Sales Management Coaching and What it Takes to be a Leader
7 min read
I’m sure you would agree that it is extremely unlikely to find an elite athlete at the top of their game without an equally top-class coach by their side. A mentor figure, someone who can identify the athlete’s weakness, put together a plan to correct it and motivate them to continuously push boundaries and reach the top of their game.
Sales management coaching is no different.
You can not have a successful sales team without a manager capable of bringing their own, personal coaching sales management style with them.
The sales director is the one who has to find a way to maximize the performance and sales productivity of their team. Whether that’s through setting competitive targets, improving internal communication, financial incentives or personalized training sessions.
Sales Management Coaching: Training Your Team
When discussing various different sales leadership qualities and styles of management I find that sales directors often forget about the core responsibility of all management, the professional and personal growth of the individual sales rep.
Sales unfortunately has one of the highest staff turnover rates of any industry in the US (34%).
Now some degree of turnover is normal and even healthy within a sales team, especially if burdened with a high number of underperformers. The main sticking point however is that 60% – 80% of top performers are leaving due to incompetent leadership, inadequate training or a lack of communication with management.
When it comes to sales training there are two distinct categories to consider:
Traditional methods of sales training
Coaching management sales training
Traditional training tends to focus more on theory and the products your salespeople will be selling to clients. For example, if you were a sales rep just starting out in the medical device industry it would be important to know each product type, process, and under which circumstances they are best sold.
Sales coaching, on the other hand, is all about maximizing the potential of every single member of your team regardless of the industry, sector or company you work at.
Successful coaches go deeper into understanding the needs of their team members, possessing skills in:
Thinking back to the managers who really influenced my coaching sales management style, they all possessed one glowing trait in common – be approachable.
No matter the issue I had, whether it was a lack of recognition for the work I did, a problem with my commission structure or unrealistic goals and expectations I knew the door (or phone) was always open.
Now the points I brought up were not always justified. In fact, one particular instance springs to mind concerning a set of quarterly targets given to me.
I marched into the director’s office scorned, with a sense of righteousness in my cause (my targets had been “inexplicably” raised again) and she was damn sure going to know about it.
Yet despite my thunderous barrage she simply sat there, listened and pondered carefully on each point before calmly replying. Each rebuttal was backed up with data from my weekly sales report and I left feeling invigorated and determined to hit my “new” targets.
Thinking about it this meeting again my manager not only demonstrated her openness, but also active listening, an ability to manage my tirade through non-threatening non-verbal communication and a great deal of empathy toward my situation.
Show faith in your team
Another trait to consider developing along with your sales management coaching style is trust in your team and encourage them to discover solutions for their problems.
This does not mean leaving them high and dry when a serious problem does arise (that would in fact be very bad management!) but rather nudge them in the right direction.
Let’s look at an example of a recent conversation between myself and one of our newer sales reps:
MARIA: Okay, Ana, I’ve seen you’ve got a very important visit coming up with “X” lead.
ANA: Yes, I’m preparing everything right now.
MARIA: What are your initial thoughts?
ANA: I think I’ll start off with the promotion we are running, it’s generating a lot of interest with some of the other leads I’m speaking to.
MARIA: Great, if it is working with some of your other leads I’d definitely try it. Have you considered cross-checking some of our clients with similar profiles?
ANA: No, I think the new promotion should be sufficient to get a good conversation going.
MARIA: The promotion should work in generating a positive discussion, but to really get things going you could consider discussing solutions that worked well with previous client’s in a similar predicament.
ANA: Perfect, that sounds like a good idea. Actually, come to think of it there was client “Y” who found our GoalManager add-on extremely useful, it might be worth looking into.
MARIA:I agree, let’s book a time slot next week to discuss how it went.
I was extremely pleased Ana took advantage of the promotion we ran to pique the lead’s interest and generate a positive discussion around our product. However, I also wanted her to consider looking at clients with similar profiles as I knew that our GoalManager add-on was a great fit and could just help swing the deal in her favor.
With a gentle nudge in the right direction without micromanaging, Ana was able to find the right solution herself.
They are the necessary incentives pushing your field reps to the limit, guiding them towards whichever sales objective you have targeted for the given quarter. Without them your team loses direction, focus and with them any chance you had of reaching your business objectives.
However, before sitting down and thinking about the goals to set your individual sales people you need to keep two things mind. Every goal set should be:
Directly related to a business objective
Fulfill all 5 of the SMART model’s requirements
How to make sure your sales goals are relevant
Sales objectives are a great tool for encouraging your team to go the extra mile to hit a given objective.
In fact, an internal study at ForceManager showed that field reps who could physically see (on their mobile CRM dashboard) a clear, given sales goal increased their productivity by up to 20%.
