If you are struggling to get the best out of your sales coaching, then read on, because I have ten valuable and profitable tips for you.
But first, I would like you to change your viewpoint on the term “sales manager” and change it, even if it’s only in your head to “sales leader.”
Look at this definition of sales management and as you read through the article, you will hear lots of familiar sales terms that you would expect to find in any organization with a salesforce.
But, as I witnessed over my forty-year sales career, it is easy to fall victim to the process-driven, management reporting trap and have your valuable sales team tied up in knots trying to figure out the latest CRM system or being kept unprofitably busy in time-consuming pointless sales meetings.
I’ve seen it first hand just a couple of years ago, with a sales team of a huge multinational being dragged up and down the motorways of the UK, in their nice, shiny, and expensive cars, to sit in hotels and through meetings to discuss the same pipeline that hasn’t moved forward since the last month.
What was more frightening was the attitude of the sales managers who were quite happy to spend two days in such meetings, which could have been put to much better use by engaging with their customers, who are being crawled over by their competition — not to mention the cost of dragging a fully-expensed, under-performing sales team to the meeting in the first place!
A Fine Art
Sales management, sales leadership as I would prefer to call it is a tough and challenging job requiring a cross-section of skills.
It’s not for everyone and especially for those who are top-flight salespeople as there is a huge difference between the roles, and just as a top soccer player doesn’t always go on to be the best coach, it follows with sales and sales management.
But I have put together my own top tips for you to succeed in this role so let’s get straight to them!
#1 — Sales Coaching: Stop Managing And Start Leading
So let’s begin with the first tip and that is for you to change your mindset and think purely about leadership, rather than management — leadership is about inspiring confidence, and confidence is the product of excellence, which goes on to be the product of greatness.
Remember, “good” is the enemy of “great.”
You must aspire to greatness and then infect your sales team with your enthusiasm and passion to do so.
Lead from the front — the best sales managers that I worked for were fearless in their approach to selling and would have no qualms in making cold calls at the highest level of leadership in our target customers.
They would come out to meetings with me and truly show me “how it was done” and repeat this process over and over…they would take me out for drinks after work and help me to build my confidence, but through the brutality of telling me the truth when I needed to hear it, which although not pleasant for me, it did allow me to trust the person concerned.
And when things went wrong, they rolled their sleeves up and helped their salespeople navigate through the crisis…leading from the front.
It’s no surprise that when my turn for sales management came along, I was using the same techniques that my good previous managers used on me — over the years I have paid off peoples credit card debts, bought suits cars and that was outside of the generous incentive plans I created and simply because I knew people could not focus if they were worried or concerned about their personal life.
Naturally, I led from the front and I would never ask any salesperson to perform a task that I couldn’t perform myself.
I also decided to recruit and train all of my salesforces from scratch, which I will cover in a separate point and I wasn’t concerned about anything more than finding someone with a passion for sales…someone who had that “spark” that could be ignited into a flame and then turned into a roaring fire.
Just as the famous boxing trainer, Cus D’amato explained when he was talking about Mike Tyson in the video below:
Now, in contrast, the worst sales managers were looking at perfect resumes when trying to hire talent — they were process-driven and did not pay attention to the psychological aspects, plus they couldn’t motivate me to do anything!
They were too worried about their own jobs and reporting their lack of effort to their superiors, rather than putting in the time and effort to develop the talent sitting right under their noses…even if they had the capability to do so in the first place.
Get out there and start leading!
#2 — Build Commercial Awareness Rather Than Sales Techniques
You simply cannot have enough commercial awareness and that is what separates the best salespeople from the rest.
Forget the classroom sales techniques that rarely work in the field and teach your salespeople the workings of business and go deep into each and every component that will allow them to talk the “language of business” rather than trying to “close” a client through strong-arm verbiage that many have become oblivious too in today’s, buyer-driven world.
Today’s buyers are far savvier than ever…they will often know more about the salesperson’s company than the salesperson and this was confirmed to me only a short while ago when I was talking to an old friend of mine who had worked their way up the career ladder to a chief buyer.
