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Why Sales Managers Struggle with Coaching

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Have you ever heard the phrase, “Those who can, do; those who can’t do, teach”? If you’re a sales manager, you’re living proof that this is often far from the truth. Lots of companies take their top performing sales reps and turn them into sales managers at some point in their careers. These new sales managers have to then transition their role from the doer (selling products) to the teacher and coach (managing sales reps). It’s not always an easy transition.

It’s not all about the skills gap, though. Some of the challenges sales managers face are caused by lack of time or geographic constraints. We commonly see sales managers who:

1. Don’t have time to coach

Many sales managers are dealing with teams that are too large for one individual to provide meaningful coaching and mentoring for all. While their tenure and selling skills give these managers credibility, this cannot make up for a simple lack of availability.

The solution? Give reps the tools and technology to assess their own performance. If you have a Fitbit or other fitness tracker, you are familiar with the concept of a dashboard that tracks your fitness goals and progress. It’s like your own personal coach, reminding you when you need to walk more, tracking your heart rate and sleep patterns, etc. The latest wave of sales enablement tools hitting the market allow reps to build their skills and knowledge independently and receive meaningful feedback that helps them improve their performance. Self assessment can’t replace coaching and mentoring entirely, but it’s a step in the right direction.

2. Aren’t sure what sales coaches are supposed to do

Many sales managers struggle to transition from selling to management because they haven’t developed the new skill set they need. Some people are naturally good at coaching others. But for most of us, coaching takes practice and patience. It’s far better to assume sales reps that get promoted to sales managers are not going to be effective coaches right off the bat. It takes time to replace that competitive selling mentality with a more constructive coaching mentality.

3. Aren’t being adequately supported by their organizations

Sales training is a big budget, high visibility endeavor in many organizations. It’s easy to see the role a sales rep plays in making a new product launch successful, but less easy to see what the sales manager needs to succeed. The training support of sales managers needs to be carefully considered. The goal should be to turn sales managers into empowered coaches by implementing a comprehensive training program that includes opportunities to practice and get meaningful feedback.

4. Can’t reach their busy reps 

When sales reps are out in the field all day, it’s hard to coach them without that face-to-face interaction on a regular basis. Finding the time to sit down with sales reps and give feedback can be challenging. And when sales reps do get feedback, sometimes the only feedback they get is whether or not they’re winning or losing their sales. The attitudes and aptitudes that are driving those results, good or bad, are largely ignored.

How to Solve the Problem

As you can see, coaching comes with lots of challenges. BLP President Sharon Boller suggests the following four solutions:

1. Create performance rubrics and coaching guides that reflect the realities of the work environment.

Design the coaching experience to fit within the workflow of the sales manager and the sales rep. Don’t over-engineer it and clarify how and where coaching fits into the workflow.

2. Provide annotated examples of good and bad.

Let sales managers see both extremes, and then create self-evaluation tools that enable them to rate themselves against these standards of good and bad. Make it easy for managers to self-reflect.

3. Assist sales managers in figuring out what reps need coaching on.

Use automated reinforcement tools that help reinforce key skills and provide managers with detailed feedback on what employees do and do not know and know how to do. Knowledge Guru is one such tool; others exist as well.

4. Reward managers for coaching.

People will do what they are rewarded for doing. If coaching isn’t valued and acknowledged as important to the organization, it will not happen.