Being a sales manager is tough. In many cases, managers started out as great salespeople, and after they proved their capabilities they were tapped for management – a role that demands an entirely new set of capabilities. Forecasting, territory design, deal approvals and a host of other commonplace same management tasks relate to selling, but require different skills from what make a sales rep great.
One task that’s growing in importance for sales managers is coaching. Coaching is a great example of an unsung skill: it was cited as the third most impactful thing a sales manager could do in a June 2015 Sales Management Association study, yet the same study showed that only 28 percent of companies used coaching objectives in their evaluation of sales manager success, and only 16 percent used coaching objectives in determining sales manager compensation.
While it may not be fully appreciated by management today, the tide is starting to turn. Effective coaching achieves several things that contribute directly to the bottom line. Of course, if it’s done right, it can increase closed deals, deal size and overall revenue. But it has hidden benefits: it can increase sales staff satisfaction and decrease costly churn, for example, and it can help maximize other sales and marketing investments. Great coaches help their sales staffs get the most from the tools they are given.
But, again, this may not be the result of skills managers displayed in their selling careers. They’re discrete skills that managers develop. The trick, if you’re a sales manager, is to develop these skills in the context of sales, and to do it as rapidly and effectively as possible.
It’s not all intuitive; being a great coach involves thinking about a myriad of things, some in areas that may at first seem unrelated. Here are three areas to consider that go beyond the realm of “practical advice” and into some systematic suggestions that can ensure your coaching is as complete as possible:
Make Training a Priority
Software tools aren’t useful if no one knows how to use them, so make sure that your staff has been exposed to some serious training on your key applications. This does not simply let them know how to use it; genuine training also gives reps some understanding of what is possible with their software tools, and allows them to start thinking about the best ways to use them.
Training is often given short shrift; sometimes it’s cut from deployments to save expenses, and sales reps resent it because it cuts into their selling time. As a manager, it’s incumbent on you to sell training to your staff: using software the right way will allow your reps to work on more deals, deliver more quotes more accurately, provide prospects with the right content at the right time, and ultimately make them more money in commissions. If you get that message across, training is no longer viewed as wasted time and is instead seen as an investment that will reward the sales reps with more money.
Sales Enablement Isn’t Just for Sales Reps
Having the word “manager” after your name does not mean you’re a walking encyclopedia of product information. You operate with the same limitations your reps have – limited memory, lots of demands on your attention, a constantly-evolving set of products, and a corresponding constant evolution of content. This is why sales enablement is so important, both for sales reps and managers – if you have it set up properly, reps can get some self-service “coaching” on their own about the products they sell, and managers can arm themselves with critical product information before any coaching session with sales reps. A good enablement implementation should even allow managers to find content that’s appropriate during conversations with sales reps, and should allow usage of content to help prioritize content so the best-performing content is the first content suggested.
The alternative? Managers are forced to hunt for the right content to help their sales reps, costing them hours and energy, and often they find the wrong content. Coaching effectiveness is damaged, and reps are left to their own devices when it comes to finding the right content.
When In Doubt, Go to the Data. And When You’re Not in Doubt, Too
Coaching on hunches and assumptions is a great way to ensure your coaching makes no real impact. A manager’s suggestions may be disregarded if the advice offered isn’t appropriate to the sales rep’s reality, but it may also be disregarded when it’s applicable but is based on some aspect of the sales process the sales rep doesn’t understand.
In both cases, sales data is your friend. Having the metrics on performance down to an individual sales rep level gives you a baseline to start a conversation with reps, and not just from a revenue approach. Understanding the nature of deals, their timelines, and the issues they had during the sales process can anchor your coaching in reality and allow you to make suggestions that make sense to the reps (and are therefore more likely to be implemented).
Reliance on data is especially important when your coaching suggests a major change in approach; using the cold hard facts blunts the blow to your reps’ egos when you challenge them to change significant parts of their selling process or tactics. If you can show how those changes have worked with other reps or even in other selling organizations, it should be clear to your reps that the coaching you’re providing is not a challenge to their competence but really an effort to help them be better at their jobs.
Where do you find this data? It resides in your compensation management solution, your sales enablement solution, and other systems you use to make sales more efficient. It’s there, so why not use it?
Coaching, like sales itself, is increasingly a balanced process involving technology and human skills. Even with tremendous coaching ability, you can fail at properly steering your sales team without the right information and an understanding of their reality. Similarly, all the technology in the world won’t make you a great coach if you don’t know how to spot the insight that’s best for each sales rep or tap into data to define the trends and changes your reps need to know about.
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