A sales manager sits at his desk at 8 a.m. His calendar is largely clear, and his plan for the day is to reach out to the sellers on his team and help them win their biggest sale.

An email comes in at 8:17 a.m.: “Jim, I need that pipeline report to get to the VP right away. Sorry for the rush, but she just asked me and said ASAP. Thanks for sending along hopefully by lunch.”

At 10:15 a.m., the manager sends off the pipeline report. Another email comes in from a colleague: “Jim, I have a talk today with one of my failing reps, and I need to exit him. I need a witness to join. Can you meet us at 1?”

He replies, “Sure. See you then.”

Another email comes in: “And I’m interviewing two people. Can you take the 11 a.m.? I have a conflict, and they look good on paper.”

His day is gone.

Sales manager responsibilities often include:

While all these responsibilities are important, the last one — sales coaching — is crucial to unlocking top sales performance, and it’s often the one sacrificed because one of the others hijacks a sales manager’s time.

Through coaching, managers are a key leverage point for most sales organizations. They are the ones working with sellers one on one, keeping them focused, advising them, checking in and helping them stay motivated for the long term. An effective sales manager is often the difference between an average and a top-performing team.

But developing sales managers, and keeping them focused on coaching, aren’t easy tasks. In fact, a recent survey of 423 sales, enablement and company leaders by The RAIN Group Center for Sales Research ranked developing sales managers as the fourth most frequent sales challenge. Additionally, 27% of leaders said that coaching their sales force is “very challenging,” and 54% said that improving sales manager effectiveness is a top priority.

The problem is that most sales managers come up through the ranks and achieve the title because of their exemplary selling performance. They don’t necessarily know how to manage and coach sellers. They assume what worked for them will work for others. Often, this isn’t the case.

For sales managers to reach their potential and unleash the potential of their sales teams, they must incorporate the five roles of a sales coach:

1. Motivate Sellers

Sales managers must motivate sellers to help them find and sustain high levels of energy and action over the long term. Contrary to popular belief, motivation is more of a skill than an innate attribute, and the best managers can build it.

2. Focus Seller Actions

Most sellers don’t track their time, but let’s assume they did, and we reviewed how they spent a week’s worth. Would they be doing the right activities, from the morning until they knock off for the day, across the board?

Probably not.

The best sales managers help sellers focus their energy and efforts on the activities that will yield them the best return. And, once those activities are identified, they help sellers maintain focus while avoiding distractions.

3. Help Sellers Execute

Sales managers must help sellers execute in the zone — the place where their sole focus on one activity yields a feeling of energized focus, involvement and enjoyment. If your sales force executes in the zone, on the right activities, they’ll produce amazing results.

These first three roles are rarely the focus of sales coaching. This needs to change.

4. Advise Sellers to Win

Some people are of the opinion that coaches should avoid giving direct advice, because it will hinder the sellers progress. But a good sales manager knows when to avoid direct advice (i.e., “Teach a man to fish”) and also when to give pointed and specific ideas to win a sale. Great sales managers are constantly running deal reviews (which we call “Win Labs”), building and reviewing account growth plans, and planning what to do for sellers to tackle their territory properly.

5. Develop the Team

Successful sales managers develop sellers’ knowledge, skills and attributes to improve performance. In fact, top-performing sales organizations have more skilled salespeople, sales managers and sales coaches. When it comes to sellers themselves, sales training and enablement are only a piece of the skill development puzzle. Another large but often ignored piece is the impact sales managers can have on developing the skills of their teams.

If sales managers learn the five roles of a sales coach well, they’ll be able to help their teams succeed. When they actually focus their time on coaching and avoid being distracted by other demands (as reasonable as each may seem in a vacuum), steadily increasing success inevitably follows.

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