November 12, 2018
The Current State of Sales Manager Training: 4 Lessons from New Research
Organizations are rapidly coming to the same conclusion: sales managers are the key lever in driving improvement in sales. Whether a company targets higher market share, better account penetration, or some important outcome, sales managers are the principal mechanism for success. The key question is, “how do we best equip those all-important sales managers to get the job done?” Well, training is an important enabler to better sales management. In a recent research study examining the sales manager training of 213 firms, Vantage Point and the Sales Management Association shed light on the vital connection between better sales management and better sales results.
A Commitment to Sales Manager Training
First, organizations must be committed to training sales managers to drive better outcomes. In our study, 41% of participating companies did not have specific sales manager training initiatives. The companies with such initiatives —59%– outperformed the others, by 16%. That’s a pretty startling difference. Let’s examine what those high achieving companies are doing and why it works.
What Companies Actually Train
The type of training organizations provide to their sales managers matters. A lot. Unfortunately, about half of the training they receive is generic leadership training and not targeted at the sales function. The good news is that the other half is targeted toward sales and in a very specific way. As you can see from the table below, companies deem the following sales training to be most important:
- Sales coaching
- Assessing salesperson performance
- Product training
- Pipeline management
Sales Management Association, March 2016
What is most effective? Organizations rated product training as the area where they were most effective in their training efforts. This is probably not surprising because companies care deeply about their products and typically have marketing departments dedicated to getting this right. Of note was business acumen training which did not make the short list, but is still of relevance, as you’ll see in the next section.
Correlating Sales Training with Sales Performance
Our study was unique. Not only did we examine what types of training participating organization’s deemed important, but we also analyzed which training actually correlated to better sales performance. (Refer to the table below for more details.)
The five types of training most highly correlated to sales performance, in order of importance were:
Sales Management Association, March 2016
You will notice that three of the topics are bold because they are on both lists. So, this training is deemed important, as well most highly correlated to better sales performance. It is interesting to note that business acumen was bottom of the list in importance and top of the list in impact. Something to consider: what we want is often not what we need.
Measuring Sales Management Training
Measurement of sales management training is another important consideration. Our study showed that organizations that measure the effectiveness of their sales management training have a 19% performance advantage over those that do not. These firms also spend more money training their sales managers. The organizations with the highest spending have better sales objective achievement than others– by a minimum of 8%. Thus, there is a direct, positive relationship between spending on sales manager training and sales performance.
This is important to consider when allocating budget for training a sales force. Of the organizations that participated in our study, 71% had an annual budget for sales person training. However, a smaller percentage, 59%, had an annual budget for sales manager training. The study show the importance of dedicated sales manager training.
The SMA study is a useful contribution to the body of sales management research in several ways. First, it draws an undeniable connection between sales manager training and sales performance. Second, it clearly identifies the types of training that have the biggest impact on performance outcomes. Now it’s up to you take these lessons and use them for the benefit of your organization!
Michelle Vazzana is the CEO and a founding partner at Vantage Point Performance, a leading global sales management training and development firm. She is co-author of Cracking the Sales Management Code: The Secrets to Measuring and Managing Sales Performance. Vazzana is also author of Crushing Quota: Proven Sales Coaching Tactics for Breakthrough Performance. Vazzana is a prolific researcher and sought-after speaker on the topic of sales management and leadership, having conducted the most extensive research to date on the topic of sales coaching practices. She has more than 32 years of successful sales and management experience.