There are many theories of what managers should be doing to maximise the effectiveness of their teams. What’s vital to focus on are the management roles that drive performance and organisational outcomes.
At Sandler, we believe the sales managers role comprises of four areas that will actively contribute to delivering outcomes, supervision, coaching, training and mentoring. Despite a tidal wave of research that suggests coaching is critical to organisational success, a study suggests that 73% of sales managers spend less than 5% of their time in coaching their team.
So what are the critical dimensions of these four key roles?
Supervision is where many sales managers feel most comfortable, and its where many spend most of their time; in fact, some spend all of their time in the supervision zone. Supervision helps manager feel like they are “managing” and that they know they are in touch with what is going on with their sales force.
Over the decades, many management theorists have explored and made proposals about what makes up a managers role. Interestingly in recent times, we all want to be leaders, not managers, which leaves us in a bit of a quandary, as although we want to lead (and indeed to be led) someone has to manage for the organisation to achieve its goals.
A managers supervisory roles include;
- the allocation of responsibilities, including quota or tasks that the business needs completing
- data interpretation, potentially including P+L, sales figures, funnel review which permits a review of past performance or costs
- performance evaluation, how are individuals contributing, and how are the team moving towards stated goals.
Now don’t get me wrong, teams require supervision. Managers should be reviewing what’s going on and removing roadblocks for their people. I would argue, however, that few teams need more monitoring to deliver better performance. Some teams are subject to scrutiny, that means there isn’t any room to increase this area of the managers’ interaction with their team.
Another dimension of supervision is how to divide time across the group of direct reports involved. Not everyone requires the same level of management to deliver top drawer performance. How do managers evaluate the return they receive on supervisory activity? Given the focus on supervision, this may be an uncomfortable thought for some managers out there.
Most managers are pretty good at identifying, and possibly delivering, the training their people need to drive organisational performance.
That said, training can be a bit of a “hit and miss” proposition, particularly in sales. There is a bit of a tendency for some sales managers to;
1. Believe the hype of a CV and fail to recognise skill gaps in new starters, so they don’t train to address them.
2. Genuinely believe that veterans don’t need additional training, so let them do as they please.
3. Ignore the need for training and abdicate this role to junior members of staff who facilitate lame “ride alongs” (where they teach bad habits) or impart bad practices, workarounds and shortcuts – all in the name of being helpful.
Again training is crucial, but for it to be effective, it needs to be a recurring event, focussed around an agreed process and selling system. An agreed sales process is not in place in many organisations, so training tends to be a series of uncoordinated events that are more about motivation and “team-building” than in skills development and driving improvements in organisational performance.
Evaluating the return on the time (and potentially money) invested in training is at least somewhat more straightforward to measure. Changes in sales volumes, deal sizes, profitability are all at least quantifiable. It is also possible, to some degree, to make some objective assessment of changes in individual capability. Improvements in performance may help managers determine whether they are devoting enough time to the training role, or whether an additional investment would help the organisation meet its goals.
“A mentor is a more experienced professional who shares his or her skills, knowledge, experience and expertise with you on an agreed regular basis”.
Mentoring is a tricky issue, and it depends on how you view the relationship between mentor and mentee.
There is a school of thought that suggests a mentor should be someone other than your manager, as their role is to “ensure the goals of the team or company are met, not your personal development” (Forbes).
That said, if you are a manager and leader who is focussed on their team, and takes a genuine interest in both their development and personal goals, I don’t see this as a mutually exclusive relationship. In Sandler, we’re big advocates that effective management, goal setting and accountability rely on aligning the individuals’ motivations and key drivers with the organisations’ goals. If a manager doesn’t develop an understanding of their team members, they are unlikely to create this alignment effectively and may fail to get the most out of their people.
Mentors act as guides who have “been there” and “done that” and can offer insight and advice that will have positive impacts on the individual. They are the grizzled veterans (figuratively speaking) of the organisation. They should be respected, trusted and in a position to offer support and advice and knowledge that applies to both specific and general situations.
