Motivate Sales Reps -- By Using the Right Mentor

Motivate sales reps by using the right mentor.  Well meaning sales managers often select the organization's superstar salespersonas an example to motivate other sales reps.   Why not? Superstar's often have:

  • a strong work ethic
  • an outgoing personality
  • superior sales skills
  • quota busting quarters
  • enviable incomes

Who wouldn't be motivated, right?

Well, not every salesperson. No one size fits all. It sometimes depends on the rep's personality, drivers, and goals.  The staff superstar might not be the one they most closely relate to.  You want them to feel inspired.

Discussing one rep's performance to motivate another works.   It's a good tool to use.  Sales managers just need to pick the right salesperson to encourage another rep.

Avoid automatically using the staff superstar to motivate another rep. Instead,  ask the salesperson you're working with:

  • Who on the sales staff do you think highly of?
  • What do you most respect about them?
  • Did you work with them during orientation?
  • How much time have you spent with them?
  • What would you like to learn from them?

If the rep you're coaching names a salesperson that you agree would positively influence and motivate them- give these two every opportunity to interact.

In some instances, the superstar does represent the right role model.  If a rep speaks of wanting to:

  • increase their income substantially
  • call on the largest accounts
  • qualify for president's club
  • meet the criteria for the company trip to the Bahamas

they might be ready for more exposure to a super star performer.  Make it happen!

Sales reps learn from each other.  Encourage it.  Reps you manage today might reach another level altogether by emulating a rep they have a great deal of admiration for.  Their chances of success will grow exponentially.

Sales Managers - Know What Questions Your Reps Ask

Sales managers expect reps to ask carefully prepared, appropriate, open-ended questions during an initial or needs qualification meeting with a potential customer. Examples include:

  • Tell me about your current needs in the area of _______________?
  • What process did you use to select your current provider of _______________?

And the list goes on.

For top producing reps, this list has been honed and carefully edited during the course of their career.   Mundane or low value questions don't get included.  The time allotted for the first in-person meeting might be limited.  A rep has to extract the most amount of relevant and helpful information possible.

I advise the sales managers I coach to do two things:

  1. Meet with your reps and review their needs qualification lists.  Take a look at the questions.  Ask them how long they've been asking certain ones.
    Like every one, reps get into ruts.  They might even have gotten bored asking some of the questions -- over and over again.  Ask yourself if you think the questions remain timely and relevant.
  2. During a in-person or Skype staff meeting, have the reps email copies of their needs assessment questions to you and the other reps on the team.  As a group, review the list.  Undoubtedly, every single rep will see at least one question they might not have thought of themselves.

For years, I used the same list of questions when meeting with potential clients.  I stuck with it because the questions promoted great conversations... until 2009.  After that, those same queries stopped working.

A trusted colleague told me to gut the list and make the questions more relevant to the current economic conditions.  I did and have been reevaluating the list more frequently ever since.

Industries expand and collapse.  Companies merge or sell off parts of their business.  Primary competitors during one time period may not be the same companies you compete against a few years later.

Sales managers -- know what questions your reps ask during sales calls.  Singly and as a group, share, revisit and restructure those questions to alleviate boredom and keep current with the needs of your customer base.

Questions to Ask Yourself -- Before Promoting a Sales Rep to Sales Manager

You're considering three candidates for the open sales manager position.  One of them works as a sales representative for your organization.  This rep impressed you during the interview process, her answers indicating she's given the position a great deal of thought. Her product and company knowledge would cut down considerably on her ramp-up time.  But she's never been a sales manager before and the other two candidates have. Most executives find themselves in this position at one point or another --- having to choose between the eager, inexperienced sales management candidate or the seasoned sales manager.

When leaning towards the candidate with no sales management experience, ask yourself these questions:

  • Why do they want the job?
  • Can they describe a situation in which they've helped another rep close a deal?
  • Who was their favorite sales manager? What did they learn from them?
  • How did they respond to being asked about the differences between a salesperson and a sales manager?
  • Have you asked them to take a sales management assessment?  What did it show?
  • In a situation where they have to decide between advocating for the customer or the company -- what decision would they make?
  • How will they address their new promotion with their former peers?
  • What do they think the most difficult aspect of the job will be?

