Exemplary sales managers don't just pop up out of nowhere. And very few — if any — reps can assume a management role and thrive, based strictly on intuition. No, it takes thorough, thoughtful training to get there, and that process is rarely self-explanatory.
Even the most effective sales leader might struggle to turn a rep who seems like "management material" into a successful manager. So to help make the process a little smoother for anyone struggling to translate a rep's management potential into legitimate management acumen, we asked some experts for their tips on how to train sales managers.
Let's take a look at what they came up with.
How to Train Sales Managers, According to Leaders Who've Done It
1. Help them strike a balance between new responsibilities and old skills.
Philip Simpson, Head of Commercial Sales at FullStory, suggests leaders need to train new managers to grow without losing sight of their strengths. He says, "When supporting new leaders as they grow into their roles, you need to help them understand the balance between doing, delegating, and directing. It's key that new managers maintain their broad functional skill set, especially the skills that got them promoted in the first place."
How do you get there? Well, according to Simpson, "You need to have guard rails, but give them the freedom to trip up (a lot) in order to know how to succeed in the long term."
2. Train them by breaking their new role into bite-sized chunks, and help them learn by doing.
According to Ruairí Conroy, Site Lead at Diligent Corporation, leaders training new managers need to, "break down the nature of the role into bite-size chunks — like motivating a team, creating and coaching sales plays, and creating a high-performance culture — and create opportunities for reps with management potential to experience these aspects either directly through coaching others or role-play."
3. Don't try to create a mirror image of yourself.
Michael Womack, Direct Inside Sales Manager at Garrett Metal Detectors, suggests leaders need to respect and retain new managers' individuality. He says, "Don't try to create a mirror image of yourself. Your role in training a manager is to maximize and grow the individual potential of your team. Too often, leaders get caught up with stories of what they did when they started that add little value to a new sales manager's development."
4. Teach them to lift their reps up to reach common and individual goals.
Sara Leander-Pehrson, CEO of Prezentor, advises sales leaders to stress the value and necessity of teamwork and cohesion when training new managers. She says, "Train your Sales Managers to think of sales as a team effort — one that's only as strong as its weakest link. Helping each other and lifting each other up to reach individual and common goals is key to success."
5. Train them to look for the "why" behind their numbers.
Leander-Pehrson also suggests you should, "train new managers to look beyond the numbers and ask themselves 'why?' Why did we succeed in closing this deal faster than ever? Why didn't we succeed here? Why is my rep A doing so much better than Rep B, and how can I copy that behavior? This is best done by having regular sessions with the trainee where you ask them 'why' on these kinds of questions."
6. Don't overwhelm them with administrative tasks and reporting.
Sara also says leaders should take some administrative weight off their management trainees. According to her, you can't, "let your Sales Managers drown in administrative tasks and reporting. Use technology to automate as much as possible — for both your sales managers and reps to allow as much time as possible on customer-fronting activities."
7. Make training an ongoing process.
Leander-Perhson also touched on how training is an active, continuous process. According to her, you have to "train your Sales Managers regularly in needs-discovery and communicating value. Provide them with processes and tools that support them in passing on those principles to their team.
"Don't just send them on a fancy off-site sales training course once a year. Training needs to happen continuously, fluently, and frequently — otherwise, it will never change behavior and ultimately not generate ROI for the company."
As I mentioned at the start of this article, sales manager training isn't self-explanatory, and every rep you train will have their own needs, preferences, strengths, and interests — so how you approach the process will vary from case to case.
It also might go without saying, but this list is far from exhaustive. And as you get better acquainted with this kind of training, you'll likely find strategies of your own that fit elements like your organizational culture, team dynamics, and personal management style.
Still, these tips are worth bearing in mind as you take on these kinds of responsibilities — they might just make the process that much smoother as you figure it out.