According to the Sales Management Association’s March 2016 research report titled “Sales Manager Training,” 41 percent of companies participating in the survey had allocated zero budget for sales manager training. Of the 59 percent who did have a budget, half were delivering only generic management training—nothing specific to leading a sales team.
The conclusion is startling: For what many consider to be the most crucial, stressful and challenging job in corporate America, seven out of ten frontline sales managers are not receiving the training they need to excel at their job. They are not being taught the skills needed to do effective sales coaching, rep performance assessments, funnel reviews, sales forecasting and so on. As a result, they struggle with the difficult transition from “selling” to “managing salespeople.” Here are the top four problems with untrained sales managers:
1. They fall back on their sales instincts rather than developing a leader mindset.
Most sales managers came up through the ranks and were promoted into a management position because they excelled at selling. But because they don’t know how to be an effective sales manager, a promoted salesperson can fall victim to the lure of the adrenaline rush that comes from chasing the big deals and being in on the action. In short, they continue selling instead of managing. They still want people to like them, so they tiptoe around people problems and are reluctant to confront poor-performing reps. Their sales team is left without a leader, and sales performance degrades over time.
2. They lack consistency.
We all know that a common sales process is essential for effective selling, so why have so few companies embraced the concept that a consistent sales management approach is equally important for effective sales team leadership?
If a sales manager has no training, they have no predictable management process or common sales coaching language. Sales reps can become confused if the coaching message is not well defined or is subject to change. This situation can affect the sales manager’s credibility and the confidence of the sales team that the process will actually lead to sales success. It also makes measuring sales effectiveness and results very challenging.
3. They struggle to identify, communicate and enforce the high standards required for sales excellence.
I once knew an incredibly successful sales rep, Caroline, who was promoted into management. When she became a manager, the idea of offering help to her sales reps didn’t occur to her, because she thought much of the job came naturally, as it had for her. If you asked her what made her successful, she couldn’t explain it. As a result, she was quick to point out problems to her team but never offered them concrete help to improve.
Without sales management training, sales managers like Caroline have a hard time defining the skills, knowledge and activities needed to succeed as a sales rep. Therefore, they can’t provide true developmental coaching to reps by steering them in the right direction.
4. They focus too much on results (outputs) and too little on processes (inputs).
For obvious reasons, the sales process is often depicted as a funnel: A lot of opportunities come in and most drop out along the path, until some small fraction make it out the other end as closed sales. Untrained sales managers have a habit of standing at the end of that funnel inspecting only those opportunities that do close (or come close to it).
The problem is that you can’t improve the rate of conversion by inspecting only the outputs. Imagine you’re a golf pro. I hand you the scorecard from my latest round and ask, “How can I improve?” You can’t tell me. The scorecard doesn’t tell you where my technique was faulty; where I made good and bad decisions; or whether the problem is with my swing, my stance or my grip! An untrained sales manager will forever be just like this golf pro: clueless when handed a scorecard.
In their book, “The Leadership Pipeline,” noted leadership consultant Ram Charan and his colleagues write, “The highest-performing people, especially, are reluctant to change; they want to keep doing the activities that made them successful.” That reality can trap untrained sales managers into habits and behaviors that will suppress the success of their sales teams.