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4 Foundations of Sales Manager Training

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In the fast-paced world of business, people are constantly seeking validation and gratification in their careers. They want to be recognized for their hard work – and promotions are a key part of this recognition.

Especially in sales, it’s common practice to reward top performers with a promotion to management. However, the jump from individual contributor to frontline sales manager is not a move that should be taken lightly – managing employees requires different skills than closing deals. Rather, it is a career progression that requires thoughtful training to develop skilled managers that can help support their teams in their own growth.

“We need to give [sales managers] at least a basic foundation of skills in order to be successful so that they can develop a great reputation on their team,” said Darlene Samer, global sales readiness programs senior manager at LinkedIn. “We have to be able to say confidently, can this leader demonstrate some core, basic capabilities?”

Often, the reasons why someone is selected to be promoted to a frontline manager – their sales skills and performance – have little to do with their new responsibilities as a manager. This leads many managers to rely on the skills they are already familiar with as a seller rather than those that will help their teams be successful. For example, they might swoop in to close deals for their team, micro-manage sales activities, or try to force their own sales methods on their team.

While it is tempting for new sales managers to want to start churning out sales results quickly to make their mark, the key to being a good manager is to help one’s team learn, grow, and achieve success for themselves. Sales enablement can help develop effective managers by providing them with the foundational knowledge they need to lead, foster a healthy culture, hire and retain excellent candidates, and manage the technical aspects of the business.

Leadership

Many managers enter the role with a lot of natural talent and expertise in sales, but at its core, management requires leadership skills. In many cases, training is needed to help managers develop those fundamental skills.

“Becoming a leader is a different skill set,” said Chad Dyar, director of enablement and strategy at Hearsay Systems. “Getting people to do what you want them to do, learning how to really listen to people and understand their strengths and weaknesses, a lot of that has to be learned.”

In her book, “Emotional Intelligence for Sales Leadership”, Colleen Stanley outlines a few of the key leadership skills that sales managers need in order to effectively support their teams:

  • Self-awareness: the confidence to admit one’s own strengths and weaknesses and the commitment to learn and grow. This helps leaders lead by example to foster a culture of learning and encourage a growth mindset among their teams.
  • Delayed gratification: the patience and understanding that positive change takes time. In coaching and developing one’s own team, it is important to recognize that results might not be visible immediately, but that doesn’t mean change isn’t occurring.
  • Empathy: the ability to pay attention, observing both the verbal and nonverbal cues that indicate how another person is feeling and how your words or actions land with them. This skill is critical to conduct effective coaching conversations.
  • Accountability: the ability to give constructive feedback and hold team members accountable to their goals. Leaders need to be comfortable balancing the people development side of management with the sales targets the team is committed to.

Enablement plays a strong role in partnering with sales leadership and human resources to ensure that all incoming managers receive training that focuses on measuring baseline leadership skills, such as those outlined above, and tracking improvement over time. This allows sales enablement to identify gaps and tailor training to areas where certain managers might need more assistance.

“When people are falling behind, they need that little bit of extra attention,” said Dyar. “Or maybe they need the VP of sales or some of the other sales leaders to intervene and help them understand the importance. Or, maybe they’re zooming ahead and they’re excelling…we’re able to roll some of those best practices to the rest of the team, find out what is it that’s working, and then we were able to basically operationalize that, put it into training, and roll it out across the team.”

Culture

One of the biggest challenges to successful sales management is the seemingly contradictory balance between making your number and developing your team. When there isn’t a healthy balance in this area, the sales culture ultimately suffers.

“If you make hitting the number the only thing [sales managers] are responsible for doing and all they’re focused on, then they’re going to throw everything at that and they’re going to miss a lot of opportunities to help people grow along the way,” said Dyar. “I think you really have to change the culture…But once you get to the other side of that change and people start to see value in it, they not only adopt it, but they drive that culture forward.”

As Mike Weinberg describes in his book, “Sales Management, Simplified”, it is the manager that has the ability to build a positive culture on their team. According to Weinberg, leaders should strive to create an ideal sales culture with six core components:

  • People first: strong leadership that cares about developing each individual
  • Performance: managers push team members to do their best and get results
  • Play to win: the team is serious about results, but able to enjoy the process and support each other in the pursuit of success
  • Celebration: the team cheers each other on and recognizes key wins from the top down
  • Collaboration: sellers come engaged and ready to participate in team meetings
  • Growth mindset: all team members are hungry to improve their skills

Sales enablement can help managers develop this ideal culture by teaching them how to prioritize their time to focus on high-value activities, rather than activities that waste time and do not create value. For example, as a manager it can be easy to get distracted by administrative tasks, solving little problems for the team on an ad hoc basis, or spending too much time in meetings and not with their people. Weinberg outlines three tips to prioritize time in areas that result in value for the team:

