Organizations invest in training to move the needle on performance. Nowhere is this more important than with sales training, where the expectation is, ultimately, to increase top-line revenue with greater efficiency and at stronger profits.
We all know that training alone does not drive results. It is the consistent and effective application of relevant skills and behaviors that deliver the desired ROI. And while there are many tools, technologies and methods to drive sustained application, the most important of these is too often neglected.
I am referring to the sales manager.
For over 16 years, I have listened to sales professionals voice two concerns when entering training. While being away from their clients for an extended period of time is a frequent and understandable concern for many, the second commonly cited fear is lack of management support when they return to the workplace. Many participants fear that their direct manager may not have the time, capability or willingness to support their ongoing growth.
Sales managers are the lynchpin between training and results. They may not be responsible for the numbers (output), but they are accountable to their executive team for them. And direct managers are uniquely positioned to ensure the sustainment of the behaviors (input) that will deliver superior results.
Many sales managers are high-performing sellers who have proven their worth in the sales trenches, resulting in the coveted promotion to leadership. Through no fault of their own, many slide into this vastly different role with minimal guidance on what it takes to successfully enable new behaviors and deliver sustained performance through other people.
Here are five smart, and often overlooked, tips to prepare the sales manager for his or her role prior to, during and after any training initiative.
1. Prior to training, the manager’s role is to “ready” their team so that employees enter the program with enthusiasm along with clarity on their personal goals for this investment of time. They should also preschedule a post-training meeting to discuss the rep’s new insights, commitment to action and the management support required.
2. Managers must participate in skills or new process training, either as a leadership group before their team’s participation, or with their salespeople. The frustration voiced by many salespeople is, “We come out of training with fresh thinking and efficient ways to move the sales cycle forward, only to be pulled back to old habits by a sales manager who hasn’t looked at the training content.”
3. Focus on the “how,” not just the “what.” Everyone talks about the importance of the sales manager’s role as a team coach, but there is an important distinction between behavioral coaching and opportunity coaching. Of course, sales leaders want to coach the progress of opportunities through the sales pipeline. More importantly, they should coach the development of the human beings responsible for that pipeline through timely, constructive, behavioral-based observation and feedback.
4. Sales managers should develop “thinking” sales professionals. Technology, along with the associated platforms, templates, scripts and tools, has brought us many efficiencies. But there is a dark side to technology that relates to how we use it. We are in danger of creating an industry of shallow thinkers who are adept at “filling in the blanks” and regurgitating irrelevant scripts rather than thoughtfully developing content, format and flow that clearly position their recommendation as the obvious choice for a specific client.
5. Sales managers can better leverage motivation from the inside-out than from just the outside-in. Salespeople want to make big money, but compensation, trips and prestigious clubs are not necessarily the primary driver of their behavior. Motivators are often intrinsic. Achievement, peer respect or personal growth may be the engine behind salespeople’s motivation to change. It’s the sales manager’s responsibility to observe, notice and ask to uncover these primary drivers of action. This focus on the right motivators, coupled with effective coaching and sustainment of smart behaviors, is the fastest route to inspired performance and a healthy ROI on your training investment.