completed—reports, budgets, CRM maintenance, etc. Although those things are necessary, the real value of the sales manager is in creating and leading a team of high-performance salespeople.
Top salespeople are promoted for their sales performance, but asked to do something completely different as a leader: coach, train and develop talent. The first and most fundamental things organizations can do to prepare these new leaders are:
- Assess their current ability and/or predisposition to train and coach
- Provide mentoring and training for essential leadership skills prior to promotion.
With that new leadership role in mind, the new sales leader should be told that the primary expectation of their role is to train and develop people rather than to create sales performance at any cost. They can impact sales revenue in the short term by stepping in front of their salespeople and closing deals, but the long-term effect is to create a mediocre team at best.
To get sales managers headed in the right direction as leaders, they need to understand three core concepts of performance management:
- Create clarity in performance expectations
- Create consistent communication regarding those expectations
- Address performance issues in real-time
Executed effectively, these three concepts automatically create accountability for salespeople. In addition, it removes the ambiguity often associated with poor coaching.
The identifying mark of poor coaching is that it neither creates specific action steps, nor addresses specific performance-related issues. It is often non-specific and not helpful to the salesperson. Think about it this way: Imagine a basketball coach telling someone who is a poor shooter that the answer to scoring more points is to “get more good looks at the basket.” It sounds insightful, but accomplishes nothing in terms of skills improvement.
More on Coaching: 7 Tips to Start (or Reignite) Your Sales Coaching Program
The best way to coach is to ensure salespeople know exactly what is expected of them, and have a conversation about their progress every week. These weekly conversations leave little room to hide. And great players don’t want to hide! They want feedback and coaching so they can improve. Done well, this process not only helps the high-potential salespeople, it identifies and weeds out the marginal performers.
The cornerstone of my communication as a sales manager is the 1-on-1 Meeting™, a very specific type of meeting that I prescribe in my book, 1-on-1 Management This meeting is not just two people meeting to review current opportunities and scrutinize reports. It is set up with a very specific format that provides enormous benefit to both salesperson and sales manager in the performance management process.
The meeting is typically about 45 minutes in duration and companies repeatedly tell me that it is a game-changer, specifically as it impacts both accountability and typical communication problems that exist within organizations.
To become a highly productive sales leader, the three concepts of clarity, consistency and real-time adjustments are critical to learn and execute, but the added benefit is not immediately obvious. Great players want to play on a great team. Becoming an effective sales leader dramatically impacts your ability to attract top-level talent! Although there is much more for the new sales leader to learn about identifying and hiring sales talent, it is always helpful to have a number of highly qualified people who are interested in joining a great company with a winning culture.