A VP of Sales with a force of 22 first-line sales managers and 175 salespeople recently told me that not one salesperson had expressed an interest in moving up into a sales management role even though there was an opening. His opinion as to why? He described his sales managers as reactive fire-fighters, working 70+ hours/week, overwhelmed by all their job demands. They weren’t managing their time effectively, were easily distracted, and frequently stressed out. “I don’t think my salespeople like the lifestyle they see,” the VP said.
Here are some practical solutions I provided my client for improving sales coaching effectiveness, along with the 3 costly mistakes that many sales coaches make every day.
Mistake #1: Focusing too much on pursuing the big deals
Most sales managers were top sales reps at some time. So by nature, they do what they know best – chase the big deals, right alongside their “A” salespeople … the salespeople who need the least sales coaching help. Meanwhile, their “B” and “C” players are struggling to compete in tight markets, often don’t recognize big opportunities, or don’t have the prospecting skills to get in the C-level door in the first place.
Effective sales managers know they are most vulnerable to the competition in territories inhabited by their weakest reps. Top reps don’t need as much attention as the Bs and Cs. Sales managers will get much more leverage from their effort if they focus their sales coaching on where it will have the biggest impact—helping “B” salespeople in competitive territories, for example.
Mistake #2: Failing to triage their time
In most cases, overworked sales managers have to put much of the blame on themselves. They feel compelled to answer every email, respond to every call, and basically treat everything that comes up during the day with the same level of priority. They think that being responsible for their team means they have to take all the monkeys off other people’s backs.
These habits are hard to break, but your sales management training efforts need to focus not only on sales coaching skills, but also on the time management problems that prevent effective sales coaching from happening. A simple solution to managing time and priorities can be applied anytime a salesperson brings you a problem they want you to solve for them. Ask them two questions: “What have you done about it so far?” and then follow up with “What do you think you should do next?”
Mistake #3: Undervaluing their leadership responsibilities
Ram Charan (The Leadership Pipeline) says first-line managers must re-focus what they value in themselves. Ineffective sales managers value their ability to fight fires, to juggle a million To Dos – for many, this stress is intoxicating. But it doesn’t develop people. Effective sales managers need to value their sales leadership work tasks enough to apply the vast majority of their time coaching salespeople, managing priorities, and motivating others. This is the superior sales leadership mindset.
To help your sales managers “value” the right things, you need to teach them how to manage time, how to set and stick to priorities, how to become more effective at sales coaching. You also need upper-level managers who repeatedly send the message that leadership and coaching tasks performed by first-line sales managers should be a priority every day.
Nobody envies a lifestyle of 70+ hour work weeks and constant stress. The VP that I talked to should have recognized that his sales managers’ behavior wasn’t just bad for the people, it was bad for his company. Sales managers who don’t have the time or don’t know how to coach and plan, end up creating under-performing sales teams. Yet too often, I see companies that spend big money on sales methodology training and don’t invest a dime in sales manager training. That attitude needs to change.
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