It’s all about being commercial and I learned this the hard way when I co-founded a tech startup some years ago.
I was intimidated by the tech and didn’t follow my previous business model of engaging commercially, with the executive leadership of my clients.
Sales Coaching: Focus On The Commercial Outcomes
Your salespeople do not have to know the in’s and out’s of your product and would be far more profitable if they understood the commercial benefits — with my tech startup, I should have focussed on the key commercial benefits which were:
- A better user experience for their own customers
- Greater insight into their internal technical operations
- The ability for their executives to make faster, better decisions, with more accurate and profitable outcomes
Of course, all of the above needed to be proved, but that would have been the easy part rather than trying to win over large groups of techies who were naturally defensive when an outside company comes along and tries to better what they were already doing.
In reality, we had the time, energy, and technology to go deeper than they could, because of our single specialization.
Looking back, it would have been far easier to create that critical “no brainer” and compelling value proposition which makes customers want to buy from you, rather than you having to sell to them!
A sales manager’s dream.
Rather than put your salespeople through endless training and process-driven meetings, get them commercially trained by bringing in your own internal experts to help them.
Ask the CFO to explain the workings of corporate finance and all of its nuances.
Get the CEO involved to talk about leadership and running multiple business functions.
Get your CTO down to do a “lunch and learn” session.
And so on.
If you don’t have those resources then learn and conduct the sessions yourself and teach it, or get your friends involved if they are in business.
Sales training is important, but not in the traditional sense and I go deep into it in this article:
#3 — Get Your Team To Conduct Deep Research
You simply cannot conduct enough research and I am talking about thinking like an investment banker who is looking to invest their client’s hard-earned cash into the markets to give the best return.
It’s a far cry from reading the latest annual report of your customers on the Internet or being able to quote their mission statement.
You have to go deep and start with the global geopolitical situation — the current global pandemic has virtually decimated some industries, especially in the hospitality and travel sectors, so keeping a keen eye on what’s going on in the world is critical.
It would take the bravest of investors to put money into these sectors at face value…but where there is a risk, there is the reward.
My point here is that you need to encourage your salespeople to form opinions because they form the basis for interesting discussions — if you are in the hospitality sector at this time, you can build a huge amount of contacts that you probably would not have made if things were flying high.
In my own experience back in the tech crash of the early 2000s, when my companies were heavily exposed, we used this time to build relationships through simply talking to clients rather than trying to sell to them, which was futile because there was no money to buy.
Geopolitically, we had just experienced the terror attacks of 9/11, so putting the two things together, the world was not looking good or was my business!
Now To The Markets
You now need to look at the specific market you are operating in — what are the drivers of that market, who are the leading players, and why?
Where is the money coming from and what are the exciting future opportunities?
If you are in the hospitality sector and let’s say your customers are large hotel chains, then it is easy to look at technology to see how automation will affect the market, and also find out which chains are ahead of the curve when it comes down to doing so.
You can see who is investing heavily in the sector and why — you have already looked at the global and geopolitical situation, so you have an idea of what’s coming down the road, but now you have to see how attractive the sector is as a whole, for investors.
If it’s good, then you will be either in or on the brink of an upward trend, which means you can sell to your heart’s content and use the angle of spending money to accumulate.
If it’s entering a downward trend, then your approach would be to help reduce expenditure and costs..but this may also involve a capital expense.
By conducting this research you are allowing both you as a sales leader to finely tune your sales approach to the market and your salespeople to have a laser focus, plus you will be increasing their levels of confidence.
Don’t Forget The Competition
I never really paid much attention to my competitors as I was more worried about what I was doing with my own business and some sales managers I’ve come across are obsessed with what their competitors are doing.
But I was always aware of all of the companies I felt were “up there with us”…and so should you be.
In today’s uncertain, volatile, and hyper-competitive market, companies are looking to disrupt industry sectors constantly, which means you don’t want to be caught flat-footed, so keep an eye on what’s going on with your key competitors, but not obsessively.
