Learn the one consistent thing the world’s top performing sales managers do.

Sales managers have a multitude of tasks and responsibilities. Hiring, training, planning, reporting, admin, motivating, selling, fire fighting, managing performance – any sales manager will readily add to the list. But what sets the top sales managers apart from the rest?

Typically these tasks and responsibilities fall naturally into one of four areas of what I call ‘the sales management spectrum’.

  • Command and Control
    This sales manager is the administrator. Their day revolves around day-to-day admin, operating mission control mostly via their email, measuring and reporting, and filtering out all the clutter so that salespeople are not distracted.
  • Sell, and Solve Customer Problems
    This sales manager enjoys selling more than managing. They get involved in all the big deals and building relationships with clients. Typically they will have been the top performing salesperson prior to becoming the sales manager. In fact they might sometimes be better remaining as the top salesperson, rather than a sales manager.
  • Coach and Develop
    This sales manager spends high quality time with their salespeople, truly helping them to develop into top performers. They are excellent at identifying and recruiting talent. Sales managers of large teams who truly focus on coaching and developing will spend a large proportion of their time building the capability of the team.
  • Business/Market Management
    This sales manager is the strategic thinker and tactician who works on the big picture, building value in the business. They are looking for strategic alliances, and work closely with marketing on changing trends and opportunities. In smaller companies, they will be the strategic marketing department, driving product development based on market intelligence and research, as well as being the sales manager.

The best sales managers are effective across the spectrum. However, many sales managers have an individual style which favours just one or two of the key areas. Indeed, many sales managers tend to spend their time on the command and control. So is one area of the spectrum more important than others?

The most important job of the sales manager is to help their salespeople succeed. As a sales manager, if your sales team is successful, then it stands to reason that you will be successful. Building the capability of the team, through training where needed and consistent coaching, has to be the primary focus for the sales manager.

Most importantly, as a salesperson, there has been one common trend with the command and control managers that I have worked for – I didn’t learn much from them. They were not helping me to be successful.

Studies all point to the fact that the one consistent thing the world’s top performing sales organisations do is that their sales managers are highly effective coaches.

Some sales training works, but quite often it doesn’t. When it does work, the part the sales manager plays in reinforcing the training (after the training has been done) is key to the success of the training, and particularly the business results. When training doesn’t work, a primary reason will be that there is nothing in place to reinforce the training – to turn learning into performance.

Old habits die hard – people carry on doing what they have always done.

The SEC, who represent over 500 of the world’s leading sales organisations, report that: ‘reps fail to recall 87 per cent of what they have learned within 30 days of receiving training. When training is complemented by in-field coaching, productivity is quadrupled, increasing from 22 per cent to 88 per cent.’

You have probably seen similar statistics before on classroom training. They are somewhat scary if you invest in the training, but have nothing in place to follow up. Sustained coaching is vital to derive the benefit and value of most sales training and help the team to apply the knowledge and use the tools they have learned in the classroom.

We do have a centre of excellence here in New Zealand. Late last year, the SEC ranked the Waikato Management School based Gen-i Sales Academy as world leading, and one of the most effective they have seen. Sustained coaching is identified as one of the top five contributing factors.

Coaching is often not well understood. Giving direction and orders, showing someone how to do a task, or persuading that person to do something are common examples of what I see when managers think they are coaching. These are necessary elements of teaching and managing, but are not coaching. The best teachers and managers are all great coaches. They understand and guide the salesperson through the learning process until the desired results are being achieved.

The secret for the sales manager lies in knowing when to coach, how to coach and what to coach. The ‘what’ requires a clearly defined sales process and the appropriate sales tools. Otherwise it will be like coaching a team of footy players to play ‘no rules’ football, or coaching someone in the finer art of cake baking with no bowl, scales or mixing spoon (tools) and no recipe (process). You will get a pretty messy outcome.

When I think back to the two best sales training programmes I participated in as a corporate account manager, it surprised me at the time that the senior sales leaders did not attend the training. Needless to say, they made no contribution in helping the team to succeed following the training.

So before you embark on your next sales training programme, start with developing and honing your own coaching skills, or get help from someone who can assist with this. You will need to figure out how to coach the process, using the tools and techniques introduced in the training. For the sales manager who has not done any professional development in sales coaching, then this should perhaps be the biggest priority in your own personal development.


Paul Newsom is a Change Agent at Young Enterprise Trust, a not-for-profit organisation established to promote an enterprise and financially literate culture among young people.