The problem arises when sales goals are not tied to a specific, long-term business objective. For example, if a salesperson is given a goal of making 20 client visits a week yet the business objective is to increase revenue from new customers, then visiting existing customers (goal) is in no way positively affecting the business objective.
To fix it, you simply start with your end goal in mind then work backwards from there.
Using our previous example of increased revenue from new customers, a good sales goal that directly affects this business objective would be to increase sales visits to prospects and leads, not clients:
Setting SMART goals for your sales team
The second point to remember when setting goals for your field team is to make sure they are SMART, that is to say:
Specific Measurable Achievable Relevant Time-sensitive
Specificity means a goal can not be abstract; it needs to be a tangible, measurable figure. For example, instead of saying increase sales visits (an abstract goal) change it to increase sales visits by 20% (a tangible goal).
Achievable is self-explanatory; if a sales rep consistently hits 70-75% of their quota then suddenly asking them for 150% is slightly unrealistic. A better goal maybe for 80-85% of quota for the upcoming quarter.
Relevancy we already touched upon before and time-sensitive is about putting a concrete deadline on a goal. This is pretty straightforward with most goals being set on a weekly, monthly or quarterly basis.
Sales Management Coaching: Motivating Your Team
Another extremely important sales management coaching skill is being able to motivate your team.
Now the first tactic I’m going to discuss is somewhat of a hot potato; every sales team requires one yet nobody is really game for talking about it.
It is, of course, the compensation plan.
Although it’s not related to sales management coaching per-se I think it needs touching upon as it’s such a key tool in motivating field reps.
The most common problem I across is managers using the compensation plan as the sole tool in leveraging sales performance. They end up spending outrageous amounts of money in a desperate effort to eek out that little bit extra from their team.
When the results don’t come in they simply ramp up the commission and around and around we go.
The good news is the compensation plan is only one of the many levers sales managers can pull to motivate their team, so let’s take a look at some of other options.
3 alternatives to the compensation plan
To keep things concise I’ve focused on the 3 factors I believe will have the greatest impact on your sales team’s performance. They are:
Setting clear sales goals
Personal career path development
The first is by setting your individual salespeople clear, relevant sales targets. Not only are they key in helping you achieve your business objectives (as we discussed earlier) but they also have very strong motivating effect too.
Secondly it’s important to recognize the hard graft your team’s putting in – all the better if you can do it publicly.
That’s why I like to make a point in our bi-weekly sales meetings of complimenting individuals who I feel deserve a special mention. Whether it’s a simple comment such as “great work prospecting this week Ana, these are some of the highest call to lead conversion figures we’ve ever seen,” or “a special mention to Julien this week who managed to get “X” account over the line after a difficult negotiation period.”
To build team morale make sure to share your praise and recognition around the team. That doesn’t mean giving praise for the sake of giving praise – “great job with the erm, keeping your desk tidy John,” as this serves only to dis-value it.
Just remember everyone wants to recognized for the hard work they put in and such a small gesture can have a huge impact on performance.
The final point I want to touch upon is taking a vested interest in the personal career path development of your team members.
It means a great deal to your salespeople if you showed a genuine interest in their overall development both in and out of work, and consequently, impacts their performance.
Try setting a general meeting at the start of every quarter to set out a career plan and any goals needed to fulfill it over the upcoming weeks. You can then review them bi-weekly to see how they are progressing.
It can often be simple things like setting up selling skills training sessions or maybe subsidizing a language course outside of work. Whatever it is, make sure to discuss with each of your team members their personal aspirations and how you can help them to achieve them.
Sales Management Coaching: Communication
The last sales management coaching point to go over is internal communication.
Over the years I have seen companies fall short when it comes to establishing an open line of communication between management and the sales team.
This is primarily down to companies not having an internal sales communication tool to facilitate this need, offering managers a 360 degree visibility over sales activity, pipeline management and the progress of their sales reps and their individual goals.
Not to be confused with maintaining “control” over your team, but rather viewed as an opportunity to uncover areas that need your particular attention.
For example, you might be rolling out a new product line that you want your sales team to initially push to a niche profile within your market. But with ineffective communication channels and the relatively difficult to track nature of email you have now way of knowing whether this strategy is being implemented or not.
Perhaps your team needs additional training with the product? Is the market not as perceptive as you initially perceived? Or is the campaign seeing genuine success?
Without effective communication between yourself and the rest of your team it’s difficult for you to know where you can help coach your individual sales reps.
To conclude, sales management coaching is about utilizing a mixture of skills to maximize the performance of your team. Through a combination of motivation, sales training, improved communication and the setting of SMART goals you should see a marked improvement in team cohesion and hopefully, business results.