We often get asked the question, “What are the most important skills I need to consider when training my sales managers?”. It is a very important question and one that requires a thoughtful, evidence-based response. So, what does the evidence say about the most important sales management skills? Can we really distill it down to just three? Well, not really, but three is a great place to start.
Before a sales manager can behave most effectively, they must first determine what actions to take and why. How do the best sales managers prioritize their own effort? They consider the most important effort required of their salespeople. How sales managers want their sellers behaving is the driving force behind how the most successful sales managers behave.
When it comes to maniacal prioritization, the first decision successful sales managers make is to determine the most high-impact things they want their salespeople to be doing. This decision has everything to do with organizational goals and KPIs. The most successful sales managers create clarity of task for their sellers by identifying which activities are most critical for sellers to execute consistently well. In fact, this clarity of task is the most important contributor to seller motivation, ensuring that salespeople see the link between sales effort and desired outcomes. The most successful sales managers are agile, adjusting sales and manager activities to meet changing market and organizational realities.
The second decision the most successful sales managers make is how they can best support the desired sales execution. They orient their sales coaching to align directly with the planning and execution of the highest impact salesperson activities. They coach what matters most. In fact, our research shows that the most successful sales managers coach less frequently, for longer durations, and cover fewer topics during their one-on-one coaching sessions. What do they coach? The most important sales activities. Period.
We know that one of the most formal processes within sales organizations is the sales forecast. It happens at a consistent cadence and receives an inordinate amount of attention from senior sales leadership. The rhythm of sales forecasting, while necessary, has some unintended negative effects on sales coaching. Here’s why.
Forecasts involve scrubbing the pipeline, assessing deal health, and determining likelihood of close. This effort is useful and necessary to run the business. The problem occurs because the act of forecasting is oriented toward late-stage deals. The goal of the forecast is to determine how many deals will close and when. It does not necessarily improve deal win rates or improve pipeline health.
When bad or unwinnable deals enter the pipeline, they tend to languish, inflating the size of the pipeline and driving down win rates. Since forecasting isn’t going away any time soon, how can sales managers re-orient some portion of their effort to coach deals in ways that improve pipeline health and win rates? By getting involved early.
In our research of thousands of sales managers, published in our most recent book Crushing Quota, it is very clear that the most successful sales managers focus coaching efforts on the early stages of deals. Sales managers can have the biggest impact on deal trajectory when their coaching is oriented toward helping sellers qualify and shape deals from the start. Managers who wait until deals are shaped and the buyers are deciding between competing alternatives have less impact.
Early-stage deal coaching doesn’t happen by chance. It isn’t urgent. It often isn’t formally scheduled. Orienting coaching effort toward the early stages of deals doesn’t take more time or more effort. It just involves repurposing effort that managers are already expending. We worked with managers at GE to repurpose two hours per month of late-stage deal scrubbing toward early-stage deal qualification. At the 18-month point close rates had risen from 25% of forecasted deals to 54% of forecasted deals.
The case at GE was not an isolated finding. When we see managers formalize even small amounts of effort toward early-stage deal qualification, win rates improve, deals close faster, and less negotiation and haggling are necessary. Managers that coach in this way get 35% more of their sales teams to quota.
How do these three critical sales management skills impact your choice of sales management training? Well, when it comes time to training your sales managers, make sure you select training that goes deep on the few critical skills that matter most. The ones that research shows have the biggest impact on sales team performance. Many sales management training programs are very broad, covering a wide variety of topics, but don’t explore any given topic adequately. When it comes to sales management and coaching training, go deep versus wide if you want to see immediate, meaningful impact.
The Sales Management Code™ equips sales managers with a simple, yet powerful framework for aligning seller and manager effort to desired business results, coaching in ways that drive maximum impact, and assessing leading indicators of progress to determine if sellers are on the right path to quota.
The Pipeline Coaching Code™ equips sales managers and leaders with a powerful framework for assessing the health of the pipeline, considering size, contents, and progress. It then equips managers to make deliberate decisions about how to ensure the health of the pipeline and the viability of deals within the pipeline. Managers will reorient effort toward the early stages of deals to improve deal viability and velocity.