Four Compelling Reasons For Training Your Sales Managers First
Most staffing leaders would agree that leading change and driving adoption of new skills, systems, processes and methodologies is challenging. Despite the challenges however, these same leaders also know that when done correctly the return on investment from improved sales performance can be significant.
From my experience, organizations struggle with leading sales training and sales transformation initiatives because they begin from wrong place; the individual sales reps. Conventional wisdom tells us that we should start with the sales team because they are the ones who interface with the customer and need the sales training. Instead of initiating your sales improvement initiative by changing your sales reps however, I suggest a more effective approach by beginning with your front line sales managers. Here are four compelling reasons for training your sales managers first.
- Scale What is that old saying, "catch me a fish, feed me for a day, teach me to fish, feed me for life." The average IT staffing sales manager manages five sales reps. For each manager you train that means you have the potential to impact five sales reps. Keep in mind that this works in the opposite direction as well. A poor manager can negatively impact the performance of those same five sales reps. Weak leadership, the inability to motivate and inspire can quickly bring down the morale and demotivate a sales team and hinder employee retention (remember, most sales reps leave their manager not their job). In the competitive IT staffing industry where finding good sales people is about as easy as finding a needle in a haystack and the time and cost associated with ramping up new sales reps is high, the last thing you need is a poor sales leader driving poor behaviors and creating a revolving door. Start by providing your sales managers with sound management training that focuses on hiring, coaching and leadership development. This will make a far bigger impact on your organization than training your sales reps (or recruiters without first training your managers).
Monkey See, Monkey Do People do what people see. Your sales managers will be the ones who determine day-in and day-out whether the skills get applied, reinforced, coached to and ultimately adopted. Your managers must first be be trained on how to properly lead and coach but they also must receive and adopt the same sales training that you plan on putting your reps through. If your managers have not been properly trained and if there is no management framework in place your training program including your sales methodology will falter once training is completed. In short, your training will be nothing more than “flavor of the month” because your reps will return to business as usual. Your managers must possess the coaching skills and tools to support your program going forward including job aids, playbooks, user adoption plans and reinforcement guides as well as ongoing training materials to ensure long-term adoption. If your sales manager can't model the behavior and doesn't know how to coach to the behavior your sales reps won't adopt the behaviors, methodologies and tools.
Gain Genuine Buy-in The most critical component of a successful sales training program is the plan to sustain the change. Sustaining change not only includes what happens once the training concludes but also what happens before the launch and during the training program itself. For the managers, they must understand what’s coming before their reps receive training so that they can see, understand and buy-into how the program will improve their team’s performance. Your sales manager’s disposition towards the training program and how they behave in front of their team members including what they say about the training will influence how the individual reps perceive and adopt the training. Being able to share their enthusiasm, support and personal investment in the ongoing program will send a strong message to the sales team that the manager is behind the change. You can’t do any of this if you start by training your sales reps first (or training your sales reps and NOT your sales manager).
- Create a Coaching Culture Prevailing wisdom has always told us that if you want to improve sales performance you need to train your front line sales people. They are the ones who are engaging in customer facing activity. As it turns out sales coaching represents one of the biggest opportunities for improving sales performance and sales effectiveness. According to research conducted by the Corporate Executive Board, core sales performers could see a performance boost of 19% given a significant improvement in the coaching they receive. Sales coaching, however, is one of the most misunderstood management tools.
Think about it. How many sales managers tell their sales reps they need to get more weekly meetings with new prospects and open more accounts? Most, if not all of them. Sales managers as it turns out are pretty good at telling their people what they want. However, how many sales managers actually sit down with their reps and guide them step by step on how to ask a prospect for a meeting or how to open new accounts? Very, very few. This is what sales coaching is. This is the behavior that will drive a 19% performance boost. Just imagine if one of your managers could do this? That means you invest in training one employee but see the results across the entire team. And you can't expect to see any sort of ROI from any training initiative unless your managers have been properly trained on how to coach and reinforce the behaviors.
Training Ownership One of the big challenges that small companies face when launching a training initiative is ownership. Typically what I have seen over the years is "ownership by committee" or "everyone owns the training." What that really means however is nobody owns the training and when nobody owns the training or sales transformation initiative, the program fails. Training shouldn't stop in the classroom (see coaching above) nor should it only live within the HR or Learning and Development team. The sales manager must take ownership of it. Training and improving sales performance should be tied directly to the sales managers compensation plan. Sales managers should be held accountable to creating a continuous learning environment.
We need to stop assuming that sales managers don't need training and that they can just magically grow revenue 10%+ year after year. The more effective managers can be at identifying and hiring strong sales reps and coaching, training and leading their teams the more successful your IT staffing firm will be. Don't get me wrong, training the individual sales reps is key to any successful sales organization but not before and/or without first training the sales manager. When launching any new sales training improvement initiative I suggest you always start with your sales managers.
About Dan Fisher
Dan Fisher is founder and owner of Menemsha Group, a provider of sales enablement solutions dedicated to helping IT staffing firms improve win rates, shorten their sales cycle, and increase revenue per sales rep. Since launching Menemsha Group in 2008, Dan has consulted with over 200 IT staffing firms and has invested over 5000 hours coaching IT staffing sales reps. He’s authored is his own proprietary sales methodology and has previously spoken at Staffing World, TechServe Alliance and Bullhorn Live 2012. Prior to launching Menemsha Group, Dan spent 16 years in the IT industry running local, regional and national sales teams. Dan worked for Kelly Services, Oracle Corporation and Alliance Consulting. Dan currently resides in Boston, Ma.