In an exercise I conduct in all of my sales management workshops, I have sales managers identify the coaching needs of one of their sales reps. Almost everyone has an easy time writing down specific ideas for what the rep could do to improve.
Then I ask them, “How many of you have already communicated these insights to that rep?” Only about 10% of the audience raises a hand.
This pattern is so pervasive that I’ve come to believe that 90% of sales managers are withholding vital information from their sales reps — information that could help those reps improve their skills and get better at landing more and larger deals.
Why aren’t managers talking about these development needs with their reps?
3 Common Reasons Sales Managers Don’t Tell Their Sales Reps How to Improve
• They haven’t done enough observation to be confident in their perceptions. There is some validity in this statement. One of my favorite sales management guidelines is “prescription without diagnosis is malpractice.” Managers must do more observation so they can accurately diagnosis what’s going on with each rep.
• They want the rep to self-diagnose. Many sales managers excelled as reps before they moved into management. And often they did so with very little help from others. Naturally, they expect that others can improve on their own. But for most reps, self-diagnosis (and self-improvement) is a skill, just like selling.
• They’d like to do more developmental coaching but “don’t have time.” There are two issues with this statement. Having been a sales manager myself, I know that the demands on their time are extraordinary (and have only grown since I was in the position). Time management is, indeed, a critical skill that sales managers must learn so they will have more time for coaching. That said, most managers admit that they are talking with their reps regularly — but mostly about deals that are currently in the pipeline.
3 Steps Forward to Better Sales Team Leadership
If you fall into the majority of sales managers who aren’t sharing their insights about developmental needs with their reps, here are three steps I advise:
1) Regularly observe each rep on sales calls so you can confirm or alter your diagnosis. This way you can provide specific examples of what a rep is doing well or poorly.
2) Help your reps develop their self-diagnosis skills. After you’ve observed a rep in action, ask them what they think they did well and what they could improve on before you offer your own ideas. This will help them develop the habit of evaluating themselves, which means they will be able to improve faster.
3) Include a developmental component in all your coaching conversations. Identifying and working on the rep’s development of key skills or wills should be part of every coaching conversation, even if you also need to discuss urgent topics like a specific deal. Most importantly, be consistent so you can establish a flow. If you discuss improvement ideas or other developmental needs (such as training or mentoring) in one conversation, revisit those same topics in the very next conversation. That will demonstrate to the rep that you are interested in and committed to their development.
Holding secrets — even if unintentionally — is not a good strategy when it comes to rep development. You are the only person in your company who can provide each rep with specific guidance on how to improve, so don’t withhold those insights from your team.
Kevin F. Davis is the author of “The Sales Manager’s Guide to Greatness: 10 Essential Strategies for Leading Your Team to the Top.” The book is now available on Amazon.com here.