Delve Deep Into Your Customers
Now, it’s time to get to know your customers and you will probably know more than most of your contacts if you do this right…but be warned…don’t try to force your new-found knowledge on your clients because it could backfire.
Nobody likes a “know-it-all.”
Get to know and understand the mission and vision of your customers and tune your thinking into theirs — talk to departments that you would not normally engage with and find out their competitive advantages…plus their most pressing and challenging problems.
If you get your salespeople to do this for all your current and target customers, then they will naturally find out the advantages of each of them, plus they will uncover a huge amount of problems.
But make sure to be proactive with your problem solving — you must work in anticipation, thinking about the problems that are likely in the future, and then building creative solutions around them.
Here is a summary of the research framework:
- Global and geopolitical research
- Market and industry research
- Competitor research
- Individual customer research
It makes for a seamless interconnection when you follow this framework and please don’t ignore any component no matter how large or small your business is.
Every business on this planet will fall into a sector in some way and we are all affected by global and geopolitical events.
The ultimate aim is for your salespeople to have a level of confidence that far surpasses their competitors and it allows them to understand and embrace the next point.
#4 — Use Product Knowledge Correctly
In my early career selling office equipment to businesses, I was sent on numerous manufacturers’ product training courses and while some of it was useful, most of it was a complete waste of time, apart from the social functions that usually accompany these events!
There were usually two outcomes when it came down to salespeople returning from these events — they were still as clueless about the products as they were before the course, like me or they were now self-proclaimed experts in their own right and would happily spend all day talking to customers about the products rather than selling them.
When I entered the telecommunications space, I was determined for me and my staff not to make the same mistake and I set out a basic standard of knowledge that had to be attained, in order to become a salesperson, which at the very least meant we could all talk and understand the technical “language” of our customers, but it stopped right there.
I even told our customers about my strategy and asked for their approval, which many granted — I further explained that I didn’t want to create a team of technology experts, because they would lose the purpose of why companies like mine were in business and if that was the case, they should be working for them!
As a staffing company, it was our job to find the right people and put them in the right place and at the right time for our customers — we needed to be experts in locating, validating,e and delivering those people and not in the associated technologies that surrounded them.
Make sure your salespeople are focused on what they are there for, and not the technology or product they are representing and that will always be the commercial outcome of what you are selling.
Over the years I had some people who I simply could not re-educate on this and that sadly led to me letting them go.
As a sales leader, you need to do the same.
#5 — Teach Your Salespeople To Engage At The Right Level
Most salespeople waste their time by engaging with the wrong layers within the management and leadership structure of their customers.
It paves the way for long sales cycles, costs more money, and causes immense frustration to you…the sales manager with a target on their back and a price on their head!
There is only one level to engage with and that is the executive leadership level, starting with the CEO.
Whether you get to the CEO is a matter of persistence and reality — most will be inaccessible, but it doesn’t mean that you don’t try.
I got most of my executive connections from the second most important person to the CEO — their assistant.
Never underestimate the importance and power of the assistant to the CEO or any executive leader for that matter and they are an extremely important part of the sales engagement process.
When you and your sales team have conducted your research and understood the commercial world, you are able to have any discussion with any executive leader and at the very least, hold your own.
Executive leaders assign budgets and sign deals and that’s why you need to connect with them — they also have the best interests of their company at heart and will listen to anyone who can help them.
But be warned, their time is precious and you must be able to quickly and succinctly articulate your value proposition.
It’s easy to be lured by automation, improved efficiency, and of course, money — that’s the hook of many marketing offerings I see out there today and especially in the online world.
There is no doubt that the Internet has changed the way we work, live, and play…plus it has enabled us to reach a far bigger audience than we could have previously never dreamt of.
It’s a marketing dream, but you must be careful before you purchase that ever tempting sales funnel system that will guarantee you millions.
I’ve been around online marketing since its inception and its use and effectiveness really comes down to your type of business.
