What’s Your #1 Priority?
If you’re a sales manager and your number one priority each and every day is something other than coaching the individuals on your sales team to improve their sales productivity then what are you doing? Whatever it is, put it on hold and take care of your priorities.
The term coaching is in vogue these days. Much has been written about the importance of sales managers becoming coaches for their team. Studies have been cited that claim that it is the single most important thing you can do. A commonly cited statistic is that a 19% improvement in sales productivity is to be expected with effective coaching. To which my response is an old-fashioned “Duh.”
The fact is that coaching is nothing more than disciplined sales management. There is no distinction between the two. I attended a conference recently where consultants talked about how they were hired to coach front line sales reps in companies with sales managers in place. The claim was that sales managers had too many other responsibilities and no time to coach their direct reports. I don’t buy it.
If you’re a CEO, there should only be two reasons why a 3rd party consultant should be providing coaching to your frontline sales team:
1. Your sales managers are inexperienced and don’t know how to effectively coach. That is okay. New sales managers need to be trained. They don’t arrive in their first sales management assignment fully formed and ready to effectively function as a manager any more than newborn babies are born ready to memorize and recite Shakespeare. But, if this is the case, then train your sales managers. If can’t do it yourself, then hire that consultant to coach your manager, but never your sales team. Teach your managers how to be effective sales coaches. And, if they are unable to do that then…
2. Your sales managers are in the wrong job. You need to find someone new who is capable of performing the hard work that comes with being an effective sales manager.
What should a sales manager do to be an effective coach?
A. Make certain that each member of your team fully understands the playbook.
In this instance the playbook means the sales team is thoroughly trained to know the answers to the “what” and “how” questions. What are they selling and how are they selling it? Sales reps need training in the sales processes you use as much as in the products you sell.
B. Work with each member of your the team to develop an individualized sales plan.
The sales plan is simply composed of the objectives, strategies and tactics that the individual sales rep is going to employ to achieve their assigned goals. People gravitate towards sales as a career because it gives them a sense of being in control of their own destiny. But they aren’t going to find their destiny without a road map. The effective coach makes sure their reps understand what each day, week and month holds in store.
C. Set expectations not only by your words, but also by your actions.
This is not about achieving the number but about the process and what it takes to mold someone into a high-functioning, self-sufficient salesperson. Sales is a craft. Learning how to successfully do it is an apprenticeship. The most successful salespeople I know learned their trade by watching their managers at work and integrating the skills and techniques they observed into their own daily selling routines. An effective coach has to be able to demonstrate the skills they are teaching.
D. Get down into the nitty-gritty.
This means conducting regular detailed reviews of every deal your reps are working, supplying the strategic and tactical coaching to move deals along, as well as providing the wisdom, guidance and counsel a rep needs to motivate them to persevere when the going gets tough. It means understanding the details of your teams’ deal so you can provide day-to-day guidance to ensure that opportunities are continuing to move forward.
E. Develop a strong level of trust with your team members.
How does that trust get established? By being openly invested in each rep’s success to the same degree that they are. This is a tough standard for sales managers to meet. But the great sales managers are all able to make it happen. Read interviews with players from great sports teams that have won championships and the common attribute they cite for their success is the high-level of trust that the teammates had in each other. In short, they had each other’s back. Have your team’s back.
My first sales manager was Ray. Ray was the most no-nonsense manager I have ever encountered. (My hiring interview with Ray lasted 2 minutes and he said all of 12 words. But that is a story for another day.) It was primarily through his coaching that how I first learned how to sell (and be a sales manager.) Everyday we sat down and reviewed each of the deals I was working on. He taught me how important it was to not waste a minute, hour or a day if I was stuck on a deal and needed advice to see what I needed to do next. I remember coming into the office one morning when I was in the midst of a month-long sales slump and Ray was standing by his desk with his jacket on and car keys to his big red Oldsmobile jangling in his hand. “C’mon,” he said. Let’s go make some calls.” We’d spend the morning talking to prospects. Sometimes I’d take the lead and sometimes Ray would take the lead. But I would always come back from those calls smarter about selling and motivated to knock it out of the park.
Being an effective coach means nurturing the success of the people who work for you. At the end of the day, that is the highest success a sales manager can achieve. If you’re a sales manager, and you’re not coaching, what the heck are you doing?