By: Thomas Cooke on August 20th, 2020
Sales Management Training & Leadership 2020: The Sales Leadership Development Roadmap from Good to Great
During one of our recent Sales Management Leadership Programs, I had an interesting conversation with a tenured sales manager. His comments revealed a sentiment shared by many managers today. He said, “I think that I’m doing well and hitting most of the targets, but things have changed so much since I first became a sales manager, I’m not really sure how to assess whether I am a great sales leader or not. What should I do?”Most business owners and sales managers would agree that this role is becoming increasingly complex. Not to mention the swiftly changing environment the pandemic has presented has complicated the idea of performance further. Many companies have had to reassess their goals and objectives and pivot – and some are merely in survival mode, without an idea of what their goals should even look like during this time. Sales leaders are struggling with assessing whether they are performing in the best possible way. Part of the challenge is that sales managers are expected to perform a multitude of management and leadership functions while also helping their salespeople sell. Most are quick to admit that with so many other responsibilities they are frequently overwhelmed by the sheer number of tasks they need to complete on any given day. An example of these sales leadership roles include: Coach, Strategist, Recruiter, Educator, Communicator, Closer, Technologist, and Politician.
Sales Managers need help in mastering the total scope of their responsibilities and obtaining current strategies and best practices to develop an operating rhythm and drive consistent team performance. To go from good to great, sales leaders must embrace these evolving responsibilities.
The road map for today’s sales leaders to go from good to great is outlined below:
Focus on personal and career development
Great sales managers become great because they are consistently working to improve themselves and strengthen their abilities. It is easy to become overwhelmed by work responsibilities and forget that regularly striving to improve yourself will not only make you better but also give your team a pace of improvement to follow. The good news is that the pandemic has created some opportunities for professional growth. If there is less travel now, you can fill that time learning new technologies, evaluating processes or formulating strategies.
Let go of selling…but still hit the numbers
There are many things you mastered in professional selling, but not all of them help you become a better sales manager. According to many sales leaders, when they first became a sales manager they thought their job was helping their salespeople sell more. It is only later that they realize that productivity will bottleneck unless they develop their salespeople to perform their job responsibilities better than they ever could and to that person’s full potential.
Take the proven path to sales growth
By consistently developing salespeople, front line sales leaders can dramatically improve sales performance. In the same way that salespeople focus on the customer and their improvement to create sales, we suggest that sales managers focus on the salesperson and their improvement to impact overall sales effectiveness.
Become an information-driven strategist
In the past, sales managers provided sales coaching based primarily on their experience as a salesperson and manager. Great sales managers today rely on information reinforced by technology to develop sales coaching strategies.
Great sales managers embrace technology and use it to improve the selling competencies, processes, and strategic account planning of salespeople. In the current environment, we are all learning so many new things and adapting our approaches and processes. Be willing to lead by example, embracing the new way of doing things and helping your teams navigate the hurdles this new normal has presented.
Teach, coach, and manage to a customer centric selling process
Using an outdated sales process rather than a customer centric and collaborative approach will not significantly improve sales. We live in an age where customers are not only deluged with choices, but also more educated, sophisticated, demanding, expectant, and impatient. Coach your teams on this new buyer and help them understand that especially now, people do not want to be sold to; they want to be helped and educated.
70% or more of the buying process is complete before a customer engages with a salesperson. Once you’ve decided on a selling methodology that will support your company’s go-to-market strategy, then you should teach, coach, and manage to that process daily. This consistency will improve coaching outcomes and accelerate salesperson abilities.
Benchmark and assess sales behaviors, activities, and performance metrics
People know when they are part of an elite, high-performing team. Great managers set high expectations for themselves and others. They are willing to give the training, coaching, and support needed to improve salesperson effectiveness, and hold their team members accountable for consistently improving behavior, activities, competencies, and results.
While it may be difficult right now to understand what success looks like, your team needs clarity and focus more than ever. Help them understand the most important things they need to be doing, even if it’s just over the next 90 days. Create measurable goals for the work they are doing. Build a system around it, and discuss progress weekly to create a cadence of accountability. Doing so provides comfort and direction for your team, and helps leadership understand which employees are rising to the occasion, and which ones are not. It also provides the platform to engage in difficult, but necessary, conversations..
Hire only the best fit for your team
Even in uncertain times, there are new opportunities for you as a solution provider. As one example, think about the equipment, services and software needed as a result of the massive shift to work from home. To deliver these solutions to the new remote workforce, you may need to pivot your offerings and equip your team with the right talent and headcount to meet those evolving needs. While it may seem like a strange time to be hiring, great sales managers understand the importance of maintaining a funnel of high-quality potential job candidates. Sales leaders should continue to be adept at finding, attracting, and selecting the right individuals for their team, especially considering they need new expertise and resources, both to help educate their existing teams, but also to be able to manage the influx of new opportunities presented by the post-pandemic customer.
Keep looking forward
Things that made sales managers successful in the past will not guarantee them success in the future. Just think about how differently we go about things now compared to even just a few months ago, you’ll probably realize just how much things have had to change. You needed to pivot and ask yourself how you can change your approach and continue to drive results regardless of the environment outside. There are certainly things that every sales manager learned in the past that help them to navigate the rigors of managing a sales team today. And yet, looking backward at the sales manager methodologies of the past may be little help when managing the new, more technologically-savvy salespeople of today. The values, character, and work ethic which was so meaningful in the past is still important today. But the way we must manage, coach, communicate, and lead sales teams today is different if we want to maximize selling success. If there is one thing we’ve learned to be true, creating and sustaining high performance is accomplished by focusing on where you’re going and not on where you’ve been.
Support your sales team
Front line sales managers make a commitment to always support their sales team in the following ways:
- Champion your salespeople throughout the organization. Expect the best from them and work to have others offer their best to help them.
- Work to improve internal company processes, communications, and relationships.
- Campaign for resources and professional sales training. Nourish employees with development.
- Be present and accessible. Be available for strategizing, teaching, coaching, and mentoring.
- Celebrate success! In the past, everyone focused on celebrating closed sales. Today’s salespeople want recognition for more of their accomplishments. Celebrate those outstanding behaviors and activities that will ultimately lead to more closed business. Continuously build a culture that is uniquely special and fulfilling to your company.
Ask for guidance and help
My associates and I have had the unique pleasure of working with over 20,000 business owners, executives, and front line sales leaders since 1998. We are dedicated to the sales management profession, and will always welcome and respect your call to support your continued success. Our business is improving yours!
About Learning Outsource Group
Thomas Cooke is the CEO of Learning Outsource Group, an internationally recognized provider of sales and sales management development solutions since 1998. Major clients include Fortune 500 organizations, multi-national OEM’s, and hundreds of independent dealers and service providers annually. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 386-898-0007.
Hungry for Further Sales Development Opportunities?
Head on over to the PathShare HR Services website to learn about the Professional Selling Skills (PSS) training.
Thomas Cooke is the founder and president of Learning Outsource Group. Included in his corporate leadership responsibilities is the management of the company’s extensive capabilities and performance development services to clients throughout the U.S., Canada, Europe and the Pacific Rim. As an internationally recognized speaker and facilitator since 1992, he has been a featured speaker at numerous executive leadership conferences for a variety of organizations and has authored / co-authored various training programs including the Sales Management Leadership Program. Thousands of managers and executives from over 20 countries have participated in programs he has created or facilitated during the past several years. He is considered an authority in Sales Education and Sales Management Leadership Development.