Sometimes a candidate's enthusiasm trumps theirlack of experience.  They might get you fired up too.  Candidates like this often don't know it can't be done.  Temper your enthusiasm by determining whether or not they have the sales manager skill setand an understanding of what it really takes to succeed in the position.

Hiring Salespeople? Ask Yourself These Five Questions.

Hiring Salespeople?  Ask yourself these five questions before extending an offer to a candidate:

1.    Where does the candidate stand with respect to their sales experience?

  • 0 to 3 years
  • 3 to 5 years
  • 5 to 7 years........ and so on

2.     Is that the appropriate amount of experience for the position you're filling?

3.     Of the following, where is the candidate strongest and weakest?

  • Prospecting
  • Qualifying
  • Assessing needs
  • Addressingobjections
  • Negotiating
  • Closing

4.    Is the candidate able to articulate what you and your organization need them to accomplish?

5.     What motivates them?

Being able to answer these questions about a candidate leads to fewer surprises once they begin working for you.

Sales Managers -- Be Specific

In the beginning of the new year,  sales managers often ask the sales reps they manage for a report or business plan to address topics such as:

  • increasing sales within the top 10 accounts
  • opening new accounts in the territory
  • meeting with decision makers in a new vertical market
  • addressing declining sales in mid-size accounts

Reps receive the request.  They procrastinate for as long as possible, then send sales managers emails with a few hastily written ideas.  Sales managers ask for more detail.  Reps add a few more sentences.  The whole exercise gets lost in the day-to-day grind of running a sales organization.

Avoid that this year.  Before asking the rep for any type of report, clarify your own thoughts. Be specific. Ask yourself:

  • What type of information do I need to see?
  • Which format would I like the rep to use?
  • What level of detail do I require?
  • Can employees in other departments be of assistance?

Once you've completed this exercise, you should

  • Create a template     -- or--
  • Share a copy of a report you've used previously

Then meet or speak with each rep you manage.

  • Be clear the about purpose of the report
  • Explain how the information helps you do a more effective job
  • Put in plain words the benefits to them of having a plan to follow
  • Review a sample report or template

Just like your college professors, give them a deadline to submit a draft of the report -- especially if it's the first time you've requested one.

Review the draft with them.  Be a coach. Praise a solid effort. Make suggestions for improvements. Point them in the right direction if you need additional information.

Substandard reports from the reps often trace back to a lack of specific directions. Organize your thoughts.  Communicate unambiguously. Invest the time.  Set standards.  Inspect the product.  Don't settle for less than the information you and they need to succeed in your respective jobs.

Coaching a Rep on Your Strongest Skill

Sales managers get frustrated coaching reps who "don't get it". Remember sitting in class as a kid, bored out of your mind because the teacher was going over and over a math problem you understood the first time?  "This is so easy," you said to yourself, "who wouldn't get this?"

Until a few weeks later, when it was your turn.  You struggled with a math problem while other kids stared at the ceiling.  This time, they were bored.

The same goes with coaching sales reps.  They aren't you and you aren't the rep.  The skills you mastered fairly early in your sales career, may trip up another salesperson.

As a rep you enjoyed a reputation for asking great questions during the discovery phase.  You amazed your own manager by coming back from initial meetings with more information than most reps gathered by the third meeting.

Presentations -- that's another story.  Keeping your voice from shaking during the first few minutes proved difficult.  You spoke too quickly and didn't encourage the audience to ask questions.  You blew more than one.

For several reps on your team, the presentations seemed effortless.  That made the situation all the more difficult.  It took time and mentoring for you to believe in your abilities and make a solid presentation.

In coaching mode, empathy comes naturally when a rep we manage experiences the same difficulties we did.  We relate and share our own struggles, saying things like,"I remember trying this and it helped," or "whenever I took a deep breath at this point, I was able to get my bearings."  Would you be willing to give that a try to see if it would work for you?

Coaching a rep on a skill that came easily proves problematic for many sales managers. We get impatient.  Offering tips gets tricky -- especially if you don't know why you excel at one particular area of the sale cycle. Telling them "how you did it" doesn't work.

To combat this talk with other sales professionals who struggled in areas where you excelled.  Ask them:

  • what steps they took to improve
  • who gave them the most valuable advice
  • to share helpful tips
  • for recommendations on books or courses

When coaching a rep in this situation watch your body language and tone of voice. Work hard not to let your lack of patience or frustration show.  Try saying something like:

I know you struggle in this area and I know you want to improve.  What first steps could we take?  A colleague of mine had issues with this same thing early on her sales career.  Hard to believe isn't it?  She made this suggestion.  It helped her a lot.  Would you be willing to give it a try?

