What Sophisticated Sales Organizations Must Do to Train Great Sales Managers and Develop Future Sales Leaders

It is common for organizations to assume that their top-performing salespeople will become successful sales managers. Hence, companies often forgo giving them proper leadership training. A study of 286 sales managers conducted by researchers at Drexel University and the University of Florida states, “57% had no training after being named sales manager.” Even when training programs for managers exist, they rarely receive enough priority, support and budget to be effective.

Specialized training for developing strong sales leaders is necessary because the role requires a different set of skills from those utilized by sales agents. Overseeing a sales team entails spending a lot of time coaching, forecasting, planning, and recruiting. The actual selling is now the responsibility of other members, and this role shift can be unsettling for new sales managers.

Although it is the sales representatives who are directly responsible for generating leads and closing sales, their managers are the ones pushing them to achieve their quota. Nonetheless, organizations continue to underestimate the impact of sales management training on business performance when research shows that developing sales managers leads to an increase of up to 30% in quota attainment. This is because strong managers are able to attract excellent sales talent and bring out their potential. While sales representative training increases revenue to 43%, an additional investment in manager training results in an improved overall sales performance of 67% over time.

Developing an Effective Training Program for Sales Managers

Granted that organizations are different and might show varying results, implementing a leadership development program will have more favorable outcomes as opposed to allowing sales managers to proceed without adequate training. But for maximum payoff, an ideal training strategy should be grounded on continual learning principles and tailored to fit the current profile of the sales managers.

Continual Learning Program

The concept of continual learning addresses major issues in traditional approaches to training. It aims to improve the retention and application of knowledge, optimize the resources spent on the program, and provide unlimited learning experiences. Though used globally in training salespeople, some of its principles can also be adapted for sales management programs.

Four basic tenets of this are:

1. Comprehensive

Sales management training usually narrows its focus on enhancing the effectiveness of the sales force, but that is only one aspect of being an excellent sales leader. The curriculum must also take into account other business skills that are needed in managing an entire team of salespeople. It must consider the development of leadership abilities along with other competencies required of a manager in a particular organization. Then, as a sales manager continues to progress and even move up the ranks, additional training should be given in order to complement his or her expanding job description.

2. Measurable

The program should be designed in such a way that objective measurement of learning is possible. To do this, an organization should define the knowledge and skills that managers must possess in order to become sales leaders. By doing so, areas for improvement would emerge and can be properly addressed. Evaluation should also be continuous throughout the program to ensure that both the organization and the managers are on the right track.

3. Engaging

Utilizing a variety of training methods will target different learning styles and retain interest. Concepts should be taught in an environment that makes use of multiple modalities in which traditional classroom instruction is combined with other approaches to content delivery such as e-learning, group interaction, role-playing, and multimedia. This repetition of concepts across different modes will bolster the understanding of information.

4. Reinforcement

An ideal reinforcement model is two-tiered: it is both scheduled and on-demand. Scheduled reinforcement provides a structure that managers can follow along their learning path. These could come in the form of planned seminars and workshops that observe a regular schedule. On-demand reinforcement is individual access to content at any time. Resources should always be available to managers who wish to pursue learning opportunities on their own.

Sales Leadership Factors

The program cannot be crafted in isolation from its subjects — the sales managers themselves. When assessing a leadership development strategy, it is crucial to refer back to the individuals concerned to evaluate if the program is right for them. Four factors include:

1. Alignment

Different sales organizations have their nuances, so there is no one-size-fits-all strategy for training every sales manager in any industry. The particular vision and business objectives of the company should be understood as the end goal of the leadership development program. Though aside from considering the objectives of the organization, there must also be alignment in terms of the personal objectives of the managers. Employees become more productive and motivated when they realize that their company takes their individual goals seriously. Find out what career and personal objectives the managers have for themselves and incorporate these into the program.

2. Practical

The objectives identified above should also be realistic and can be achieved within a reasonable timeframe. Trying to compress a bulk of content into a tight schedule is not practical. It would be more cost-effective and rewarding to lay out a training plan over time as the content becomes more complex. Furthermore, a program should have focused objectives for every module and general objectives for the entire strategy that will benefit both the organization and the managers in the long run.

