Sales professional development

Many managers like to point out to their salespeople the difference between motion and activity as a way of keeping them focused on meaningful work.

Fair enough, but turnabout’s fair play. To wit: managing is not leading! And for sales managers, I believe there’s no bigger component to leadership than coaching.

For example: for some time Tom had been trying to transform himself from the traditional salesperson that he’s been into the model business resource salesperson. He had taken to heart the importance of selling to executives, a key business resource activity. Yet as he moved from account to account, attempting to enlist the support of his contacts in securing a meeting with senior management, he repeatedly found they blocked him.

Tom’s break came when he called on a contact at a large pharmaceutical company with which his employer hoped to do business. At the close of the call, thinking he was following the playbook from his training in business resource methods, he suggested to his contact, Bill, a meeting with the executive who was Bill’s boss.

“Do you think this would be a good time to get (the executive) involved in this decision?” Tom asked casually.

Bill bristled, shaking his head. “No, that won’t be necessary,” he said frostily.

This time, however, Tom wasn’t alone. He had his coach with him – his sales manager – who had been well steeped in the nuances of what Tom was trying to do. He jumped in to reframe the request.

“Bill, we recognize that you are the one who will make the decision,” the coach said. “But I think you’ll agree that this decision represents an initiative that would take the business relationship between your company and ours to a whole new level, offering both great potential for your company but also involving some additional risk. I think we’d both benefit if (the executive) were more familiar with the direction we’re going together, so that she can more readily support us in the effort.”

The frost melted. “That makes sense,” Bill said.

Hands-on coaching: the only kind that matters

Just one hour of real-time, hands-on coaching – like Tom received from his boss – is more valuable than days and days of sales training.

If we think about Tom’s near-blunder when he tried positioning a meeting with Bill’s boss, it’s clear he’d been making the same mistake over and over again. Without a coach (his manager) along this time, Tom was clearly going to be shot down yet again, just as he had so many times before, and never understood why his attempts to implement the executive access dialog had fallen short. Instead, he had a chance to see—really to hear—first-hand the profound impact of seemingly subtle differences in the interaction.

Rethinking coaching requires rethinking training

This is an article about coaching, not sales training. However, good coaching requires a complete rethinking of the traditional sales training model, so that managers can learn what to coach.

Most sales training involves running the sales team through a multi-day seminar, maybe adding on an extra day or so for managers, and off you go. But if you’re serious about ramping up the effectiveness of your sales team you really ought to can that model.

Companies that are serious about the business of selling conduct all sales training under the umbrella of a coaching model. Sales leaders not only go through the training ahead of the sales force, they are ultimately held accountable to teach the sales force. Talk about raising the bar!

In fact, in my work with client sales leaders, the lament I hear most often about sales managers is, “My managers manage, they don’t lead.” I’ve seen sales managers lose their jobs over their failure to lead (coach).

It’s such a shame to see that happen. So much moreso because these managers’ failure to coach is not because they don’t want to coach, or even because they don’t know how to coach. It’s usually because they don’t know what to coach.

In my company’s business model, I make the managers – eventually – own the teaching of the sales training to the sales force. Ever since I adopted this model a few years ago this coaching conundrum has completely disappeared.

If you think about it, without real-time coaching, salespeople are the largest group of unsupervised employees anywhere on the business scene. And while that may be appealing to some, it is stunting the development of the profession as a whole and compromising each sales professional’s chances of personal success.

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