Know when you aren't sure how to help a rep.  Ask for advice and guidance from others.  Give salespeople all the support they need and deserve.

Sales Management Coaching -- Quick Drill

Sales managers -- try this quick drill during the next face-to-face or virtual staff meeting. As you know, many decision makers are over half-way through the decision making process by the time they start talking with salespeople.  This means reps have to add value to conversations or presentations -- above and beyond any information available on the internet.

Ask the reps to work in pairs.  Have each make a list of what they feel their drill partner  brings to the table in terms of value to a potential buyer.  Then ask them to write a list of their own value adds.

Each rep should read the attributes they came up with for their partner followed by those they wrote down about themselves. Keep a record.  See how many attributes appear more than once. Do several of the value adds apply to the entire group?

Once the list is assembled, sales managers can begin coaching the reps individually to work their value adds into emails, voice mails, and presentations.

It's true of all of us -- sometimes we don't know what we bring to the table until some one else tells us.  When this information comes from a peer, it often carries that much more weight.

Role Playing -- Try a Different Twist

Most of us who've spent our career in sales have memories -- both fond and not so fond -- of role playing with sales managers before a sales call. Sometimes this involved practicing the presentation of a new product line.  At other times the entire sales team might have needed help in addressing a difficult objection or a refuting a statement being made about the company by a competitor.

Some of my fellow reps disliked role playing -- claiming it didn't really duplicate the reality of making a presentation. Other reps thought the pressure of performing while managers and peers watched was too great.

As a rep myself, I understood how they felt.  What I did think role realistically replicated, at least for me, was the sense of heightened awareness one experiences when face-to-face with a decision maker.  I never knew exactly what my manager would say to me during role play -- just as I could never be certain what a buyer would say.  To me, that was worth the stress and pressure.

Change things up a little bit.  To avoid the sameness of role playing -- manager acts as decision maker rep plays the part of-------well, the rep ------have your sales reps take on the role of the buyer or decision maker.

Acting as the decision maker forces the rep to look at the sales call from another's point of view.  The salesperson moves from practicing addressing a buyer's objections to thinking about what concerns they as a buyer might bring up.

As sales manager, a lot of your coaching time gets spent practicing with reps until they feel prepared.  Top performing managers and reps also plan for the unexpected.  Looking at a sales call from some one elses point of view adds to the reps' confidence level when the actual sales call takes place.

Sales Managers -- Focus the Conversation

Sales managers sometimes enjoy easier, friendlier relationships with certain sales reps in their group. They look forward to one-on-one meetings with them. The problem? By the time you discuss an exciting National Hockey League match-up or her daughter’s latest hockey game, time is up. It happens to the best of managers. You just have more in common with some reps.

Part of a manager’s job involves getting to know their reps on an appropriate personal level. But when business meetings get frequently sidetracked, you aren’t doing the right thing by yourself, the company, or the salesperson. Turning the situation around can be awkward.

The solution? Focus the conversation immediately. Don’t get diverted. As soon as they step into your office (be standing up rather than sitting down) or you have them on the phone for their regular meeting, use a friendly tone and say, “How are you this morning? Janice, you and I sometimes get off topic about hockey. We’ve got 30 minutes and we need to talk about your long range forecast. Let’s start with that. Can we leave hockey until the end today?”

In this way, you own your part in this problem and you don’t confuse them by foregoing the usual hockey chat altogether.

Make certain to leave a little time at the end of the discussion and say something like, “This was a good meeting. I better understand your thought process on the long range forecast. We’ve got two minutes before my meeting with Ted. How was your daughter’s game this weekend?”

You could also say, “You and I are working together on Wednesday, visiting your accounts in Smithfield. Would you mind if we saved our hockey chat until then? I want to hear how your daughter’s team did this past weekend.”

During this meeting, set an agenda for the next one. Tell them, “Next Monday, I want to talk about increasing the number of accounts on your long range forecast.”