In a more traditional sales environment where you have a sales team operating in the field, there is a lot that marketing can do thanks to the development of online systems and programs that will definitely improve sales…but as a sales manager, you need to engage at the right level and where very few of your target people will be sitting on social media or reacting to your online marketing efforts.
Teach your salespeople to get on the phone and make those front-line phone calls.
At the same time, you should push your marketing department to support that activity, making sure that both departments are on the same page when it comes down to having a clear message and value proposition.
I’m seeing things go full circle — from a pure phone-based sales operation…to online…and now back to the phone.
In the start-up I am working with, we are having great success by combining targeted online marketing, with the personal touch that you get from phoning people.
#6 — Sales Coaching: Train Speed, Accuracy & Succinctness
I’m a big fan of sales training and coaching…when it’s done the right way.
I am always amazed when I see a soccer team that has struggled to perform through a season, get a new coach, and almost overnight, take the team back to a winning form.
Coaches, trainers, leaders, and managers dare I say it, all play a vital role in sales success, but you have to focus on what are for me, the key elements:
- Human factors — you are working with people and it makes sense to understand the psychology behind them. Spend time understanding what is driving each individual in your sales team — get to know them personally and uncover their fears, problems, and challenges both in and out of the office. The better you understand them, the better you can help them and ultimately the better they will perform.
- Create and keep a sense of urgency — don’t settle for “I will do it later, tomorrow, or I will call this person later this morning.” Be specific and get a commitment to what time, etc. A sense of urgency is infectious and it is easy to outperform your competitors by simply being first. Many sales organizations waste time in meetings, coffee breaks, and chatting about the weekend’s social events on a Monday morning, rather than engaging with their customers.
- But you must start slowly — there is no point in running around at a million miles per hour if you are going to make a ton of mistakes. Speed comes from slow, deliberate practice, which ensures accuracy. As a drummer, this really sank home when I was watching one of the greatest drummers in the world, the late Joe Morello, who explained what I just wrote. Check out the video of him below.
- Be succinct — it frustrates me to hear salespeople ramble on about their product and/or services without getting to the point. Time is precious and that applies to both your own time, the time of your salespeople, and of course, your customers. Respect time and make sure you can clearly and succinctly answer the questions as to who you are, what you do, what you can do for your customers, and how you can prove it.
#7 — Set Up Multiple Training Scenarios And Drill Them Daily
Daily training leads to daily results — look at the world of special forces soldiers, the elite soldiers of the world.
Nothing is left to chance and they drill multiple scenarios daily, to make sure they are at the top of their game.
It’s life or death on many occasions for those guys and thankfully the worst you are going to have to suffer as a sales team are lost deals and the potential of being fired, which of course, are not ideal, but not life-threatening.
As a sales leader, it is your job to make sure your salespeople are fit for purpose and that means generating revenue.
In the military and martial arts as an example, there is a saying that you will react to a situation in accordance with the way you train…also that the more you sweat in training, the less you will bleed in battle.
And it’s the same in sales, so how do you train specifically.
The easiest way is to create multiple situations that will stress your salespeople just enough to promote a small stress response and this does involve role-plays and other traditional forms of training such as:
- Getting your leadership team involved in creating real customer situations for your salespeople to practice
- Combine verbal presentations with written ones to build confidence in all forms of communication
- Create commercial & product awareness quizzes with decent incentives for the winners
- Let each one of your sales team be the sales manager (under your direction) for a week to encourage and teach leadership
- Creating incentive plans that are chosen by your team
There are hundreds of ideas and you just have to be creative and not fall victim to the usual performance-related incentives that many simply cannot achieve.
Break success down into components and make sure to include research, commercial awareness, and the art of real selling, which is next.
#8 — Teach Real Selling
Real selling to me, is the art of “not selling.”
It is a no-fear approach of contacting the right people and delivering a value proposition that compels customers to buy from you rather than having to sell.
I know what I would rather do and it’s taken me around thirty-odd years to figure it out and I am still learning and doing it today.
