Sales managers play an important role. They manage the plan and productivity. They support sales reps in their efforts to hit numbers. It can be a hard role to do well, and requires an advanced set of skills.
If your sales managers are ineffective, frustrated, at a loss; or if you are a sales manager looking for fresh ideas to equip and empower your team, read on.
My book, unReceptive, tackles the challenge facing anyone who works with people today: a lack of receptivity. This is germaine for salespeople and customers, and it’s also relevant for sales managers and reps. Check it out here.
Traditional Approach to Sales Manager Training
There is an important shift happening in the world of sales, and it directly impacts how sales managers need to lead their teams. Traditionally, we taught sales managers to inform and prescribe, a mandate issued from the top:
- “Make sure the reps understand the company strategy”
- “Tell the reps to do this”
It was all downstream and the sales manager was the translator.
The dynamic reinforced this big idea: the company comes first, which naturally meant that the company’s methods and message should lead the sales process.
In fact, it’s the opposite:
Effective sales are Other-CenteredⓇ, and great sales managers empower their reps to sell with that in mind.
Innovative Approaches to Sales Manager Training
Today, sales managers are better seen as coaches, actively and meaningfully engaged with reps to accelerate growth.
I have some thoughts on how to equip them to do that successfully.
1. Find the Motivation
Everybody is motivated by something. That “something” isn’t “the company’s goals.” The most winsome and compelling company core values in the world are no match for intrinsic motivation.
The question is:
What do sales reps want?
Sales managers should ask this question, point blank: “what do you want?”
Have conversations like this:
- Do you want this?
- Do you care about getting better?
- Do you want to change the way you sell?
- Do you want to hit a big number?
- Do you believe I can help you?
Without beginning from that point of motivation, sales managers will carrot and stick their way through a coaching relationship and fail every time. They have to get to know the rep, and they have to find out what they want, because desire determines development.
I don’t go to the driving range and practice golf with someone who doesn’t want to play golf. Your sales managers need to quickly figure out which of their people are deeply motivated to grow. Based on that desire, sales managers can focus their efforts on the right people.
And they aren’t all the right people.
2. Focus on the Right People
At ASLAN, we use a practice called QuadCoaching™, and it is very effective.
Divide your team up into four quadrants based on results and desires:
- Achievers — above the line, hitting their numbers
- Strivers — eagerly want to grow and get better
- Independents — hitting their number but don’t want to change; just want to be left alone
- Detractors — not hitting their number and don’t want to change
Once sales managers know who fits where, they need to focus 80-90% of their time where it counts: with the strivers.
There are some coaching tactics around how to deal with the other three categories, and you can get the QuadCoaching eBook here.
3. Let the Reps Create the Plan
Remember how I talked about the weakness of using the company vision or values as a motivating force? The same is true for the sales manager’s plan. They think it’s their job to create the plan and implement the plan and measure the success of the plan.
But sales reps don’t care about that plan, because it doesn’t belong to them.
Though it should.
A good sales manager helps reps create their own plan.
It’s another simple conversation:
What do you want?
→ How much money do you want to make?
→ → What do you need to do to make that happen?
→ → → How many calls do you need to make?
Help them think through the numbers: if your close rate is X, you need to meet XX amount of people, which means you need to make XXX amount of calls.
The reps will know the facts and what they have to do to get what they want. They’ll own the process.
4. Find and Focus on Measurable Competencies
Too often, sales managers get caught up in subjective, unmeasurable behaviors. Open-ended questions, going through the right stages, all of the techniques. This makes their job infinitely harder, as they’re dealing in nebulous gray areas.
Instead, find and focus on measurable competencies that drive performance.
Sales managers will ask:
“Did you ask an open-ended question” or “Which open-ended questions did you ask?”
The problem is, that isn’t measurable.
Instead, set a metric:
For instance, what does a customer need to reveal during discovery?
Then you have something quantifiable:
- Did they reveal it?
- Or didn’t they?
Now they can trade in objective facts that can’t be argued against. Remember, competencies are ultimately about outcomes.
5. Have the Rep Lead
A good sales manager can coach people through self-assessments. As reps learn to self-evaluate, they expand their understanding of what it takes to succeed.
Sales managers need to get comfortable letting the rep lead coaching conversations.
I recommend a talk along these lines:
- What do you want to work on?
- How did you assess that call?
- What do you think happened?
- What would you do differently?
Reps may head into a coaching session like they’re showing up to the principal’s office. But sales managers aren’t there to dictate right and wrong: the manager guides, but it’s the rep’s session.
6. Get Action Commitments
The idea that “the rep leads coaching sessions” shouldn’t suggest that the manager isn’t essential. In fact, great coaching has three elements:
- Evaluating competency — watch, see, assess
- Align on ideas — we agree together that this is what you want and this is what it will take for you to get it
- Develop skills — create space and objectives for skill development through ongoing practice
Sales managers aren’t just information couriers; they are coaches who can drive all of these important ideas to real action.
Every great coaching relationship is outcome-oriented. This means securing a commitment to action to gauge continuous growth against.
The Power of Momentum
Sales managers catalyze growth journeys for the right salespeople. They bring great discernment and people skills to the plate, inviting sales reps to roadmap their own achievements.
Great coaches make it easy to see momentum, highlighting wins and driving traction quickly. They break the growth process into manageable phases. Doing so safeguards against discouragement and secures loyalty.
Under great sales managers, an entire sales department will thrive.
Interested in an organization that trains the trainers? Learn more about ASLAN’s Sales Management Training programs here.