While many managers are conceptually aware of best leadership practices, they often fail at coaching their sales teams. Instead, they have a ‘management relapse’ and revert back to becoming a super salesperson for their team. Discover why it’s such a challenge for managers to make the long term, fundamental shift from salesperson to sales coach and what you can do to truly evolve and sustain positive change.
It’s a widely known fact that one of the primary objectives for managers, aside from hitting their goals and sales targets, is to develop future leaders. To achieve this, one of the main responsibilities of the sales manager is to coach and yet, it’s the one non-negotiable activity that continually gets put aside and quickly forgotten, only to be replaced with more of a directive management approach when handling employee issues, customer challenges and missed sales targets.
Regardless of your company or country, this is truly a global epidemic. Not many managers would argue that the primary role of any manager is to make their people more valuable, and this can only be achieved through effective and consistent coaching. If so, then how can a manager prepare their team, even themselves, for the next step along their career track if they are not equipped with the tools, skills and environment to do so?
Unfortunately, until a company and their senior leadership team are willing to address the limiting and ineffective evolutionary process from salesperson to sales manager that continues to permeate throughout organizations, and provide their managers with the training and ongoing support that’s necessary to transition from salesperson to sales coach, managers are often left on their own to try and figure out the secret to effective leadership. Here is the all too familiar career track and process many managers have gone through when transitioning from salesperson to sales manager.
From Salesperson To Sales Manager to Super Salesperson
A new hire becomes a salesperson. The salesperson becomes a good or top seller. Because they’re a good salesperson, the assumption is made that they would make a great manager. Subsequently, the salesperson gets promoted into management without any onboarding process or training around how to become a great manager, leader and coach.
While there may be some degree of training these managers receive, it’s usually more focused around HR compliance, labor laws (especially if you’re based in EMEA and have to deal with the workers’ council) or the responsibilities, sales targets, commitments and objectives that they have inherited in their new role. They aren’t provided with any methodology on how to coach or a coaching framework to use when developing and engaging with their direct reports. And most of the time, managers are not given any step by step process on how to best integrate and assimilate themselves within their team, uncover the management style each of their direct reports respond to best or how to align each of their direct report’s personal and professional goals with their sales targets and corporate objectives.
The Reality Shock – “You Mean It’s No Longer About Me?”
Instead, this new manager’s world is turned upside down. Yesterday, as a salesperson, their success, income and career advancement was, for the most part, based upon their personal performance and productivity. Now, as a manager, their success, income and career advancement is, for the most part, based upon the performance and productivity of their team. And no one prepared them for this fundamental shift in both skill set and mindset!
The Regression From Sales Manager Back To Salesperson
As such, the new manager now focuses on what they know best, which is how to sell rather than how to develop people. Subsequently, the manager then engages in the one thing they know how to do well and what they are comfortable doing, which is continually providing answers, solving their salespeople’s problems, handling reactionary customer support escalations and closing deals for their sellers, rather than coaching their people to find their own path, solution or advance their sales competencies.
Shockingly, this very manager then wonders why they have no time throughout their day to do anything else other than deal with problems! Additionally, those managers (and those managers of managers) who fall victim of this vicious cycle, which is common in result, metric driven cultures, can’t seem to figure out why their people are so dependent on them, lack accountability and never take any initiative! The paradox? Managers create what they want to avoid! While every manager wants a team of independent, accountable salespeople, taking on this role of Chief Problem Solver breeds a team of dependent sellers who expect their manager to do the thinking and problem solving for them.
Are You Successful In Spite Of Yourself?
Rather than develop their people and create a culture of continued growth and learning, the cycle of mediocrity continues, along with the frustration, stress, lackluster performance and reactionary, fear driven motivational tactics (“If you don’t hit your sales targets this quarter…”) that follows in its wake.
In this corporate atmosphere, everyone loses; the salesperson, the manager and ultimately your organization. And losing doesn’t mean that you’re not hitting your sales goals. After all, I know many toxic cultures where managers barely scrape by every quarter hitting their objectives. But ask that same manager if everyone on their team is hitting their individual sales targets and most of the time, the answer is “No.”
Senior leaders do their companies a major disservice rather than continually add value; not only to their bottom line or to their customers but to their internal customers; their employees.
“But our people are our most valuable asset.” That’s so easy to say, especially during good times. If this is really one of your organization’s core corporate values, how do you demonstrate that every day, especially in the face of adversity? What are you really doing to protect and increase the value of this asset? What do companies and managers do each and every day to make their people more valuable? And what about the many opportunities that are missed or stepped over to transcend performance objectives because of this very environment that leaders create?
Time To Hang Up Your Super Seller Cape
To become an world class, authentic leader, managers need to retire as the super salesperson. I find that managers revert back to being the Chief Problem Solver, rather than coach; not because they often want to (and many still do!) but because that’s all they know; it’s their safe zone, regardless of whether or not it’s effective! And let’s face it, as human beings we avoid doing things that are uncomfortable, unpredictable and unproven and instead, are more inclined to do what’s safe, predictable and comfortable; even if it doesn’t serve us best. The unfortunate truth is, it’s always safer to stay in the realm of what you know (like any human being), rather than take the risk of trying something that hasn’t been proven yet.
How can any organization expect their managers to transition from salesperson to sales coach without providing them with the training, tools, time and most important, the unconditional support to do so? Consequently, the manager chooses not to coach and instead, shifts into directive mode, often driven by fear; the fear of failing as a coach, being ‘found out,’ coaching the ‘wrong’ way, not getting it ‘perfect,’ their own negative past experiences coaching or being coached or just not knowing how to do so. Or worse, many managers think they know how to coach and are surprised when either their coaching fails or their people no longer want to be coached by them!
To Transform Your Team – The Change Starts With You
I recently had a coaching session with, Gina, a longtime client of mine. Gina is a VP of a global sales organization and is responsible for one of the top producing territories in the company. We were debriefing around our prior coaching session, where we worked together on the topic, format and content of a meeting she was facilitating for her management team. The intention of the meeting was to bring to light the importance of coaching their sales team and more specifically, HOW to actually coach. During this meeting, she not only shared the top coaching questions I gave her, which you can find here in this article but she also had her managers use these questions on each other during a peer to peer coaching skill builder exercise to see how powerful they can be.
Now, when her managers call her seeking assistance around a challenge with one of their salespeople or with a customer, rather than jump into problem solving mode, her first question to them is, “Did you use the coaching questions?” Moreover, asking this simple question to her managers further reinforced the importance of making coaching the priority as well as embedded the consistency in behavior that companies need amongst their leadership team in order to build and sustain a coaching culture.
The result? After only a few weeks, her managers are fully bought in to the power of coaching and specifically, using these coaching questions. The real benefit for Gina; she’s spending less time in reactionary, firefighting mode and has more time in her day to be proactive around growing her people and her territory!
Avoid The Management Relapse – Take a Step Back
If managers just take a step back and let their direct reports know they’re trying a different approach to problem solving and developing their talents by using these coaching questions, they would realize that these questions are critical to gather the information they need to uncover in every conversation! Conversely, if managers are not asking these questions, then they wind up making the costly mistake of filling in the facts with assumptions.
I have a saying, “In order to grow, you have to let go.” In today’s competitive landscape, no company can afford to step over the opportunity to evolve and transform their team’s culture in order to create what can become your new competitive edge through coaching. Sometimes, in order to achieve greater levels of success, it doesn’t require doing more, but being more by letting go of some limiting, self-sabotaging thinking. The good news for every leader is, this evolution starts with you.
Photo Credit: Girl Scouts