Don’t Forget Your Sales Managers: How to Train & Sustain Manager Coaching

Salespeople will forget up to 50% of what they learned from formal training within an hour. Even worse, they forget 90% within a month. Shocking, right? How can you actually get a return on that training investement?

Sales reps are inundated with training efforts including product, processes, and tools readiness. There are many learning platforms that implement a variety of techniques, such as certifications and quizzes, to help reinforce concepts using formal and informal learning approaches. Most people, however, learn by doing—having a consistent approach to measure and sustain successful application of concepts during execution will help salespeople master what they learned in training.

While sales reps receive substantial training, sales managers at many companies are left behind and don’t receive enough support for sales enablement activities. Few companies invest resources in training managers in how to coach and become better managers. Perhaps executives and sales enablement leads think managers are senior enough such that they don’t need much scrutiny or that a short-term effort will produce immediate positive impact. The truth is that sales coaching is the most important and impactful activity for sales managers to master, and it takes both time and concerted effort.

It is not enough to train the sales managers in the theory of effective sales processes and methodologies. They need to take what they learned in the classroom and be trained to apply their understanding of the sales process and methodology to inspect opportunities and coach reps on honing their skills. In many cases, however, it’s next to impossible to evaluate managers’ adoption of concepts because there is no way to track and assess their 1:1s with their reps.

A different set of tactics is required to establish good coaching habits among sales managers, and they will also need dedicated support and guidance from experienced coaches. It will also require a set of tools (e.g. questions, reports, insights, and resources) that help managers readily apply concepts in every coaching session.

To measure improvement, there are no quizzes or tests that can replace daily and weekly rehearsal with real scenarios. What sales managers really need is the space and structure to put into practice their coaching techniques.

Following a typical scenario, your company hired a consulting firm to help you establish and document a clear sales process for opportunities and forecast management, then you hired a training company to prepare a high-impact training session with world-class content for the sales reps and managers. You’ve planned the release of processes and tools and arranged for a full week of training (out of the office, of course, to avoid interruptions) with your sales reps and a handful of sales managers, at best. The result of that massive effort? Your managers expect their reps to immediately begin incorporating their training when using the tools and content that are part of their daily execution. You believe your sales team is ready to deliver and meet expectations, but the reality is that they have applied only a few concepts without a sustainable effort.

A worse scenario is that you make the training mandatory for reps, but you completely forget about the sales managers. Only a few attend, looking to serve as role model for the reps, but most managers skipped in order to take care of more urgent internal matters within the company. Your sales managers won’t worry because they have a CRM to track and manage sales rep activities according to the training and the sales process and methodology is well documented in a handy cheat sheet, which you expect them to use in a day to day basis.

Is that enough for the managers to drive improvement via effective coaching? No, it is not. They initially tried to use the cheat sheet during the 1:1s but after a couple of attempts, it winds up at the bottom of the paper stack on their desks. At the end of the day, sales managers will recognize that nobody is tracking their usage of the cheat sheet because nobody is asking the reps if the 1:1s are productive or even listening to their 1:1s. With no oversight, the managers will rely on their authority, experience, and confidence in the role rather than application-based training on how to coach reps.

That is the moment of the truth: Who wants to scrutinize the sales manager’s activities? Sales enablement tools have been designed mainly for sales rep activities and all statistics only focus on the sellers’ execution, but who is evaluating the managers’ coaching execution? No one.

To address this major gap, we need 5 core elements:

1. Ask the rep for feedback on their manager’s effectiveness of their 1:1s. Don’t ask only for the ranking of perceived value from the weekly 1:1. Inquire broadly about the coaching framework, whatever framework to decide to adopt.

2. Don’t leave it to the manager to decide how to structure the agenda for the 1:1s. Make sure they include key topics that help the sales manager understand sellers’ skill gaps, revenue gaps, and risk in driving a predictable pipeline. A productive agenda should cover:

  • Past due action items agreed from previous 1:1s. Make sure these actions are jotted down and reviewed every 1:1.
  • Reasons for lost and disengaged deals. What were the root causes? Document them in the system to share with the team. Your sales ops team and sales enablement team must be proactive in identifying patterns that will point to the right strategy and resources to avoid lost and disengaged deals.
  • Review of active opportunities, including how efficiently they are moving through sales stages by inspecting exit criteria; how fast the pipeline is being filled with new qualified leads; and how effective reps are in closing deals on time by applying the right negotiation methodology.
  • Understanding pipeline risk and revenue gaps to decide the right strategy for the sales rep in current and next quarter. You want to anticipate and manage risk in advance by moving away from a reactive approach dealing with customer issues and focusing on proactive actions that make the deal to be predictable.
  • Managing account priorities within the pipeline. Managers should make sure that sellers don’t spend all of their time on low-hanging fruit deals (e.g. deals where they already have good relationships with the client or deals that landed in their pipeline because they have an advantage with the potential customer). Sales reps should work on reviving dormant accounts as well as developing new ones to expand their pipeline.

3. Tailor coaching 1:1s to every individual. The approach could vary from rep to rep, and it will be determined by a manager examining a rep’s past performance in how s/he is managing their opportunities. Managers can identify best practices and coach the reps in key areas where skills can be improved. For example, there may be some reps that are missing quota not because they are losing deals but mainly due to lack of qualified leads filling their pipeline. Or there could be other reps who don’t understand the concept of committed pipeline, are moving deals from quarter to quarter, or even hiding deals from managers.

4. Cadence, yes, cadence. Having 1:1s with a rep at the same time and day of the week helps create the private space for an effective coaching session. Reps are not involved in micromanagement activities and experience better productivity by focusing on their activities due at the next 1:1. Managers will also be productive because their 1:1s will require less time to prepare.

5. Leverage data to assess rep execution and ask the right questions. Sales ops and sales enablement teams will presumably already have created a myriad of charts and analytics for you to review and develop your own insights and conclusion before the coaching session. There are tools like Convercio that can simplify this effort but for now just start off by sticking to a few indicators to understand coaching challenges and it will be instinctive after a while, minimizing your time in studying new reports.

As a leader, you must endorse this type of application-based initiative with your sales managers. Many times, even with the best intentions from the sales ops and enablement teams, this effort gets too complex to be fully adopted. Your sales managers should take baby steps to incorporate complexity over time to establish this model in a sustainable manner. You will learn from the landing effort, incorporating and tweaking the process with extra info and extra questions to be addressed as part of your initiative.

For companies with defined sales process and methodology that is delivered via formal training, that effort will not be enough to secure adoption in your sales coaching execution. You must create an initiative to sustain the process and track how managers keep using the tools provided over time. You will find gaps and areas of improvement, but consistency will be the best way to identify these areas.

I am curious to learn about your approach. How does your organization measure adoption and retention of your defined sales process? In your view, how effective and clear is your documentation of the sales process? I invite you to connect with me via LinkedIn or email, or feel free to give me a call to chat further.


Michele Lanzara is Cofounder of Convercio

Michele Lanzara is Cofounder of Convercio