Did you know that there is a negative correlation between top-performing sales reps promoted to management roles and their team’s subsequent sales performance? For those who love statistics, a recent study on the Peter Principle by Harvard Business Review reports, “When a salesperson is promoted, each higher sales rank is correlated with a 7.5% decline in the performance of each of the manager’s subordinates following the promotion.” In fact, 70% of sales managers are promoted from within their companies and poorly manage their teams during the first 14 months. These findings support my belief in the importance of training recently promoted sales managers to better lead their teams. It’s hard to determine the top skills to inform those promotions, and I know it could even feel embarrassing to promote average sales reps to managerial positions that oversee top-performing reps. That is why sales leaders like you must train your sales managers on how to coach their teams. Don’t leave it to the recently promoted manager to decide how to run the team—establish a formal process as CSO Insights recommends in their 2017 Sales Enablement Optimization Report. I believe that structured training produces consistent and effective discussions between sales managers and sales reps.
The job of the sales manager is complex by design. They need to deal with issues brought to them from their sales reps in every meeting, and without coaching, managers then become the bottleneck for the progression of every opportunity toward the closing stage. They also spend time managing up to sales leaders, reporting weekly forecasts and being involved in every cross-group meeting with peers and executives. Finally, they are pulled into complex situations with customer issues and claims, leaving little time to analyze sales reps’ pipeline and determine the most strategic approach to their 1:1s.
The reality is that sales managers don’t know how to deal with this sweeping complexity, ending every week exhausted and having made no progress toward their goals. Executives promote high-performing reps assuming that they’re capable of both dealing with the managerial role’s complexity and replicating their previous success as individual contributors. Only a few companies invest enough money and time to train promoted managers in how to lead their teams effectively.
CSO Insights’ sales manager report outlines a coaching framework to help companies move from just coaching top opportunities to an organization-wide dynamic coaching model, which has yielded amazing results—companies adopting a dynamic model with the support of sales enablement efforts (less than 30%) have experienced a 28% increase in win rate. They might have a broader definition of what it means to become dynamic in sales coaching, but to me this refers to your ability to implement a structured, consistent coaching practice to inform opportunities, funnel, skill development, behavioral changes, account and territory planning. Sounds simple, right? It actually requires a comprehensive understanding of the key sales basics that coaching.
Three strategies are necessary to implement this dynamic model, led by the sales manager:
- Acknowledge sales managers as one of the two core audiences in any sales enablement activity.
- Train sales managers in basic coaching to help them lead discussions with powerful questions and actionable advice to support core sales processes.
- Establish a rhythm of coaching and hold sales managers accountable for adopting this organizational habit.
Then your question is, How can I do it? This definitely requires a full book to describe the steps and framework. As a start, ask yourself the following five questions to make sure you and your managers understand the fundamentals of formal and dynamic sales coaching:
- Do you have a system in place to help sales managers provide an accurate forecast? If yes, how do inspection and coaching play a role in your existing process to change sales rep behavior and establish successful habits for consistent results?
- Do sales managers know how to use the tools to assess and inspect sales reps’ pipelines?
- Are sales managers meeting with every sales rep on a weekly basis and for how long?
- Are sales managers investing enough time to prepare the agenda for their 1:1s with sales reps?
- Are sales managers recording the action items agreed upon from each meeting and tracking their sales reps’ progress to ensure action items are completed?
If your managers don’t provide clear answers on why they had a big swing in the forecast after quarter’s end, then you will appreciate the need to train them in why and how to inspect and coach sales reps. After receiving the shocking answers, only then will you be driven to create an initiative focused on establishing an effective inspection and coaching practice that generates sustained forecast accuracy via a predictable pipeline.
I hope this post helped you fully appreciate why training is so important. That is why 51% of companies (up from 37%) have moved away from giving their sales managers full freedom to decide how and when to run their so-called “opportunity coaching calls,” driven by over-optimistic sales reps who ultimately lead managers to building uninformed forecasts.
Assuming that sales managers will implement a formal inspection and coaching process once promoted from an individual role is a big ask, one that requires executive endorsement. Imagine managers’ first days or months on the job trying to oversee many cycles with customers, prospects, partners, sales reps, peers, executives, etc. You don’t want to leave them alone in this journey and we (you and I) believe they can master the inspection and coaching process that your top-performing sales managers are already following, thereby giving them more control of their business. I invite you to reflect on the above questions and empower your sales managers to overcome their biggest challenge by establishing structure and consistency in their management style. They need your endorsement, but also your commitment to helping them grow. This is the first core discipline they need to master in their managerial role, which you know will positively impact other areas of your business, such as employee retention, customer satisfaction, strategic planning and, of course, forecast accuracy. Make this happen—we guarantee you will not regret it.