No professional sports team would think of competing without a coach who knows what they’re doing. Most importantly, pro teams don’t assume that just because someone is a great player that he or she would also make a good coach.
Yet the standard in the sales profession seems to be the exact opposite: it’s assumed that great salespeople will become good managers. And that’s why many sales teams today are run by former sales stars who have never received training on how to manage a sales team.
Amazing, isn’t it?
When pro teams—whether in sports or business—use amateur coaches, they can expect to see a number of problems.
Lack of leadership mindset. An untrained sales manager’s perspective is that of an “über-salesperson.” They pursue deals. They jump in and take over because they know they can do a better job than most sales reps. Their mindset is “win THIS sale.”
To have a positive impact on their team, a leader cannot succumb to the player instincts. Instead, they need to become a keen observer of what others are doing — coaching cannot happen without the coach observing the action on the playing field, right? A true leader’s focus is on “what can I do to develop my players so that the whole team can win?”
Over-developed sense of responsibility. One of the ways that successful salespeople make it to the top is by being 100% responsible for solving all of a customer’s problems and meeting all their needs. When they move into management positions, this hyper-sense of responsibility translates into them becoming the #1 problem solver for their sales team.
A rep says to them, “Boss, we’ve got a real problem here.” The sales manager says, “Let me look into this, and I’ll get back to you.” And, voilá! – the manager has just accepted personal responsibility for the rep’s problem and agreed to provide the rep with a progress report. (Two time-consuming steps typically associated with a subordinate’s role.)
Unwittingly, the sales manager has demotivated this rep, who has learned that the boss will step in — which means the rep never learns how to do a better job because they don’t need to. Also, the rep never gets the satisfaction of knowing they have mastered a new skill.
Poor management of time & priorities. Even if you could convince untrained sales managers that they should be doing more coaching than playing, there would still be a big barrier: their inability to find the time to invest in coaching. There’s a lot of “stuff” coming at sales managers these days and it’s easy for them to become overwhelmed. As we just discussed, their hyper-responsibility makes them take on tasks that others should be doing — plus, they have never been taught how to manage their time based on priorities. They fall into the trap of constant fire-fighting, treating everything as both urgent and important… which means true priorities get ignored. The players are left to flounder while the coach checks tasks off a To Do list!
Lack of strategies for solving problems. When a high-performing person becomes a sales manager, they have to lead people who struggle in ways that they never did. Without training, a new sales manager often has a hard time diagnosing the reasons for poor performance, and will end up tolerating mediocrity and hanging on to the low producer (remember, the sales-rep-turned-manager will likely think the poor performance of others is somehow their fault, too!).
Untrained sales managers have problems at the other end of the spectrum, as well: they will also encounter prima donna reps who make good sales numbers but whose attitudes sour the team environment. Because the sales manager lacks experience and doesn’t know how to develop and enforce “team player” performance standards, they allow the prima donna reps to continue with self-centered behavior which demoralizes and discourages the rest of the team. For more information about the prima donna sales rep read “Managing a Prima Donna in Business to Business Sales”
Your Choice: Your company leadership has a choice. One option is to place an untrained sales rep in charge of a team, and then wait patiently for a 5-10 year “cycle of learning” while that person learns from experience how be a more effective sales manager. Or you can choose to speed up this cycle of learning by providing training on sales leadership skills and process.
For more sales leadership skills ideas download our “5 Sales Coaching Essentials”