3. Applicable

Learning theory is important, but it is void without real-world application. The program should allow for opportunities for the managers to practice what they have learned. The content must also be relevant to them in the organizational roles that they play every day. For instance, advanced I.T. skills might be useful to certain kinds of managers, but basic computer knowledge should already suffice for sales managers who are not engaged in the tech industry. Take a look at the daily tasks of managers to understand what concepts would be appropriate to include in the program.

4. Culture

Craft the leadership development strategy with the existing organizational culture in mind. Sometimes, even a well-constructed program proves to be ineffectual in an organization where it does not belong. Similarly, the organization should be ready to accept the strategy. Otherwise, it will persistently revert back to the cultural status quo. Imagine the implementation of a continual learning program, as previously outlined, in an organization with a weak learning culture. There is no senior management buy-in and members do not feel accountable for the program’s success. Then, the plan would certainly fail. To remedy such a situation, the strategy can also include steps to change cultural perception on the importance of training sales managers.

Commitment to a Sales Leadership Training Strategy

Training great sales managers is a long and demanding process, but the potential outcome is an exciting prospect. By incorporating the aforementioned characteristics of a training program into a particular organization’s strategy for sales leadership development, then the results would predictably be positive.

The following is a concrete plan of action that any organization can adapt to fit their needs.

1. Gather and analyze data

The program should be informed by solid facts. This would make it easier to justify the need for such a sales training strategy that focuses on the managers. Collect empirical and historical data that the organization heavily relies on like sales performance and projections. Proceed to analyze what the statistics are showing.

A good analytical tool to use is a sales effectiveness scorecard, which can reveal existing issues and barriers to progress. It can also be used in competitive analysis to uncover what other organizations are doing.

It will also be useful to predict the return-on-investment (ROI) of the training. This simple formula generates the ratio of the ROI to the total cost of the program where Revenue is the current sales revenue of the company and Costs is the total cost of training sales managers:

[(Revenue) – (Costs)] / Costs

For example, an ROI of 65:1 shows that for every dollar spent on the training, there is a return of $65 to the organization. This calculation can also be done using projected sales revenues to compute the ROI after implementing the program.

2. Sales manager profiles

Next, assess the job description and roles of the sales managers in the organization. Match this to the actual profile of the current managers. Take a look at their career backgrounds, history with the company and present skill sets. Investigate any gaps and overlaps that are affecting their performance as leaders.

3. Define objectives

Incorporate the insights gathered from #1 and #2 when formulating the program’s objectives. As previously mentioned, there should be alignment with the individual objectives of the managers. Also, evaluate if they match the objectives of the sales team and the company’s overall organizational goals.

Every program objective should identify the target skills and competencies that managers should possess. They should also be specific to the needs of both the company and the trainees.

4. Develop assessment models

Models for measuring the performance of the trainees undergoing the program are necessary for figuring out if the objectives set forth in #3 are being attained. Assessment tools can be in the form of tests for conceptual learning or key performance indicators for application. Ideally, assessment should be conducted before, during and after the program.

  • A pre-program assessment tries to evaluate the current position of a manager in terms of knowledge and skills. The results of this can also affect the implementation of the curriculum. For instance, a sales manager with excellent coaching skills would only need a refresher course in coaching while a manager with poor forecasting skills might need an extensive finance course.
  • Assessment throughout the program is helpful in order to track the progress of the trainees and evaluate the effectiveness of the training materials and methods. Issues apparent at this stage can be addressed before more resources are wasted on an ineffective plan.
  • Post-program assessment serves as a conclusion to the program and a final evaluation of the readiness of the managers.

5. Combine into a training plan

Merge all these four elements into a concrete curriculum for sales leadership development. Plan modules and lessons over a defined schedule that the trainees will follow. Include opportunities for reinforcement and application of concepts. Also, develop a multimodal plan that makes use of different approaches to learning.

Indicate the persons who are involved in crucial tasks. These could be enlisted from internal departments or third parties depending on the company’s assets. The resources and budget to be allocated for the program should also be properly identified.

As with any other manager role, sales leaders excel when they are given the right information, tools and support to pursue the goals that they need to achieve. So long as the people managing the sales force are competent and enthusiastic, then an organization will be able to survive any challenges that come its way.


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Danny Wong

Danny Wong

Danny Wong is a marketing consultant, sales strategist, and writer. He is a member of the marketing team at Tenfold, which provides a seamless click-to-dial solution for high-performance sales teams. Connect with him on Twitter @dannywong1190.

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