Any person in any job needs time to get his or her sea legs. This is especially true in sales, but people often don't stay in the role long enough to find their footing. It takes about three months to get sales personnel up to speed, according to research from The Bridge Group. Yet most talented salespeople only remain representatives for 18 months, meaning they hardly have time to get their feet wet before being placed into an executive role.
With so little on-the-job experience under their belts, sales leaders can find it difficult knowing how to help their teams find and convert prospects, let alone retain, cross-sell, and upsell clients. This lack of coaching and guidance leaves many sales reps unhappy and unengaged, which may be why the voluntary turnover rate for salespeople is nearly 16 percent.
Sales leadership training remains the primary way to stop this troubling trend. Unfortunately, this activity tends to put off far too often. Survey results from outsourced sales consultancy firm Sales Xceleration show that only one in five companies put money toward sales management training even though 96% of sales leaders say training is important. The same Sales Xceleration data indicates that a full two-thirds of sales representatives are not meeting their goals, a likely outcome of unprepared sales managers who simply don't have the knowledge to lead others.
From lunch-and-learns to conferences and seminars to full-blown certification, sales leadership training needs to be a prioritized line-item investment in a company's budget. The more confidence and competence sales managers have, the more successful they will be in guiding others, presenting findings to executives and stakeholders, generating business plans, and navigating internal politics on behalf of their team members and customers.
Certainly, it costs money to fill sales management gaps. But if you want to boost performance, use these tips to empower your sales managers:
1. Start with personal strengths.
Avoid a cookie-cutter training approach. Instead, identify sales leaders' core strengths using a competency assessment tool such as Gallup's CliftonStrengths. The hour-long assessment measures patterns of thinking, along with emotional and behavioral tendencies. Those insights will help you tailor strengths to specific roles, teamwork functions, and collaboration opportunities.
At the same time, the tool can identify weaker areas so that professional development can be catered to an individual's needs. Based upon a sales executive's existing knowledge and potential, you can create a personalized development track that includes a specific mix of workshops, on-the-job learning, videos, and more.
2. Develop sales coaches, not bosses.
The days of "Third prize is you're fired" are long past. Today's best sales leaders adopt more of a teaching style, rather than authoritarian rule. Encourage sales leaders to see themselves as coaches who eschew yelling and berating in favor of encouragement, guidance, and patience. Although some coaches seem to be born, most need to undergo a significant amount of training to reach a high level of ability.
Create an in-house coaching program that provides best practices for getting the most out of employees. Be sure to offer every sales leader tools and resources to apply what they learn, and don't stop there. Adding a coaching incentive to your KPIs, for instance, will encourage your best coaches to keep up the instruction.
3. Set up formal sales leader mentoring.
It can be tough for a sales leader to know where to turn with questions. That's where a formal mentoring program can come into play. As part of your development process, pair the sales manager with at least one other colleague who can become a mentor. Don't just assume, however, that this mentoring will happen on its own. Instead, outline expectations for how often mentors and mentees should meet and suggest topics for them to discuss.
Furthermore, feel free to assign different mentors to one sales manager. Not only will having a few go-to peers help the new leader, but it will expand that person's network. You may even want to set up a robust online board where mentees can make inquiries and get advice, and mentors can post videos of themselves responding to the questions they get asked most often.
Sales managers are your key to hitting quarterly objectives and reducing sales staff turnover. Put hours and dollars into making sure all selling professionals in your organization can do their best work and feel satisfied at the end of every day.