Being a frontline sales manager is tough. Like any sales job, it comes down to the numbers you can produce. But the production is mostly out of your hands, you’re reliant on your sales team to get the job done. You can only control so much of what happens. If your reps are underperforming—or even if they’re doing an acceptable job, but you think they’re capable of more—it’s often unclear what the best tactics are to improve their sales numbers.
Thanks to research done by Google and CSO Insights, we know that improving the coaching skills of frontline managers does produce a measurable improvement in the performance of their sales teams.
Know What Makes A Good Manager
If you want to be a good manager, you need to know what a good manager does. Fortunately, Google recently published some serious work in discovering what good management entails at their own company. The top eight habits they found to be the most effective in management are:
- Be a good coach
- Empower your team and resist the urge to micromanage
- Express genuine interest in the success and well-being of employees
- Be productive and results-oriented
- Be a good communicator and listen to your team
- Help employees with career development
- Have a clear vision and strategy for the team
- Possess key technical skills, so you can better advise the team
Before they did this survey, Google had been promoting the most technically proficient employees to managerial positions, so they were quite surprised to find technical skill was the least useful ability for a manager to have.
Promotion on the basis of technical ability or product knowledge rather than communication and people skills. Does that sound like an awful lot of companies to you?
Perhaps you’re one of those managers whose strength is in technical knowledge. If so, you may have already noticed that all of your competence does little to help your employees directly. If it does help, it’s when you’re able to communicate it effectively to your reps so they can put it to use—in other words, be an empowering coach and a strong communicator, three of the traits higher on the list.
Although every point on this list can be discussed in depth, some of them are more self-explanatory than others. For example, there isn’t much to explain in regard to expressing interest in the well-being of your employees. It may help to talk about how you can become more genuinely interested, but the concept is immediately understandable.
Therefore, in this post, let’s stick with the top two: how to better coach and empower your employees.
Good Sales Coaching Equals Empowerment
The great majority of us are most familiar with coaches in a sporting context. The coach is responsible for determining what the players need (knowledge, motivation, skills, practice) so the players can better do their jobs. Nothing really changes when you move this idea into the sales world. Sales managers are responsible for imparting the necessary knowledge, motivation, and skills to their reps so they can close more deals.
And good coaching offers empowerment, not as a bonus, but as a necessity. If your employees expect micromanagement, they can’t act effectively on their own. And you don’t have time to walk them through every slightly odd situation they’ll face! You need them to be good, independent actors if they’re going to meet their numbers. Broadly speaking, there are five areas that you can focus your coaching on to help your reps improve.
1. Help reps discover their motivation
People get into sales work as a job, but not everyone’s primary motivation is money. When money is the only focus of a sales manager, some employees with the potential to be good reps become disillusioned with the manager’s focus and mentally check out.
When you find a rep doesn’t seem to care much about bigger bonuses or the importance of ever-increasing sales goals, don’t write them off as hopeless. Talk to them about what makes them interested in day-to-day life, and find a way those motivations apply to the job. Understand that you may end up with a rep whose motivations don’t align at all with sales, or this particular sales job. If you’re honest with them on that score, your willingness to be honest can be incredibly motivating for them to do their best for as long as they’re on your team. Remember, your job isn’t just to push the biggest sellers; it’s to make sure everyone, top to bottom, is keeping up.
2. Use the rep’s motivation to help define his or her goals
Too many sales managers rely on standard goals to push their reps and ignore the importance of employees’ intrinsic motivations on how well they do their jobs. What does the rep get out of this job? Do they like being part of the company? Is there something about the products they enjoy that helps them engage with customers? Are they purely in it for the money?
Whatever the answer, set an individual goal for the rep based on her motivation. For example, if a new product is released that she’s particularly excited about, set a goal for her to try to sell it to fifty or a hundred people in a certain amount of time. You’re not telling her to make more sales; you’re telling her to talk to people about something she likes, and that personal interest will result in more sales without her even thinking about it.
3. Actively teach reps strategies that will help them reach their goals
Many managers see what their reps do wrong and offer corrections. This can work when the rep is ready to hear it, but more often than not, what makes sense out loud is forgotten all too quickly.
If you find a flaw in your rep’s technique that you a) know is losing sales and b) you have a way to improve, don’t settle for repeating yourself until the message hopefully sinks in. Show them what you have in mind, with a real customer and stay with them while they try it themselves. Make the time now, and you’ll save yourself more time later by not needing to say the same thing again and again.
4. Offer direct advice when necessary
Part of empowering your employees involves not handing them every answer they need. Often the best response to a question is to guide the rep towards finding the answer herself. Not only will she better learn the answer she needs at that moment, but she’ll feel better about searching future answers out on her own.
However, you must also recognize when direct answers are correct. For example, an experienced rep will often have everything put together in their minds until the customer throws them a curveball; all you need to do is fill in the blank, and they’ll understand how to incorporate that into their sales technique going forward. Understand the moments when a rep doesn’t need full guidance, just an answer, and those moments of guidance will be all the more effective.
5. Personally commit to coaching and developing your reps
Reps have different strengths. Some are charismatic speakers, some are deeply knowledgeable about the products, and some can ad lib responses to questions better than other reps recite memorized answers. Rarely are they strong in every attribute necessary to close the deal.
It’s easy to say that coaches should help employees shore up their weaknesses. They should, of course, but development is more than that. Acknowledging employees’ strengths reminds them that they are capable people, which creates a morale boost. More importantly, however, by showing that you see their strengths, it portrays you as a manager who sees reps as full people. If you focus on their weaknesses, you can appear to only have an interest in tearing them down, even when that’s not the case. And a rep sees you acknowledge her as a person, you become a manager who wants to help her develop as a person, not just an employee.
A brand-new rep may need help on all five, which is a relatively simple situation. More experienced reps may usually do well, but struggle in ways that don’t obviously apply to one of these five categories; this is your challenge, to know your reps and understand which aspect of the sales business they need help with to better succeed.