After several meetings, if Janice doesn’t get the hint and tries to monopolize a business oriented conversation with hockey, then a more direct conversation becomes necessary. Both you and Janice enjoy hockey. That’s fine. It creates comraderie and makes working together more fun. Don’t change that completely. Talk about hockey after business discussions. Limit the duration. As the manager, you job involves re-directing and re-focusing the conversation.

Money Motivation

All sales managers try their best to give practical, actionable advice when coaching sales people. Often, we need to remind ourselves to be clearer and quantify the new behavior we’d like to see in money motivating terms for the salesperson. As an example, a manager says to a rep:

Making some minor changes to your presentation, like leaving more time for customer interaction, might increase the interest level and the number of prospects who go to the proposal stage:

A more effective statement:

I think you do a good job of making attendees feel comfortable about asking questions at any time during your presentation. Your product knowledge is solid. Once you start talking, though, you rarely pause and ask if anyone has any questions they’d like to ask. I’d like to see you make the presentation more interactive. You might say something like, “at this point I’ve covered features X and Y. Does anyone have questions about either feature before I move on?”

You’ve provided the rep with an unambiguous coaching tip. They can think this over and begin to work it into future presentations.

Don’t stop there though. Of course salespeople should strive to give interactive, compelling demos. Why? It increases the number of prospects interested in a follow-up meeting or proposal. Quantify what those additional meetings or proposals might mean to the rep:

With improved interaction between you and the prospect during the demo, I think you’d increase the number of proposals you send out from 6 to 9 per month. With your strong closing ratio, that could lead to 1 or 2 additional closed sales per month – representing $3000 additional commission per month or nearly $10,000 per quarter. Over a period of a year, that’s a $40,000 raise.

In this coaching session, you’ve enhanced the rep’s presentation skills and demonstrated the tangible benefit (increased earnings) they realize by capitalizing on the advice.

Sales Managers Should Listen Instead of Tell

Sales reps’ behaviors often puzzle sales managers. You wonder why the renewal business section of the compensation plan doesn’t seem to motivate them. When a rep’s turn comes to put up a post on the sales blog, they always manage to miss the deadline. Why does their presentation on the new product seem so lackluster? The questions go on and on. In conversation after conversation you’ve gone over the comp plan, reminded them to post a blog, and reviewed the features and benefits of the new product. Where does the disconnect lie?

Switch gears. During you next coaching session, ask them to explain the rule / procedure / product to you. Get a grasp of their interpretation.

Asking a sales rep to explain something to you brings to light:

  • What they specifically do not understand (they have a good grasp of the new product but get tripped up on a particular feature. Anxiety about having to discuss this feature leads to a tentative presentation.)
  • How they interpret a particular point (they understand the new versus renew clause in the compensation plan but think it’s unfair -- especially as it relates to three of their clients).
  • When they actually do comprehend something perfectly well and can explain it. They just don’t agree with it or want to do it. (Self-conscious about their writing skills, they avoid contributing to contribute to the blog).

Recognizing their interpretation leads to follow-up meetings, additional training, “aha moments”, compromises, and reaffirmation of or changes in policy – in other words getting to the heart of the problem and solving it.

Anticipate Customers' Needs in Advance

Recently, I attended a LinkedIn seminar. Several vendors’ had set-up booths in the hallway outside the meeting room. One was a photographer offering updated professional head shots. She brought along several business appropriate ties along for men who weren’t wearing oneand wanted a picture taken.

To the photographer’s right, a jewelry designer displayed her custom made rings, bracelets, earrings, pins and necklaces. She was lending various pieces to women being photographed for their head shots.

Both women ran businesses with services to sell. At the same time, each one made it easier for potential customers to buy from them, by anticipating their needs in advance.

At past seminars, men must have said to the photographer, “I’d like to get a picture taken but I don’t have a tie on.” Likewise, women must have alluded to the fact that they weren’t wearing the right jewelry for a professional photo.

Impressed with the way both women handled their interactions with customers, I took their cards. Who knows when I might be able to recommend their services to a colleague?

When coaching your salespeople, ask them to ask their customers how your company can make doing business with them easier. At the next staff meeting, brainstorm with the sales staff to create a list of strong questions such as:

  • Are you having any issues with our company that isn’t getting solved?
  • Do you have any suggestions for us that I can pass along?
  • Is there a way for us to make placing and receiving an order from our company easier?

