Driving the growth agenda: why Sales Manager coaching is key to success

With many organisations now looking to drive the growth agenda it is imperative to recognise the connection between driving growth and the need for change. What is also important to acknowledge is the role that the Sales Manager plays in delivering that change. I don’t mean the aspect of driving sales performance - but the crucial role they play in connecting an organisation’s employees to the business, its future vision and building the team’s capability to deliver this.

Over recent years the role of the Sales Manager has become increasingly demanding - this is in danger of taking their attention away from, what in my opinion should be their single biggest focus, equipping the people in the sales team. When time is pressured many Sales Managers will revert to type, and adopt the role of the account manager or sales representative they once were by telling team members what to do or, worse still, stepping in to do it themselves! This shouldn’t be a surprise since a significant proportion of Sales Managers were promoted on the basis of their front line performance; however, it stifles sales team capability and the business’ ability to meet their vision.

To deliver the business vision the sales manager needs to become a real business leader, a customer-centred leader. This requires the development of a unique blend of skills and qualities as detailed in the diagram below; going beyond the functional selling skills (doing) and leading teams to develop the right mind-sets and behaviours (being) which are aligned to the business vision.

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And this is where coaching plays a key role.

In many organisations, coaching programs (such as GROW – Goal; current Reality; Options; Way forward) are not specifically tailored to the needs of the Sales Manager, or when they are, they tend to focus on the observational coaching of core face-to-face selling skills.  This begs the question - are we setting the sales manager up to succeed? I suspect not. Typically, new sales managers only receive about a third of the training time a new account manager or sales representative receives, and in many cases the on-going support is occasional. Considering the impact a poor sales manager can have on the business in terms of revenue generation, sales team engagement and retention, investment in the coaching skills of Sales Managers should be a top priority and is key to the success of the business and achieving the business vision.

A new approach to coaching must be adopted which addresses the various dimensions of sales performance, and develops individuals with the right mind-set who can deliver the growth agenda.  Many Sales Managers already have the core skills to be good coaches - questioning and listening are core to pretty much every way of selling and coaching that I’ve ever seen. So why is it then, that many sales managers find it hard to apply these skills when coaching but not with customers.  Almost certainly this is rooted in a lack of understanding around the role they need to play as coaches but, more importantly, the confidence to coach and the application of coaching techniques to develop the skills of the team in selling, negotiating, analysing the drivers of performance, problem solving, and business planning to name but a few. 

To illustrate my point let’s look at a typical coaching scenario required to drive the growth agenda (Goal), understanding sales performance. In this situation the coaching conversation cannot be based on observation and behavioural coaching as selling skills would be but instead on understanding the individual’s critical thinking process. Preparation before the coaching conversation is critical and the main focus for the sales manager must be to build an understanding of the situation and identify the possible drivers of performance (current Reality). Crucially they must not jump to solutions - that is the role of the coaching conversation, where the coach uses questioning techniques to understand how the employee sees what is happening and the reasons why. Having established the situation and drivers of performance it is then imperative to identify the Options available to help turn performance around before committing to what will actually be done (Way forward).

At Brand Learning our Sales Capability Team have first-hand experience of the coaching challenges a sales leader faces and have developed a number of bespoke sales performance coaching programs for our clients. Please contact us for more information.


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