It’s all about creating your compelling value proposition and once you have it you are in the right position to engage your audience.
Here’s an article to help you:
And whether you are a sales manager or salesperson, you need to work on your own personal branding, because guess what?
Buyers are interested in who they are buying from.
Take a look at this article to help you:
Real selling is not selling at all…it is when your customers are compelled to buy from you!
Your business value proposition and personal branding lay the foundation for sales success and you need to constantly check and update them both.
Sales Coaching: Be Natural
I find it very irritating when people try to sell to me in an unnatural way — please do not let your salespeople take on the persona of their latest guru, hero, or rap star.
People see straight through this approach and of course, so do customers.
You have heard of the “unique value proposition,” I am sure and in reality, there are very few truly unique offerings out there except one…the uniqueness of you.
Your DNA, upbringing, passions, opinions, and life up to the point of where you are right now are totally unique to you…and guess what?
Customers love to hear about it.
Teach your salespeople to be proud of who they are.
Real selling is about acquiring knowledge, conducting research, creating your compelling value proposition, and being commercially aware.
It is about working in anticipation and being acutely aware of the “now.”
It’s about being a trusted expert and not purely about having years of experience — it’s about having confidence and belief in who you are, rather than what you know and living according to your personal beliefs, passions, and goals.
Then it’s about putting it all into practice through consistent, repetitive, and functional training.
#9 — Sales Coaching: Performance, Metrics & Adaptation
It’s important to let people know where they are and where they stand.
Salespeople perform a critical and tough role in any organization — the pressure is on and it is constant.
As a sales leader, you need to ensure you can trust your team to perform…after all, it’s your immediate head on the block should they fail, so you have to keep a keen eye on what they do…each and every day.
You must have daily meetings, just as you must have daily training because it leads to daily results, tweaks, and adjustments.
I cannot understand why companies have weekly or worse still, monthly management meetings — sales is a dynamic industry, and the dynamics change in a heartbeat.
I can count numerous times when deals were “closed” on a Friday, only to be lost over the weekend for many reasons, so you have to keep on top of things.
You must work out each and every step of the sale and then measure the performance of your salespeople accordingly.
My first sales manager, in an industry that I absolutely fell in love with, and which motivated me to eventually start my own recruitment agency, was a lady called Toni Cuccozza.
Toni taught me a few things:
- Not to BS in interviews
- Not to try to fake your sales targets
- And how you don’t need to know anything about technology if you are trying to sell it…it’s the sales that matter!
In my first interview with Toni, and after sending her the best copy of my ten CV’s I proceeded to lay on the best presentation of my life…until I challenged one of her questions which was met with a stern, but smiley response along the lines of:
“Listen, darling, I am asking the questions and if you want to continue with this interview, then I suggest that you answer them.”
I didn’t argue and got a job offer there and then.
Starting the job was a dream for me because people were happy to talk to me, rather than slamming down the phone and generally showing little interest in what I was selling.
Each evening and after a hard day calling and trying to generate business, we had to report our metrics — how many calls we made that day, how many CV’s we sent out (we were a recruitment consultancy), how many interviews we arranged with clients and how many offers for jobs we had received and were accepted by the applying candidates.
This was a regimented exercise that the whole company went through each and every day.
Even the most senior salespeople had to go through this, which gave me the confidence that it was the right thing to do and during the day, Toni would sit with each salesperson to give them feedback on their real-time calls.
It gave me the blueprint for my own sales management techniques which I would put to use just a year later.
As a sales manager and later director, Toni had the capacity to both motivate and measure my success, and should things go wrong, she was more than happy to tell me!
Measuring success is critical and I will end this point with a reminder that you must do this daily, but as Toni taught me, you can only fake performance for so long and there was certainly no hiding in her office as you would have been found out in a matter of days!
Be Careful Of The CRM
Back in those days, there was no such thing as a computerized CRM, and we worked with a simple hand-written card system — one box for the clients we had and another for the people who were looking for jobs.
We had to write out a physical call sheet each evening before we left the office and that would structure the next day.