If the customer has a suggestion or asks a question, make sure your reps forward the information to the appropriate party. That employee should contact the customer. The rep should check in with the customer to see if any progress has been made.

Use these customer exchanges to generate great ideas. Make it easier for customers to do business with your organization.

Sales Managers Wearing Sales Coaching Hat

Sales managers, the next time you’re wearing your sales coaching hat, make a point to frequently recognize sales reps for their special talents and contributions to the sales effort. Why?

• Sales reps, just like other employees, don’t always know what they’re good at. When someone excels at something, they take it for granted, assuming everyone knows how to do it.

• When a rep already performs a particular task well, and it gets pointed out to them, they increase that behavior.

The next time you meet or speak with each member of your sales staff, say something like:

How’s our LinkedIn expert this morning? How many contacts do you have now? You’ve really inspired the group to update and improve their profiles.

Do you know that you turn in the most accurate, timely sales forecast in the group? I was reviewing it today and wanted to let you know how much I appreciate it. Accurate forecasts help me do a better job.

Some people struggle with accepting compliments. The accolade sort of hangs in the air and they don’t know what to say. To avoid embarrassing them, ask them a follow-up question like:

How did you become so proficient at LinkedIn?

Have you always turned in such precise and timely forecasts? Did you have a mentor?

By recognizing and complimenting a particular talent, you’ve also paved the way for asking them to share their expertise at a staff meeting. Sometimes bored of directives from their manager, reps often respond positively to help and coaching from a peer.

As a sales rep, I was finishing up a phone call with a customer. My manager, listening to the conversation, said, “No one wraps up a call like you do. You review the conversation, discuss the next step, and confirm the date for the next call. How do you do that?”

I didn’t know I was doing anything. I was a sales rep. That was my job. Having it pointed out to me in a positive way was motivating and gave me an appreciation of my individual contribution to the sales organization.

Do for your reps what my manager did for me.

Promoting Superstar Salesperson to Sales Manager

Most executives and business owners have heard, at least anecdotally, that promoting the superstar sales representative to the position of sales manager sets the salesperson and the company up for failure. Still, some go ahead and promote their number one producer anyway. But what if YOU are that superstar? What if YOU are the rep whose sales outpaced any other salesperson the company ever hired? How do you deal with being offered a sales management position? After years in sales, does the idea of trying out the job intrigue you just a little bit? Did you get talked into accepting the promotion?

No matter, you now carry the title of Sales Manager, Director of Sales or Vice President of Sales. You’ve been told the odds of your succeeding are low. You were a hard working sales rep. You’ll be a hardworking manager. What is it about a successful sales career that doesn’t translate into a successful management career? Why can’t you thrive in that position?

To answer that question, first consider the differences between the superstar salesperson and the sales manager:

  • Salespeople work for the client. Sales managers work for the company.
  • Superior sales performances allow superstars special status and privileges -- fellow reps, bosses and executives often treated you deferentially. Sales managers get held to group goals and different standards.
  • Salespeople tend to be individual contributors. Sales managers succeed based on the team’s performance.
  • Superstars have trouble explaining their sales process and methodology to others. Sales managers need to coach, motivate, teach, correct and explain.

Before accepting the promotion, understand that:

  • Many of the skills that made you a successful salesperson won’t help you manage a sales force.
  • Your new clients – get ready – are the reps themselves!!
  • The odds are against you succeeding.

Among the first actions you should take include:

  • Picking up several books on sales management. Read about the current thoughts of different leaders in the field.
  • Seeking training and coaching. Learn how to be a sales manager – because you don’t know how just yet.
  • Working diligently to get to know your reps as individuals. Don’t confuse your motivations and drivers with theirs.

Do you know of a superstar salesperson that succeeded as a sales manager? How did they do it?

Deal Efficiently with Questions from Reps

Most newly appointed sales managers express surprise and frustration with the amount of their time getting taken up by salespeople and their seemingly petty problems. Prior to the promotion, these managers pictured themselves strategizing with the reps on large deals, or making bold recommendations about the compensation plan to upper management. Yet, a salesperson wanders into their office and asks a question such as: “I like Cindy personally and think she’s a great rep. I don’t want any issues between us, you know what I mean? But all day long she hums under her breath. I worry my customers will hear it and it distracts me like crazy. Could you talk to her about it? Make it sound like a general complaint – OK? – you know like a lot of the reps have noticed and would like her to stop it.”

