Why Developing Your Sales Managers is Crucial to Your Sales Success

It may surprise you to discover that many Sales Managers learn how to be a Manager on their own.

According to the latest international study on Sales Training and Sales Force Effectiveness, many Sales Managers are given very little or no support when it comes to being a competent, effective manager. In fact, many Sales Managers reported that they were given no formal training in Sales Management practices, either before or during their tenure.

The study reported that Sales Management training is the category of sales training that is addressed with the least frequency, in fact it is less than annually or not at all.

The study also reported that if Sales Managers were more frequently and better trained and coached then their sales teams achieved higher performance and results. In no other type of sales training was a more positive correlation found between frequency of training and sales performance. Interestingly, it also revealed that sales training doesn’t need to be delivered in formal classroom settings.

As with many sales people who follow no logical process when selling, so it is true for many Sales Managers who fly by the seat of their pants and are often left to their own devices. These international findings further support our 15 years of observations in the Australian market place that Sales Management development and performance is not taken as seriously as it should be.

Would we let a football coach without any experience or formal training in coaching become the head coach an elite football team? Not likely! At the very least, we would expect them to do a coaching apprenticeship. In addition, many of the current crop of elite sporting coaches have also undertaken formal education and training to earn the right to apply for senior coaching roles.

Sales Managers need support if they are to be of best value to your business, your team, and to themselves.

Where do we start? Let’s look at some of the broad core capabilities they need to be competent in the 21st century sales environment:

Strategic Action – Understanding industry and organisation; taking strategic actions
Coaching – role modeling, feedback, trust building
Team Building – designing and managing teams, creating a supportive environment
Self-management – fostering integrity and ethical conduct, managing personal drive, developing self-awareness, decision making and management skills
Global perspective – cultural knowledge and sensitivity, global selling program
Technology – understanding new technology, sales force automation, customer relationship management

As you can see there is a lot to know and apply in the role of Sales Manager. So, how do we support them in their development? Formal classroom training on key topics is a great start, however it is important that these are spaced at regular intervals – for example, run over a few months with 1 or 2 sessions and follow-ups rather than squashed into a week with no follow-ups. The formal classroom sessions should also be supported by much more frequent activities which can include local or distance coaching (group and one-on-one), combined with regular access to advice and topics of interest such as talent management, time management, and business trends. This type of support needs to become part of a development regimen for those who are in Sales Management or those that aspire to be Sales Managers.

When formal and informal development is consciously applied and supported in the workplace it can have amazing effects for the Sales Managers themselves and their teams.

For instance, in addition to classroom sessions, in regular tele-coaching sessions (monthly 1-hour group sessions with up to 4 Sales Managers) for several companies, the managers share and discuss their needs, challenges, ideas, and strategies for effective sales performance in their teams, as well as their own needs and development as leaders. The feedback has been very encouraging. Some feedback we have received from them so far includes:

it is a collaborative learning environment
great ideas exchange, learn a lot from each other
peer support – only time we get to really work with each other and share ideas without another agenda crowding the discussions
no hidden agenda – feels safe, supportive, useful
independent view from coach keeps ideas fresh and focused on the sales agenda piece while finding ways to integrate with ‘well managed’ piece and other priorities
keeps the concepts and program we are running top of mind and makes sure we do it and don’t lose it
makes sure we are really implementing the tools and content properly

One manager stated: “This has supported me by providing a consistent frame of reference for all of us to work around. This has been a program that all the staff has been involved with rather than ‘another message from above’… ‘The best part has been the follow-ups on the phone with the other Sales Managers. Hearing their experiences and applying some of their takes on the principles has been very beneficial, and the re-enforcing of the principles and the increased familiarity and use of them has added measurably to it being embedded in my dialogue with my team.”

These conversations are not just ‘chats’ they are based on substance and the critical things that Sales Managers need to know and apply. So, if you think you can solve the problem with a simple, unstructured monthly ‘chat’ think again.

Now that we have discussed the importance of developing Sales Managers, let’s also remember to consider the Sales and Sales Management experience and expertise of the people you choose to support your managers through training, coaching, and mentoring. A deep subject matter expert will be able to provide both the practical and theoretical support managers need for them and their teams to succeed.

While a monthly coaching or training session may not seem like much, many Sales Managers are in need of support and help, especially now in these tough markets. You can make a big difference to your sales results if you take a little time out to develop your Sales Managers.