Right off the bat, I’ll suggest that the title of this piece is a bit of a misnomer. Why? Because most sales managers don’t receive training at all, much less the wrong training.
Exemplary sales representatives often get promoted to sales managers, and the assumption by leadership is that if someone knows how to be a great seller, they’ll know how to be a great sales manager. After all, what is sales management other than coaching people to be a good seller?
But this common belief is not true at all. The two jobs are vastly different from one another. In fact, if a sales manager does the same things they did to be successful as a rep, they’ll fail in their new role.
An outright lack of training is the first issue. But even sales managers who receive training don’t get what they truly need.
Oftentimes, sales management courses will simply mirror the training given to reps. If reps attend a class on a certain skill such as negotiation or prospecting, managers will receive the rep training, and then spend a few extra hours learning how to coach these skills. So while they learn to coach very specific capabilities, they receive no guidance on what or how to coach in general. What if a manager’s reps are fantastic at negotiating and prospecting? Then their management training doesn’t do them much good.
In addition to receiving overly narrow training, sales managers also suffer on the opposite end of the spectrum with overly broad instruction. While generic leadership seminars teach mangers how to deal with direct reports of varying tenure and personality types, it doesn’t translate well into a sales scenario, where the primary task at hand is helping others to sell effectively. And if the trainees can’t use what they learned on Monday morning, it’s not worthwhile.
What Sales Management Training Should Look Like
If sales managers are lucky, they get a few tips and pointers that might be helpful, but they don’t have an overarching framework to start from. It’s like getting a handful of ingredients without being handed the recipe.
I think sales management training should start with the salesperson. Since sales managers help salespeople perform the tasks that will enable them to achieve their quotas, it makes sense to begin by identifying which tasks are most critical for success for each seller. Selling is not a one-size-fits-all affair.
These tasks will -- and should -- vary significantly from situation to situation to situation. The activities that make a sales rep with 300 accounts in a given region successful are very different from those that a rep with five global accounts will need to execute. Because the seller’s jobs vary, so too should the way those sellers are coached and managed. This sounds like common sense, but it is not common practice and is not addressed in most training programs.
Considering that a sales manager’s primary objective is to coach these tasks and help their reps perform them well, sales management training should be as flexible as the situations themselves. However, it should always be determined from the bottom up -- in other words, from the salesperson level to the management level. Figure out what your reps need to be doing well, and that will point you in the direction for how to equip your managers to succeed. Sales management is not about doing the seller’s job, it is about equipping and supporting the sellers to do their jobs well.
Sales management training is an area that’s been ignored for years. If nothing else, recognize that sales managers do need training -- management skills are not innate in star sales reps. At the very least, it’s a first step to correcting this blind spot and helping our sales organizations become healthier and more productive.
Originally published Oct 1, 2014 6:00:00 AM, updated July 28 2017