Bad Salespeople, or Bad Managers?

Companion Sales

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Recently a friend sent me an article titled “There are too many bad salespeople” with the suggestion that this could serve as an inspiration for a future column. My friend, a sales manager, will be pleased to discover that it worked, but perhaps not in the way she intended.

The problem of poor sales performance is real, but I believe it is more directly attributable to bad sales managers than bad salespeople. While there is a cornucopia of examples of poor sales management, I’m going to focus on the top three problems infecting sales managers.

“I don’t have time to coach”
If you are not currently spending most of your time coaching and developing the sales reps that report to you, then you are likely nothing more than a glorified sales rep with a different title.

The skills that made you a great salesperson, which probably is the reason you were promoted to a management position, are not the same skills that will make you a great sales manager. So, if you are charged with serving two masters – closing sales & coaching reps – your default will be to that with which you are most comfortable. Hence the claim “I don’t have time to coach.”

This problem is further compounded by the fact that senior sales leadership often has no idea how to coach and develop fledgling sales managers in the skills necessary for them to succeed in their new roles. So they resort to the “Watch me. Now go do what I did” school of coaching. How much would your golf game improve if you followed Tiger Woods around at the Masters, and as he was walking off the 18th green, he turned to you and said, “Go and do that”?

In the words of Bob Junke in a recent Sales & Marketing Management article, “Corporate efforts fail unless they’re driven by executives – top-down. More than just leading, they must own (it). If they don’t, many sales managers will apply proactive coaching processes inconsistently and, in turn, sellers won’t embrace sales process or content as being integral to their success.”

Real coaching occurs when executives and managers at all levels:

  1. Define the success point
  2. Demonstrate the skill themselves
  3. Practice to acquire muscle memory
  4. Execute in real business situations
  5. Debrief those situations
  6. Raise the bar and repeat 1 through 5

Information overload
On a recent transcontinental flight, I was seated next to a sales manager. After we exchanged pleasantries, he needed to review his sales reports and excused himself. I couldn’t help but notice the sales reports he was highlighting for review with each rep. Unfortunately, he highlighted most of each page.

Some poor sales rep was about to get a data dump session that would be demoralizing. Even worse, the sales manager would report this as a coaching session and wonder why there was no improvement in 30, 60 or 90 days.

Most people can only handle a maximum of two or three areas for improvement at any given time. So, sales managers must prioritize and limit their discussion to the most important areas during any given coaching session.

A couple of good tips:

  1. Start the session by pointing out an area in which they are excelling.
  2. Instead of criticizing the areas needing improvement, point them in the direction of solutions to improve their performance. Good coaches use more “try this” and less “don’t do that.”

Once you start to see improvement in the top areas, you can move to the next two or three and that is the template for continuous improvement.

Short-term thinking
You’re working with a rep near the end of the quarter and there is a deal in front of you that will allow her to make that quarter’s quota and help your district exceed quota this quarter. You can close the deal, but the rep will learn nothing in the process. She might be able to close the deal herself and it would be a great learning experience whether or not the deal closes.

Do you step in and close the deal? Or do you step back and let the rep try?

Recognizing that there are several factors that would influence your final decision, I find most sales managers too eager to jump in and close the deal. That is too much emphasis on short-term results and not enough balance with long-term thinking.

Sales managers whose entire focus is on this quarter usually have ulcers, and quite frankly, are a pain to work for. Sales managers whose entire focus is on the long term are usually non-confrontational and mostly end up getting fired. However, there is a balance that has sufficient intensity to achieve today while preparing for tomorrow.

A note to sales reps
You may have thought this column was intended for your manager exclusively and thought it’s about time. Well as ESPN’s Lee Corso is apt to say, “Not so fast my friend”.

I think of you as the sales managers of your territories, and I see your clients and their staff as sales reps for your products and services. So, these three suggestions play just as big a role in your success as they do in the success of your sales manager.