The advice sales management desperately needs (but never gets)

Sales management is a hard job.

Anyone who has been a sales manager can attest to this. The average tenure is less than two years, and no other member of the leadership team fails as often as the sales manager.

What’s more: Sales managers typically receive little training. Research from Vantage Point Performance and The Sales Management Association found that more than 50 percent of companies invest less than a quarter of their training budget in sales managers.

As a result, sales management doesn’t have the resources to coach effectively. Even though 74 percent of executives say coaching is the most important role of frontline sales management, less than 20 percent of the average manager’s time is spent on it.

There is a misalignment between what sales executives want, and what sales managers actually do. To understand why this is happening (and what to do about it), we reached out to TopLine Leadership CEO Kevin F. Davis.

Davis is the author of “The Sales Manager’s Guide to Greatness,” and he shared some fascinating insights. Here’s what we learned.

The big problem facing sales management

Everyone in a sales management role is overwhelmed by distractions.

“You’ve got fires to put out,” Davis said. “I recently spoke to a sales manager who gets over 200 emails every day.”

That sales manager spends an average of two full hours each day glued to her inbox. That’s 500 hours a year. If she was able to reduce just one-third of that time, she would gain 20 more days each year to coach her salespeople.

Sales managers have a lot on their plate. They often feel like glorified receptionists. Because they’re overwhelmed with so many priorities, sales managers rarely have time to focus on coaching. And even when they do find the time to provide reps with feedback, it’s often after an event has happened. Reps aren’t able to implement the feedback, so it feels more judgmental than helpful.

“Because the feedback is too late, reps see it as criticism – which has very different ramifications,” David explained.

In essence, feedback that is too late becomes the opposite of motivation. Not only does sales management not have the time to engage in its most critical activity, but the attempts to make up for the lack of time have negative effects on reps.

Sales management vs. sales leadership

Davis moved into sales management during the 1980s. Back then, there were very little resources or education for the role. He had to figure out his own approach to managing a sales team.

“In the past, I had been managed by a micromanager,” Davis said. “I knew I didn’t want to be like him. And I wasn’t.”

A couple of years into his role, Davis put a survey together. He wanted feedback from his reps on his abilities as a manager, and he learned a lesson he will never forget: Many of his reps felt that he wasn’t coaching enough.

In his attempt to avoid micromanagement, he had over-corrected. Davis wasn’t engaging enough with his reps. He had just assumed that he was a good sales manager because his team was doing well.

“I think, in that moment, I finally became a sales leader,” Davis said.  

What sales management desperately needs to do

Through TopLine Leadership, Davis has been educating sales leaders for almost 30 years. His one piece of advice for sales management is simple:

  1. Make a list of the tasks that need to be completed before you leave the office each day.
  2. Prioritize that list. Work on the first item until it’s finished.
  3. Always make sales coaching your No. 1 priority.

“I advise sales managers to coach people before noon every day,” Davis said. “Make it a priority. It has to happen then. Otherwise, it never will.”

Once sales managers get into this mindset, they’ll start to see more coaching opportunities than they had in the past. And you’ll see the difference. Sales teams that spend three or more hours of sales coaching each month experience a 17 percent increase in quota attainment. And often, sales coaching is what makes the difference between reps hitting goals or not.

Want to empower your sales leaders with the best tools and practices for effective coaching? Check out our sales coaching webinar below.

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