Good selling doesn’t always translate to good management, but most organizations reward the best of the best in sales teams with their own team. It makes sense: when a salesperson excels in their business, they should earn a promotion. The problem is that not everyone has managerial potential and does not always have the essential skills to succeed in such a role (ie recruit, coach, inspire, etc.). Once promoted, this shining star of the sales team is often unable to generate results at the same level.
That’s not to say that great salespeople are incapable of becoming great managers. Successful sales reps-turned-managers likely come to the table with innate abilities, many of which help lead a team. It’s just that while preparing sales leaders requires a multifaceted approach tailored to each individual, most training programs simply focus on leadership skills.
Positioning (or repositioning) good salespeople to become great sales managers requires a more holistic approach to training and often involves three distinct pillars. Here’s what your company should focus on when moving a salesperson to a leadership position:
1. Have them develop an external (rather than internal) mindset around success. Mindsets can sometimes limit a sales manager’s ability to successfully lead a team. Years of sales conditioning can focus on personal performance, not the results of others. Managers can’t operate with the mindset of a salesperson if they want to be a truly successful sales manager. They must change their mindset to believe that their success comes from others and learn how to coach and empower employees to achieve their own individual success.
When trying to change a mindset, it’s also important for sales managers to assess their initial thoughts or gut reactions to situations. If they find themselves contemplating or taking action intended to resolve the situation on behalf of the rep, they need to stop and think about how it would help the rep grow or not grow. Instead of fixing things for the rep or berating them if they fail, it’s better to teach the rep how to fix the situation next time. In general, managers need to find ways to empower their salespeople to succeed on their own. It’s a very different mindset than what’s needed to be a successful salesperson.
2. Let them experience great sales coaching from seasoned mentors. More often than not, sales managers have entered the role without having experienced excellent coaching themselves. They may be sales experts, but do they know what successful sales coaching looks like? Without examples and first-hand experience, there will always be a disconnect as to how to impart their sales knowledge to the people they have been tasked to lead. And if a manager has only experienced ineffective coaching in the past, you can expect this cycle to continue. This lack of experience in coaching excellence and empowerment puts new managers at a disadvantage.
To break the cycle of ineffective coaching, managers must experience excellent coaching from professional coaches, those who have the necessary training and experience. Coaching must also be grounded in reality, so the best coach must have a background in sales or marketing to make any session applicable. In short, coaches need to bring together the “what” and the “how”. If you’re considering coaching firms, look for those that require extensive training and skills upgrading for their coaches, and see if those coaches follow the metrics for clients.
3. Make sure they understand when they can have the most impact. In order to meet the individual needs of salespeople, managers need to find the pivotal moments in the sales process where coaching is most effective. Managers know which leads have been assigned to which reps, and they also know when leads close. But what happens between these two points? Where are the entry points to empower and guide? There are three key opportunities in the sales process that are ripe for coaching:
- Preparation: Managers can help sales reps prepare for customer interactions and set them up for success.
- Execution: Times when managers are called upon to sell alongside their sales reps are excellent coaching opportunities.
- Reflect: After the customer interaction is complete, it’s essential to help salespeople reflect on what went well and what they could try differently next time.
Each of these moments is an opportunity to guide the team member towards adopting ideal selling behaviors. However, good coaching goes beyond timing. Sales managers must learn to assess each employee and tailor their coaching approach to the individual’s learning needs. Everyone learns differently: some need visual representation for information to be taken in, and others benefit from kinesthetic and hands-on learning. For example, salespeople who learn best visually need to see the sales manager demonstrate a skill as part of their learning process, which would occur during the preparation or execution phases. Salespeople who learn better from a kinesthetic perspective benefit more from trying out a skill, either on their own or in partnership with their manager, and then getting feedback on it, which is more effective when execution or reflection.
When combined, each of these pillars can not only equip sales managers with the skills needed to lead a team, but also help with the necessary transition in mindset. Sure, it will take time, effort, and a bit of money to make sure sales managers fully understand what an organization is asking of them, but it will be worth it in the end.
Jason Davis is the Senior Director of Sales and Marketing Practice at BTS, a consulting firm that works with coaches and leaders to help businesses around the world. Davis brings over 17 years of sales experience enabling salespeople and leaders from different industries to develop their sales abilities, leadership skills, business acumen and understanding of customers. Davis co-leads the US team to provide service and experience to customers around the world. He is passionate about improving performance through training and enablement solutions for business leaders at all levels.