You care about this rep and how he feels. That humming might really be throwing him off his game. As his manager you need him producing. But problems like this – ugh.

Sometimes you wonder what a sales management position is all about – and how to decrease the number of complaints and interruptions. One idea – reach out to them on a regular basis. Give reps a call. Stop by their desk. Ask them what’s on their mind. Find out what – if anything – you can do to help sell more effectively. A problem like the salesperson mentioned above has with Cindy, gets discussed and resolved differently when you seek the rep out versus their having to approach you.

Though new sales managers don’t believe it at first, reaching out to reps proactively slows down the office drop-ins.

Another good response: “I have 10 minutes now and all the time you need after 5pm today.” Those who just want to vent will steer clear -- preferring to get home on time. Reps serious about discussing an issue will get to the point quickly, actually brainstorming rather than just complaining. They want to get home too.

Reps approach sales managers with issues – big and small. That won’t change. These ideas might help you spend less time dealing with them.

What do you say or do when a rep approaches you with an issue or problem that’s more personnel than completely sales related?

What's the Difference Between a Pipeline and a Forecast?

During sales department meetings, reps typically review their pipelines and sales forecasts. Problems occur because reps, managers and executives often refer to these reports interchangeably.  The definition matters.  There's a big difference between the pipeline and the sales forecast.  Understanding what each means and using them correctly carries a lot of importance for a number of reasons.

The Pipeline

The sales pipeline consists of all prospects at all stages in the sales cycle, whether the sales person is in the beginning phase of introducing your company, discussing the product or service, qualifying a prospect, conducting a Webinar or product demonstration, or formally presenting a pricing proposal. Though all future sales begin as leads from some source (cold calling, referrals, or trade shows), no unqualified or uncontacted lead should be in the sales pipeline. All unclosed sales, however, belong in the sales pipeline.

The phrase “pipeline management” refers to the salesperson’s ability to juggle all of their prospects in differing points in the sales cycle. “Balancing” the sales pipeline refers to their ability to cold call, follow-up on existing leads and close sales simultaneously so that they have a continuous flow of opportunities and will not have huge period-to-period swings in closed sales.

The Sales Forecast

The sales forecast is the salesperson’s best estimate of which sales will close in a given time frame. Most companies produce 30-60-90 day forecasts: opportunities more than 90 days into the future are considered less reliable and are generally not forecast. The main difference between the pipeline and the sales forecast is that the prospective customer must meet certain pre-defined objective criteria to qualify for the sales forecast in the first place (e.g.: the proposal has been reviewed with the decision maker; the budget process is clearly understood; the prospect has made a verbal commitment to buy). Prospects in the sales forecast are not at various points in the sales cycle; they are nearing the end of it.

Another significant difference between the two is that the sales forecast is used to estimate a company’s short term revenue and cash flow.   In other words, sales forecasts help a company determine whether or not they can pay their bills, pipelines do not.

The Long Range Sales Forecast

Prospects in the long range forecast have told the sales representative that they are budgeted for and will be purchasing a product or service at some point in the future. For the prospect, the reason that the purchase is being put off into the future usually involves an expiring contract or a purchase that needs to go through the formal budgeting process. Sales representatives use the long range forecast to keep track of prospects who will be buying anywhere from 4 months to 2 years from the time of their initial contact with them.

Once a prospect is on the long range forecast, the salesperson can put them on the company mailing list and keep them informed about new product developments and promotions. By giving the prospect a call from time to time, the sales representative will be in the know if they change their mind and decide to buy in 7 months instead of 1 year.

A wise sales manager looks out for the following scenarios:

  • Salespeople with a full pipeline can turn in a weak sales forecast because of an inability to close sales.
  • Those with a strong sales forecast can have a weak pipeline because they have put the bulk of their effort into getting sales closed, while neglecting to prospect or conduct enough product demonstrations.
  • Salespeople with a strong pipeline and strong sales forecast may be spending little time with those prospects that might be purchasing many months in the future.

Sales is a balancing act. Managers need to understand and communicate the difference between the two reports.  Their success managing the sales effort depends on it.

