Sales management rhythm to better manage and coach sales team



This is the final article of a four part series dedicated to help European senior leaders to realise more business growth in 2015.

In our first article we shared the importance of organisational alignment and the role of sales force metrics. We then identified discrete sales processes and when to use them. We explored setting Sales Objectives and selling activities to achieve them. We now zoom in on the role of management rhythm to ensure sales teams are coached and managed as they execute the sales activities.

Last week in Belgium we spent two days with over 15 sales managers representing a variety of companies (medium and large in size) and a mix of industries. Each sales manager stating that they manage a sales team of generally 6 to 8 people. These sales managers were all there to fill a common gap: how to become more effective sales managers and learn techniques to coach their sellers?

When salespeople are promoted to sales managers, they are typically given one simple instruction: make sure your reps make their numbers. What they aren’t told is how to go about doing that. And we mean literally, how to do it. What types of interactions should they have with their sales reps? Should they hold sales pipeline review meetings or territory planning meetings? Or how about meetings to review progress with major accounts? Or all of the above?

Should those meetings be weekly or monthly? Should they be conducted as a group or as individual conversations? And what should be the agenda for each type of meeting? What are the inputs and outputs of the interactions? Literally, what should the sales manager do?

In that absence of any clear guidelines on which sales management activities will have the biggest impact in their new role, our observation is that most new sales managers are not well prepared. They either take over what their predecessor may have shared with them or put in practice what they observed from the management when they were Sales Representatives.

With little modification, the new sales managers faithfully reproduce what was faithfully done to them with their sales reps. They repeat history again and again. So what’s wrong about that, you might ask? Well, maybe nothing. Or maybe something big!

Almost every sales force has some form of sales process that their sales reps are expected to follow. Obviously, there is a belief that is a ‘best’ way to go about how to sell particular products to particular customers. However, we know of very few companies that give any thought to a formal sales management process, or a sales management rhythm as we call it. If there’s a best way to sell, then there’s probably a best way to manage those sellers. But it is not a one-size-fits-all proposition.

The research done behind the book Cracking the Sales Management Code revealed that different managers need different approaches to managing different types of sales reps.  For instance, a manager who supervises territory sales reps might want to meet with them individually to coach them though prioritizing their opportunities and targeting their best prospects. And that interaction might happen on a fairly regular basis. However, that same manager might also supervise strategic account reps who need help setting strategic direction for the accounts and developing a solid action plan for reaching their goals. But those interactions might need to take place only a few times a year.

Different types of sales reps Different sales management rhythms

So this is one thing we think that is desperately missing from sales management’s training agenda – the guidelines for building a rigorous management rhythm that is appropriate to their particular sales reps. In the absence of a formal management rhythm, sales managers daily lives degenerate into an endless series of reactive interactions. Urgency rules the calendar, and there is no real venue for deliberate coaching to take place.

And it’s just as bad, if they do have a formal management rhythm, but it is misaligned with the needs of their sales reps. Things will either fall through the cracks because sales reps aren’t getting sufficient attention, or everyone’s schedules will be filled with tons of unnecessary, wasteful meetings.

If there’s one thing sales managers don’t have enough of, it is time. Having that time structured properly is critical to their effectiveness as a coach and their efficiency as a manager. To be a great resource for their reps, sales managers have to get rhythm.

Specifically elements to consider in the management rhythm:

  • What should be the meetings taking place (formal and informal) (i.e. sales team meetings, funnel reviews, coaching sessions, in the field coaching, ..)?
  • What are the participants for these meetings?
  • What are the objectives per meetings?
  • What meetings are coaching in nature? Versus uses for reporting purposes?
  • What is the frequency of the interactions with the sales people managed?
  • How to structure the conversations with the sales persons?

Make time for sales coaching

There is no textbook definition for coaching, and there’s certainly no consensus as to what the term means.  We all know that coaching is distinct from training, and most would accept that it’s done interpersonally at the individual level.

The lack of a strict definition for coaching leads to an interesting phenomenon between managers and reps that could probably be comical if it weren’t tragic.  If you ask sales managers how much time they spend coaching and compare that to the amount of time their reps perceive they are being coached, there is never any alignment.  In fact there is always an inverse relationship between the two perspectives.  Managers always think they are doing much more coaching than their reps feel they are receiving.  Why would that be?

Our observation is that many sales managers believe they are ‘coaching’ almost any time they’re with a rep.  And this is particularly true if that interaction takes place one-on-one.  Driving around with a rep, grilling them about their relationship with the next customer you’re going to visit?  Yep, that’s coaching.  Meeting with a sales rep weekly to interrogate them about the accuracy of their pipeline and forecast?  Check.  Eating lunch with a rep, just to stay in touch?  Sure thing, coaching it is.

While we are probably overstating this a little bit, we’re not overstating it a lot.  Managers perceive they are coaching during many interactions that create very little value for the rep.  And just as the customer is the ultimate judge of whether a rep is a good seller, the rep is the ultimate judge of whether a manager is a good coach.  As coaching goes, the rep is the manager’s customer.  And customer satisfaction is low.

Implications for sales leaders

Our experience is that the only way to work consistent coaching into a sales manager’s world is to set aside dedicated time for coaching sessions. These are one-on-one interactions between a manager and a seller where the agenda is pre-set and the seller and manager come prepared for the discussion.

Whether you can only conduct such sessions once a week, or month, or quarter, sales managers have to put it on their schedule and hold those meetings sacred. This is more likely to happen if the sales manager uses one-on-one time to coach real deals, not just coach to developmental needs. If this shift in the nature of management /seller interactions does not take place, , sales managers will be seen as “inspectors” and not really committed to real sales coaching.


Source of article: Vantage Point Performance

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