We were efficient, billed loads of revenue, and knew exactly where we were at any point — when that was combined with the daily reporting, then from a sales management point of view, it was a dream.
As I became involved with automation, I could see the benefit immediately — no more cards and hand-scribbled notes, just an efficient computerized system that would allow us to bill even more money…they sold the outcome to me!
Largely, the system worked well and it was a typical clunky piece of software, with not too many bells and whistles, and where even the most computer illiterate person could come to terms with it after some training.
Plus it would be integrated with our finance department to make the billing and cash collection process more efficient.
Today, systems have become so much more complex (and I’m sure efficient) that in some cases, you need specialized training to use them and even then, not use them to their full capability.
I currently working with a real estate start-up in the US and we are finding the limitations of the various CRM software so frustrating, that we are considering building our own…or we simply aren’t aware of the functionality.
It’s more likely to be the latter!
I love technology, have been involved in tech startups, so I am the last person to be against automation in any form…but I see too many salespeople becoming preoccupied with systems rather than selling and it is draining precious selling time from each day.
#10 — How To Hire Salespeople
This is an easy one for me as I have always favored hiring people with very little or no sales experience and training them myself — and looking back at my career, plus working with a start-up right now, I have had the best success with this approach.
I’ve also hired some very expensive people with resumes that glowed in the dark, but with nowhere near the success I have gained with raw trainees.
Here’s why from my perspective:
- You know exactly what you are working with
- You can train people in your own methodologies, systems, and procedures far more easily
- There is no “previous employer baggage”
- There is more loyalty
- You can mold and shape people into different roles more easily
- It’s far more cost-effective, but it will increase your time-to-revenue
It takes a lot of discipline to do this by the way and you have to make sure that your CEO/CFO is aware of the increased time it will take to produce revenue — and please make sure you are conservative in your estimation of this.
I would expect to take on say five new sales trainees, with only one making the grade and producing revenue in the first ninety days.
And notice that I say “produce” revenue and not receive it — in my business, I had a further sixty days on average when it came down to revenue collection, so it will take a lot of time and effort.
But I produced my most effective sales team ever by taking this approach and I build up to fifteen extremely high-powered salespeople that were the envy of my industry, producing a serious amount of revenue and at good margins.
It’s easy to be lured by a CV or resume and I should know!
There is a temptation to “buy” talent for what you think will be a much greater chance of success, but whenever I did this, the results were disastrous, except for a few individuals, which over my nearly forty-year career, is not so good.
If you are familiar with soccer, then you will know the teams of Manchester United and Chelsea.
Both are high-performing teams who have had their struggles over the years, but if you look at the greatest period in the history of United, it will be under the management of Sir Alex Ferguson.
His long-term strategy was to bring players into the team from their youth development and academy programs and he succeeded in producing many world-class players in this manner.
If you compare the approach to the billionaire Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, whose strategy was to buy his way to the top through hiring what he believed to be the best coaches and players, there is only one clear winner!
I’m not suggesting that you never hire experienced salespeople, because just like Manchester United, you will need to do so if you want to compete at the top level…but make sure to build a solid foundation of your own, personally trained salespeople first.
At The End Of The Day
Each of these tips could have easily been turned into books!
I am scratching the surface here with this article, but I hope it will give you some food for thought.
I truly believe that the vital role of a sales manager, or leader as I like to term it, is not difficult if you are prepared to put the work into both yourself and your team.
It’s all about leadership and I recommend that you read as many books and watch as many videos as you can about great leaders.
Don’t be frightened to go outside of your industry — I’ve learned from great chefs, musicians, military officers, martial artists, and educators…far more than the sales trainers that I met in the numerous courses I have attended.
It’s a matter of learning from outside influencers and then connecting the dots back to your own industry, which takes a bit of creativity and imagination, but your sales team will thank you for it.
If you need help with sales leadership coaching, sales training in general, or if you want to simply talk about sales and entrepreneurship then please get in touch with me.
Last modified: December 19, 2021