Mentoring supports high performance and career development, which should be a goal for all managers who attract talented individuals. My personal belief has always been that we have the privilege of working with high performers for a certain period, but we have to support and prepare them for their next challenge, whatever and where ever that may be.
The question of time allocation is a difficult one. How do you quantify the time required to support your team not only in professional roles but with their personal goals and life changes? However we look at this, investing time in your people, beyond their development in purely role-based performance, is going to be of significant value to the business and the individual involved due to the high degree of engagement and personal motivation this produces.
Coaching has probably the most significant impact on individual performance in sales roles, and yet is the most overlooked or underutilised part in the managers’ arsenal.
What must be said is that coaching isn’t something done to someone, and it is not a manager coming to the rescue and saving deals or solving problems (and walking away feeling good about themselves).
This role can be called “chief arsonist”, a situation in where the manager is so focussed on being able to help, that they under-develop their people to be needed and to maintain their position as the critical asset in the sales team. They enjoy the constant firefighting because it helps them feel positive about themselves, and keeps the focus on actively solving problems (usually the same issues over and over) and away from long term development, strategy or performance improvement.
So what is coaching? Well, its many things to many people. What we can say is that at its best, it is;
- Focussed on the individual. It is about them, their development needs and areas of potential performance improvement.
- When it is iterative, that is, undertaken with a regular cadence that permits review of changes in competence and confidence. It can be an ad-hoc situation, but if this is the only way in which it occurs, it lacks the power and impact that a regular programme of coaching will deliver. A manager must make time for coaching.
- Its aimed at correcting or reinforcing individual behaviour. It’s most useful when the candidate identifies the behaviour or where the candidate has had the opportunity to realise there is a performance deficit through discussion.
Coaching focusses on skills and techniques, rather than numbers. The real power of coaching lies in the ability to address shortcomings in behaviour or technique. Behaviours drive success. Behaviours are leading indicators that predict whether an outcome is likely to happen, and improving our behaviours is fundamental to our personal and organisational success.
Not everyone should get the investment of your time for coaching. It’s harsh, but not everyone can benefit from coaching. Up to 10% of sales people have ended up in the wrong job, their heart isn’t in it, and they’ll do whatever they can to avoid engaging in activity that takes them out of a comfort zone and in to “hard work”. In an ideal world, as a manager, you’d help them move on to roles that they will find more personally rewarding, either within the business or outside of it. When time is limited, your most significant gains are in coaching the middle 60%, this group can make productivity gains of 19% through effective coaching.
The top 20% will likely welcome coaching, but you won’t get significant shifts in team performance by spending a lot of your focus with them. They may be better mentored or given access to experiences that will help them develop in ways more meaningful to them. Coaching the middle 60% offers the opportunity to take some (but probably not all) candidates from average performance to high performance. As high performers can be 50% more productive (minimum) (McKinsey) than your average performers, if you can take just a fraction of the average and make them great, then the impact on your business is transformational. For this reason, your business will gain the most significant impact if you coach “the middle” and find other ways to keep high performers engaged.
Managers wear many different hats many times a day.
A focus that disproportionately values supervision is likely to be damaging on long term performance and may make it very hard to quantify the benefits a manager brings to the organisation and their team.
Shifting focus from supervision to training, coaching and mentoring will bring measurable improvements in performance. As coaching is still the missing link in the team development puzzle, investment in developing this competence in managers and management candidates would appear to be a logical place to start a process of sales performance improvement.
Managers that can coach skills learned through training will amplify the benefits of training investment, and secure long term performance benefits for their organisations.
The Dirty Secret of Effective Sales Coaching by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson https://hbr.org/2011/01/the-dirty-secret-of-effective
Training Industry - https://trainingindustry.com/articles/sales/does-it-really-matter-if-your-salespeople-are-being-coached/#:~:text=According%20to%20the%20Sales%20Management,concern%20to%20today's%20sales%20organizations.