Should I Stay or Should I Go? A Sales Leader’s Dilemma

Pipeline Management / Forecasting Sales Management
Should I Stay or Should I Go? A Sales Leader's Dilemma

In any sales manager training program, the opening moments of Day One typically include a welcoming speech by the second-line leader. Most leaders think carefully about what to say to motivate their management team to pay attention and absorb the training material, but the speech itself is not what matters. What matters most in training is what happens immediately following the speech: does the leader stay or does the leader go?

On the surface it seems like such a simple choice: walk out the door or remain in the room. But it is the choice that makes or breaks training effectiveness. When leaders stay for the training, they drive and reinforce behavior change, reaping the intended benefits of the training. When they don’t stay, managers tend to fall back to their old ways of doing things, leaders fall back to asking the wrong questions, and the training rarely produces the promised results. We see it time and again.

Why do second-line leaders need to attend the training when they feel they already have an understanding of the concepts to be trained?

It’s the difference between reading a book about fitness and getting out to exercise. One will give you knowledge; the other will make you fit. A conceptual understanding of training content doesn’t give second-line leaders the detail and tools they need to ensure training sticks and is applied —and to make changes in their own behavior and management approach.

  1. Balance Short vs. Long-Term Goals

For example, one of the problems common to sales organizations is that leaders of sales managers tend to have a short-term results focus. Since sales managers will focus on whatever their VP is focused on, a short-term focus by the VP tends to lead to a short-term focus by managers. In turn, this can lead to some neglect of longer-term coaching and development, long-term pipeline improvement and other activities with downstream benefits.

If sales managers participate in training that helps them more effectively balance short-, mid-, and long-term demands but leaders don’t get that same training, they are unlikely to re-shape their focus and associated inspection more equally around that full range of performance. Which means leaders will continue to focus on the short term, asking questions that impede the ability of the sales manager to implement the practices learned in the training.

  1. Delve into the Details

When second-line leaders participate in sales manager training, they get the details they need to make changes in their own behavior and the results are consistently excellent. One case in point was our work with the financial services arm of a multi billion-dollar global corporation that was experiencing bloated sales pipelines, inaccurate forecasting and declining win rates.

In an effort to solve these problems, the company put its sales management team through five different training courses (some of the most popular in the marketplace), none of which produced any lift in performance—and none of which included the second-line leaders. When Vantage Point was called in to assess the situation and produce a program to address the
problems, we urged the involvement of second-line leaders. They listened. Leadership stayed involved from start to finish and within 18 months, the group’s win rate more than doubled to 54%.

  1. Steps to Take

This is not an isolated case. We see the linkage between leadership participation and training results over and over. Still, it’s not just a matter of being present and engaged during the class that makes the difference. In addition to attending training, there are a couple high-impact activities second-line leaders should do before and after the training to produce a post-training performance improvement:

Before. Sales managers need to understand why they are going through training long before that training takes place. In the weeks prior to training, all levels of leadership need to communicate to managers what they will be learning, why, how their lives will differ after training and the anticipated results. This ensures managers approach the training with the right mindset and attitude.

After. Behavior change is all about accountability. If, for instance, sales managers need to have better coaching conversations, second-line leaders need to show them how to do that and then hold managers accountable for implementing it. But who is holding the second-line leaders accountable for reinforcing the behavior change? We urge companies to appoint internal champions of change, a team of second-line leaders who meet at regular intervals to discuss the rhythms of coaching, the types of coaching that are working and not working and so on. This joint accountability helps ensure that second-line leaders make necessary adjustments in their own behavior, dramatically improving adoption and execution of improved management practices.

On a final note, it’s important to emphasize that second-line leadership participation in training not only creates results, it creates improved relationships between sales managers and their bosses. When a sales manager’s only interactions with his boss are around forecasts and near-term numbers, there tends to be friction and tension around that relationship. However, when the leader begins helping managers think about how they can better manage their teams and how to solve problems, the manager-VP relationship becomes more valuable to the manager. When you couple these improved relationships with improved sales results, it’s easy to see why second-line leadership participation in sales manager training is so critically important and valuable.