Sales Management Coaching vs Management Training

Sales management coaching markedly improves sales organizations. Yet few executives leverage this valuable tool. Sales management coaching differs from sales management training. Coaching involves working one-on-one with the sales manager, to identify areas where they excel and areas where they need improvement. A coach develops a customized plan to help a sales manager improve their capabilities and performance, as well as those of their team. Some examples of how a sales management coach works with a sales manager include:

  • Acting as a sounding board for ideas and initiatives
  • Listening non-critically and offering feedback about issues within the organization
  • Strategizing on ways to continually exceed quota
  • Improving their ability to provide salespeople with actionable advice

A sales management coach assists in developing a plan for:

  • Increasing each rep’s (and their own) earnings
  • Leading a staff of varied talent and tenure
  • Understanding the motivations of individual salespeople
  • Maximizing the talents of the team superstar
  • Transitioning from individual contributor (sales rep) to manager

By contrast, sales management training involves the teaching of a particular methodology to a group of sales managers in a classroom or online environment. An emphasis gets placed on specific terminology, a defined process, and templated sales management tools.

Sometimes people have the self-awareness to realize on their own that they could benefit from coaching. Other times, a manager suggests it because they realize it will help the individual improve their skill set. Many sales managers who have been coached look at the one-on-one work as a career enhancing experience

What else does a sales management coach do?

Get Out of the Office Now and Again

A colleague invites me to a meeting.  The  featured speaker's topic sounds interesting.  Though I tell myself I can't afford time out of the office, I agree to attend anyway. Once there, talking to people I've never met before proves to be very pleasant.  I make a contact or two.  The speaker's presentation opens up my mind to new ideas.  I'm reminded, as well, of things I used to do that I let slip by the wayside.

Then, in the middle of the speaker's talk, I either solve a problem that's been bothering me or I come up with a new idea.  The weird part is that whatever pops into my head has little or nothing to do with the speaker's subject matter.

This has happened to me so many times that it doesn't surprise me anymore.  It does remind me, though, about the importance of salespeople, sales managers and sales executives taking off their headsets, leaving their territory, logging out of the CRM system or excusing themselves from endless meetings for a day or two.

The presentation or seminar one chooses  doesn't necessarily, in my opinion, have to be strictly sales related.  Time management, listening skills, or running a productive meeting, for instance, might be more valuable.

No matter the subject, we all need to meet new people, consider alternative opinions and listen to new ideas  so we can come back to what we do -- with a renewed and refreshed sense of perspective.

Don't Tell or Demand -- Ask (politely)

Lately, I've been receiving a lot of sales related e-mails telling me, the prospect, what to do. One company directs me as follows:

Learn about the potential benefits a smart mobile strategy can offer your business by clicking here...or by calling me today at...

Another lets me know when to contact them:

An appointment for 10:45am has been set up for you to learn about the latest in digital...

As a sales manager, I wonder about the success rate of these e-blasts.  How many prospects actually respond?  What percentage of readers delete the message before reading it? Has this company calculated a conversion rate for closed sales?

I advise sales reps to:

  • Let the prospect know you have some knowledge of their business
  • Briefly describe your product / service
  • Explain how it might be able to help them save / improve / decrease / increase
  • Respectfully ask for some of their valued time

Other than being surprised and aghast at the audacity of these organizations, I'm simply deleting the emails.  As a company, they aren't bothering to tell me how their product / service might help me and my business.

It doesn't make good business sense to me.

March Madness -- and Sales?

One of my clients received an email from a salesperson he's never had ANY prior contact with.  The opening sentences read as follows: This week marks the end of March Madness, I can only imagine how busy you have been this month!  I would love to connect with you in April to introduce ourselves here at (Company X).

My client's business is not sports-related; his first questions to me were, "Is she implying that I neglected my job so I could catch every single college play-off game during March, or that I worked a lot of extra hours to fit work and basketball in? How would they even know how I feel about basketball?"

No matter what this rep did or didn't mean to imply, my client was confused, unimpressed, and put off by this email.  Though I'm sure the salesperson meant no harm, the email has a tone of familiarity that's inappropriate to use with someone he or she has never met.

If reps routinely cold call or introduce themselves via email, companies should insist they send standardized letters that showcase both the rep and the company in a positive, professional light.

Sometimes when reps "wing it:" or try to catch the customer's attention by being clever, the opposite occurs.  My client now perceives this company as amateurish and unprofessional.  That didn't need to happen.