  • Conduct regular 1:1 meetings with individual reps. During this time, check in on results, pipeline health, and activity – in that order. Following this format helps reps think about the end goal they are hoping to achieve, as well as identify possible causes behind those results. This helps reps take accountability for their own progress while also allowing the manager to collaborate on each rep’s individual growth goals.
  • Lead productive team meetings. Inexperienced leaders often struggle to run effective meetings because they approach it as a vehicle for status updates rather than a tool for culture building. By taking the time to set an agenda with a stated purpose and utilizing activities such as best practice sharing, group brainstorms, industry news reviews, and personal updates, managers can run more effective meetings that also help develop team camaraderie.
  • Work alongside salespeople with their customers. Some of the best opportunities for coaching and development are in the moment, as reps are executing their daily tasks. For example, managers can observe how reps handle calls and coach both before and after the meeting while the information is fresh. This helps foster a culture of learning and builds humility among the team.

Talent Management

In addition to being responsible for team performance, sales managers are also responsible for both attracting and retaining the right talent. Ultimately, sales is about results, which means success relies on having salespeople that are able and motivated to consistently produce results.

From identifying the right new hires, to coaching underperformance, structuring the team based on strengths, and retaining top producers, sales managers need to know how to manage the talent on their teams. Weinberg explains ways to address this through his “Four R’s of Talent Management”:

  • Right People, Right Roles. Many sales organizations struggle with loosely defined or segmented sales roles. There is no such thing as a catch-all sales role; there are many aspects of the sales process that require different strengths. This can cause talent management issues if people are not in the right role based on their strengths. Sales managers need to ensure that the people on their teams have competencies that align with the responsibilities of their role.
  • Retain Top Producers. Retention is fundamentally a management responsibility. Sales managers should ask themselves: what are they personally doing to communicate the importance of each top performer to them directly? Consider what you can actively do to make the rep’s life easier and position them to maximize their potential.
  • Remediate Underperformance. Many managers wait too long to address underperformance in hopes that the issue will correct itself on its own. However, helping to coach up team members is a key responsibility of management as underperformance can have detrimental effects on team morale, not to mention sales results. Sales managers need the skills to set clear expectations for performance with their teams, offer constructive feedback when necessary, track progress, and give their team members the support they need to succeed.
  • Recruit. While it may seem like this responsibility lies with human resources, sales managers can play a crucial role in searching for the right talent and bringing them on board. Even when they are not actively hiring, sales managers should spend intentional time recruiting on a regular basis by maintaining an up-to-date list of referral sources and potential candidates.

Business Management

Finally, sales managers need the tactical skills to be able to manage day-to-day business needs. In addition to focusing on their people and the team culture, sales managers need to understand the technical tools their teams are expected to use, how to manage time and productivity across the team, how to accurately forecast, as well as how to measure success.

In his book, “Sales Manager Survival Guide”, David A. Brock shares four key areas of tactical business management that sales managers need to be skilled in:

  • Sales Tools. Sales managers need to understand how the tools fit within the team’s normal workflow, as well as how current processes are supported by use of the tool. While it is critical for sales managers to be able to use the tools themselves, keep in mind that the tools are primarily for the sellers, and their effectiveness should be assessed through that lens.
  • Time Planning. Sales managers should know how their reps are spending their time. Consider conducting a time study of both managers and their teams to understand how they are allocating their time on a daily basis. By knowing what activities salespeople are prioritizing, sales managers can help their team re-prioritize as needed to address gaps in productivity.
  • Forecasting. Developing accurate sales forecasts requires more than just regularly checking in with team members on deal progress. Managers also need the resources and skills to dig into factors such as customer urgency and commitment to change, willingness to take action, attitudes toward the company or solution, and attitudes toward the competition. This will help managers produce more accurate and useful forecasts that consider a variety of factors that influence a deal.
  • Metrics. In order to measure team performance, managers must focus on gathering metrics across four key areas:
    Business management: Most of these are lagging metrics, such as quota attainment, number of sales, and gross margin. These help managers understand the breakdown of overall team performance.

    • Strategic: Metrics in this area look at things such as how time is being invested across product lines, growth in key accounts, retention of current customers, or competitive switches. These help managers plan long-term strategies around key business objectives.
    • Operational: These metrics are primarily related to activities, such as the number of dials or meetings set. These are important to know, but managers should be careful not to apply arbitrary goals based on these, or set the same expectations around activity for the entire team.
    • Developmental: Metrics in this category look at the skills, competencies, and growth of each individual on the team. These help managers know where people may need extra attention or additional resources to improve.

Sales enablement can help prepare highly competent managers by providing them with the training they need to execute both the tactical and strategic aspects of their role. Through leadership development, culture-based skills, talent management resources, and business management tools, sales enablement can provide every new sales manager with the foundational support they need to effectively guide their teams.