Great Sales Managers Need to Be Great Coaches, Too

Congratulations! You've been promoted to sales manager.

If you are like most B2B sales reps, this is great news. Your hard work and perseverance has paid off. You have achieved your goals and now you have a chance to prove to your boss that you can be a great manager. So you implement a new sales process, create a new compensation plan, hire a boatload of new, aggressive sales reps. Everything seems okay, until you miss your first quota.

Now what do you do?

It is easy to get swept up into the details of managing a sales department. Now you can spend lots of time managing the process, watching the KPIs, purchasing new sales productivity tools, and hiring new sales reps.

So why isn't your sales team hitting their numbers? Perhaps you need to spend more time coaching and less time managing. As Bill Eckstrom, president of the EcSell Institute, puts it, "Salespeople do what they are coached to do, not what they are trained to do."

As a sales manager, you have a number of jobs, including hiring, compensation, training, and coaching. You might prefer to spend more time focusing on the numbers and processes because of the ongoing performance pressure to meet your numbers. To be an effective manager, you need to balance the pressures of managing with the training and development needs of your sales team.

So What Does It Take to Be a Successful Sales Coach?

To be an effective coach, the sales manager has to recognize the importance of developing the sales and interpersonal skills of each and every team member. This development process is ongoing and requires dedication and patience since everybody learns at different rates and has unique skills and experience.

The successful coach needs to be both a teacher and a mentor. They need to communicate to the team as a whole when discussing more general topics, but also be able to provide that one-on-one instruction. They also need to take pride in developing their team and helping them become successful. A good coach gives praise when appropriate and provides constructive criticism when improvement needs to be made. Good coaches don't humiliate or tear down their team members to make a point. That type of negative reinforcement leads to bad morale and destroys productivity.

Below are some attributes of effective coaching that I've learned or that have been shared with me over the years.

  • Spends time with team members. A good sales coach works with them on planning their approach to customers, offering feedback on what they are doing right, and going with them on sales appointments to help them improve.
  • Encourages their salespeople to grow. This includes not taking credit for their sales. Positive encouragement can cement a team together. Salespeople like to learn what they are doing right and what the next step is in their growth.
  • Spends time asking questions and listening. Like a coach of a sports team, a sales coach needs to listen, encourage, critique, and evaluate.
  • On a related note, listens and engages early and often. A good coach doesn't hide in the office, or only offer assistance two and a half months into a quarter, when any coaching would be irrelevant.
  • Starts with a positive before delivering a criticism. Always lead with what reps are doing right, and then go over what needs improvement.
  • Gives their team ownership of the process by providing insights. These should be insights into the things team members are doing that can help the team as a whole. The why matters here, not just the what.
  • Uses the Socratic method. Ask questions that require the person you are coaching to participate in the decision-making process. By engaging them this way, you are modeling how you want the salesperson to make decisions in subsequent situations.
  • Recognizes the difference between a coaching and counseling situation. Coaching is a lot more difficult than counseling. Counseling assumes that the individual being counseled can do the work but won't. Coaching makes the assumption that the individual would like to do the work, but does not have the skills (coaching) to do so.
  • Is consistent and persistent. You should conduct regular weekly, two-way, one-on-one meetings covering the status of every deal.

Sales managers have a lot on their plates, but despite this, and to be truly effective, they need to allocate sufficient time for one-on-one coaching. Building a high-performing sales team will be the inevitable result.

Matt Stanton is vice president of sales at ConnectLeader. Stanton has more than 20 years of sales experience in the B2B software industry, leading sales teams at both start-ups and enterprise organizations. At ConnectLeader, Stanton leads and manages all aspects of the sales process.

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