When a sales representative or account manager is promoted to a district, region or team sales manager, they often face challenges they’ve never considered before. For example, how much time do I spend “managing up” to my boss and the senior staff versus “managing down” to my team? Managing up can be problematic because it involves anticipating what your manager needs and when he or she needs it.

Managing down means coaching and many of our front-line sales managers (FLSMs) have little experience in developing a coaching plan that helps their team members acquire the focus, competency and sales skills they need to meet increasingly higher sales quotas and revenue goals. Let’s take a look at four coaching challenges that sales managers face.

The Four Coaching Challenges

  1. Coach the sales representative’s funnel. For sales representatives, their sales funnel needs to be much more than a reporting tool; it serves an important role as a planning device. Where do they need to spend their time? Do they need to devote more time (and effort) to prospecting? How many new accounts must each representative develop in order to replenish the pool of opportunities that are won or lost each month or quarter or year? Are they devoting too much time to “unwinnable” prospects? Are there enough opportunities in the funnel to make the sales quota for the month, quarter or year?

Help your sales representatives review and plan for each sales opportunity. Many sales funnels are cluttered with “stalled” opportunities. It’s estimated that approximately 15% of all opportunities are “stalled.” In other words, they have been moved to the back burner by the buying organization. Stalled opportunities need to be reviewed with a critical eye. Why has the customer lost interest? Should we remove the opportunity from the funnel? With the right plan can we re-energize this sales opportunity?

Tip: Help your sales representatives budget their time in order to maintain a robust funnel.

Tip: Keep them focused on discovering new prospects (prospecting).

Tip: Ask each sales representative to commit to specific sales opportunities that will close each month.

Tip: Challenge your sales representatives to remove any opportunity that appears stalled or develop an action plan to move the opportunity forward.

  1. Empower your sales representatives to take bold action. All it takes is a “loss” when they expected a “win” or an off-handed rebuke from a sales manager to cause some sales representatives to second-guess themselves. Once the self-doubt begins, it takes a good sales manager to re-build confidence. What happens when the sales representatives lose self-confidence? You’ll see several changes:
    • They become much more tactical than strategic. Your sales representative will try almost anything just to see what works instead of relying on a well-conceived plan.
    • They become reluctant to go “high” in the buying organization, fearing that they can’t compete effectively at that level. Instead, they rely on mid-level contacts that are easy to access, less challenging and who often cannot say yes to a proposal.
    • They are reluctant to disqualify an opportunity, even though it’s unwinnable.
    • They are timid in asking for help—especially in requesting executive level participation.

Tip: Coach them to have confidence in themselves and their plan. If they seem to be grasping for any tactic that would improve their position, keep probing to find the best practice that best fits the plan.

Tip: Coach them on how to prepare for an executive conversation or offer to participate. Bring the team together by phone to provide collaborative guidance and direction on key sales opportunities.

Tip: Teach sales representatives that they have to qualify continuously an opportunity throughout the buy-sell process. If they and you are convinced they are not well positioned to win the opportunity, then they should stop working it. It’s always best to loose early in the buy-sell process rather than later.

Tip: Make a standard part of your coaching the question, “How can I or other members of the organization help you win this opportunity?” This question shows the sales representative that sales management is interested and willing to participate in the selling process.

  1. Coach differentiation and value. Many of our sales representatives lose perspective in the heat of competition and find themselves reiterating product features. Challenge them to create a value proposition that matters and customize the message to each specific stakeholder. That value proposition should serve as a foundation to their communication plan, including meetings, emails, presentations and negotiation.

Tip: Coach a value proposition that will differentiate your product or solution from the competition.

Tip: One value statement will not fit every stakeholder’s interest. Coach your sales representatives to capture the benefit or return that will resonate with each stakeholder.

  1. Coach the right portion of the team. At times, it’s easy for sales managers to focus their coaching time on new hires—they clearly need the help. But think of coaching as a form of nourishment that is essential to growth. Everyone needs it. It may be helpful to break the team into categories with similar coaching needs. Ask yourself:
  • Who are my new hires and how can I help them get up to speed?
  • Who are my early adopters—those team members who are eager to learn and adapt to their role—and how can I support their personal desire for growth?
  • Who are my stars and how can I reinforce their best practices, promote consistency and encourage sharing?

Tip: Develop a developmental profile for each team member. Identify skills that require refinement–who needs what.

Tip: Leverage your early adopters. Fifteen to 20% of any team may well be early adopters. They’ll embrace change readily and absorb new information quickly. But they may require coaching to refine their skills. They can become frustrated if they know what to do but can’t seem to grasp how to do it. Coach them to rehearse and practice the critical skills.

Tip: Manage the Middle. It’s easy to forget our moderate level performers who year after year hit on or near their sales quotas. Are they too focused on “low hanging fruit” to bring in the major sales? Do they need “stretch goals” to motivate them? What two or three skills would help them become more effective in their pursuit of high volume sales opportunities?

Tip: Challenge your stars. Approximately 20% of each team are stars that account for as much as 60-80% of your team’s revenue. Can they mentor others? What best practices need to be shared? Are they consistent in their success?

Tip: There are numerous reasons why a sales representative could be a poor performer. The challenge for the coach is to identify where best practice or skill development will improve performance and when a performance improvement plan might be required.

Parting Thoughts

Managing a sales team effectively requires a balance between short and long-term objectives. If you think about your chief assets to achieve these objectives, there is one that stands out: the skill set of your team members. Think of their skills as a deposit or withdrawal from your bank account. The better you coach your team members, the greater your deposits and the overall balance; when you lose good team members to promotion or competitors, it’s like making a withdrawal that lowers your account balance.

Coaching is your tool for building an account balance you can rely upon in pursuing your team quota. Plan your “deposits” by having a coaching plan for each team member. Set expectations for professional growth and help them reach for the bar.


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